Is Stuyvesant’s Cheating Culture Untreatable?

Stuyvesant students share varying opinions on academic dishonesty and whether it is necessary, harmless, or compromising to academic integrity.

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By Nada Hameed

For much of Stuyvesant’s history, students have traversed the murky waters of academic dishonesty. From homework sharing to plagiarism and even ascending to large-scale Regents rings, cheating is embedded in Stuyvesant culture, making it an important indicator of the student body’s mentality regarding academic honesty and grades.

For some, the transition back to in-person learning reignited this disregard toward academic integrity. “In remote [learning], there’s less of an excuse for academic dishonesty because, for me, remote was a lot easier academically. I didn’t have to commute, and I could wake up later, and I had more time to do everything. Now, I think that I take and give homework answers more and have a less grave outlook on [cheating],” anonymous sophomore A said.

On the other hand, several students expressed that cheating was more prevalent during remote learning than it is now. “Remote learning changed the playing field,” anonymous senior A wrote in an e-mail interview. “It was closer to [an] honor system, so I felt that most people were more likely to push the rules a bit.”

Anonymous sophomore B noted the effects of this mindset. “A lot of people didn’t actually learn as much last year because of how easy it was to cheat on things, which is sort of sad,” they said in an e-mail interview.

Like anonymous sophomore B, most students agree that cheating is harmful. “Academic dishonesty is bad, of course, [be]cause it’s not conducive to learning for anyone who does it, and it’s also kind of a peer pressure thing,” anonymous sophomore A said. However, they also pointed out that its harm is limited to the effectiveness of an assignment in the first place: “There are loads of teachers who assign homework that’s just busywork, and that doesn’t help people actually learn, so I feel like if people end up cheating on that type of homework, then it’s not really a problem with the students [...] It’s more of a problem with the type of homework that [a teacher is] assigning.”

For many students, especially those who have to balance school with extracurriculars or other nonacademic activities, doing unhelpful work can feel like a waste of time, thus increasing the inclination to cheat. “If I had the choice between doing [busywork] that wasn’t necessary to understand a unit and sleeping, I would choose sleeping,” anonymous sophomore A explained.

This outlook is reflected in data collected by The Spectator in a survey of the graduating class of 2021. Of those interviewed, 79.1 percent said that they had partaken in academic dishonesty at least once, and 36.8 percent agreed that cheating in any form could be justified.

The discrepancy between those who consider cheating to be justified and those who actually take part in it can be explained in a variety of ways. An anonymous senior B suggested that it comes down to sympathy for the needs of others. “Many people will choose to help a friend even if they [themselves] are against the principle of academic dishonesty,” they wrote in an e-mail interview.

An anonymous sophomore C provided another explanation: “Academic dishonesty [...] might go against [students’] morals, but sometimes, the want for a better grade in a class [overrides this principle],” they said in an e-mail interview.

This widespread desire for academic success is acknowledged by an anonymous sophomore D. “There’s a lot of pressure on students to get good grades and to perform well rather than learn the material, both from parents and the competitive nature of Stuy. [This expectation] pushes them to become dishonest academically,” they said.

Anonymous sophomore C agreed with this view. “If the school was less stressful, there’d definitely be decreased levels of dishonesty since not as many people [would] feel like they have to get good grades all the time,” they said.

Anonymous sophomore A recalled a time when this pressure to earn good grades encouraged several students to resort to cheating on a test. “There was a teacher who did not make his own tests at all, and he took his questions from the Internet. The questions did not match what we learned in the unit, [...] so it was really hard to do well. There were like five kids in the class who looked up the answers to his short response questions, and they just copy-pasted the answer[s],” they said. “He gave [...] them a zero. If [he] maybe [...] made sure [the test questions] matched the unit and made everyone feel comfortable in their ability to answer the questions, then they wouldn’t be [cheating].”

On the other hand, anonymous senior A recognized that there is a certain level of pride in academic integrity that is promoted by the Stuyvesant culture, even when students are under pressure. “Stuy[vesant] encourages original work, as there’s a feeling of being proud of being at Stuy, that you’ve worked so hard to get to where you are, so that [is a motivator] to continue doing your own work as best as you can,” they explained.

Views on academic dishonesty at Stuyvesant are spread over a wide spectrum. However, most students agree that cracking down on individual instances of academic dishonesty isn’t an effective method for discouraging the practice. “Stuyvesant is such a big school that you’re never gonna catch everyone who’s cheating. Only some of the kids who are cheating will get suspensions, and a suspension is something that stays on your record,” anonymous sophomore A said.

Anonymous senior A agreed, citing the immediate effects this method would have. “Any stricter checking would place too much burden on teachers and would overall just detract from the learning experience at Stuy,” they said

Students have agreed that there is only one viable solution, then, to address Stuyvesant’s cheating culture: “Maybe Stuy should focus on the reasons why people feel the need to cheat instead of the fact [that] some people break the policy,” anonymous sophomore C said.