My Experience with Integrity
By Sarah Glass, Business Admin, Fleming College
Being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. That’s integrity, according to dictionary.com. I thought I knew exactly what it was when I began college. Surely at some point throughout school or in my years spent working I would’ve figured it out. What I have learned in my time at college, is that integrity is not black and white, it can be interpreted in several unusual ways.
I hope by reading about my personal experience you can recognize it before it happens to you and avoid potential problems for yourself and your academic record. If you have had this happen to you, I hope this gives you comfort in knowing that you are not alone and there is good that can come from situations such as ours.
Now to take you back to how it all started.
Throughout first semester it was not uncommon for me to get together with other groups of students to complete our homework together. In fact, a group of us would stay everyday after our last class (being in semester one our schedules were identical), and get all our work done. We were being resourceful, and many brains were better than one! (you know, the way working together is supposed to be). It seemed to always be the same group of students, but dwindled eventually as a few became busy or preferred to work on their own from home, etc.
In second semester I had gotten the hang of things and found my groove; meaning I felt confident enough to complete the work myself from home. I had become more independent. For me, this was huge! It meant less hours spent at the school working in groups, trying to get our work done, and more time spent with family – win/win. I also discovered how incredibly easy it was to send off an email to my professor if I had a question regarding an upcoming assignment/homework. The response came quickly and on I went with the work.
One would think this kind of independence is expected by your second semester of college, but as it turns out, that’s not always the case. There were a few students (one in particular), one who still asked me for everything instead of asking the Professor. Perhaps they were concerned with what their professor might think about them not knowing something or it was just easier to ask me.
I have never been one to say no when someone is asking for help. In fact, I enjoyed it and found it flattering. So I became a ‘go to’ student for answers. I didn’t realize what a fine line it is between helping and enabling someone to take the easier route. However, believing that I was helping I continued to do so anyway that I could. If it meant adjusting their schedule to accommodate them at the beginning of every semester, emailing professors asking questions for them, helping them with homework, sharing my textbooks, etc. The list of tasks I was assisting in continued to grow and my appreciation from this person did the opposite. I began to find myself feeling irritated rather than important. This bothered me. I even tried ignoring their requests and explaining that I was busy and could not help them. I suggested other resources. Let’s just say these suggestions were not taken with a smile.
So, here we are entering semester three and, like clockwork, I am asked to help arrange a timetable and adjust classes to match exactly mine. Why? I hoped that they just wanted to be in all my classes to spend time with me. This was naïve. Classes began, and attendance started to slip. I was asked “What did I miss?”, “Can you give me your notes?”, “Did we have anything worth marks?” None of these questions seemed inappropriate to ask a fellow student, but imagine asking your professor this after not attending? I had already purchased all of my textbooks and had agreed to share them provided we carpooled to school together. Then I didn’t have to purchase a parking pass – seems fair? The work quickly piled up and I stayed on top of it like I strive to do. It’s just the way I roll. One course in particular had assignments that were long, weekly, and required the textbook for most answers. It would take me hours spread out over days to finish them, but I also received 100% on almost all of them. I was doing something right.
My friend noticed my assignment marks were slightly higher and suggested I share mine as examples going forward. At the time I didn’t realize this meant simply reading my answers, erasing and paraphrasing (kind of) and submitting them. Low and behold, I still managed to obtain 100% and my friend could not figure out why. Perhaps this is when the decision was made to take my exact work, change the font, name and submit it. I don’t know if it was to prove a point or thought that the professor wouldn’t notice, I will never know. But the fact is – you guessed it: HUGE RED FLAG! So, in comes an email from our (not so impressed) professor who had noticed the similarities (meaning exact same copy) and was awarding us both a grade of zero until she could consider it further.
I didn’t know how to feel, it was a huge mix of emotions for me; furious, frustrated, embarrassed, betrayed, naïve, disappointed, hurt, and ashamed. I got a rant to my husband out of the way and then replied to my professor letting her know as much as I could. I then proceeded to reach out to my friend. The response was to immediately become defensive and asked me to lie. I was disgusted and enraged with this reaction. No apology. In fact, it seemed my friend was mad at being caught. The giant lesson learned tidal wave hit me, and boy did it hit hard. How could someone I dedicated so much time to helping (because I genuinely cared) so easily toss me aside? My friend did not want to be punished and thought it was expected of me to lie and defend even though I had been used me and tossed to the wolves. I was baffled and could not believe how a person could have been so cunning as to use me to that extent.
I took some time to reflect on everything that had happened. The time was much needed because I was always taught to respond and not react to situations. It didn’t take me long to know what I had to do. I documented everything I could that showed assignments were mine and they were 100% genuine. I documented conversations and exactly how things had played out. My only goal was to do everything I could to demonstrate my ‘integrity’ (there’s that word again). After gathering everything I could I sent it all to my professor. We set up a meeting between the three of us. One of us wasn’t ready to face the music and chose not to show up. Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get more interesting, I was wrong. My so-called friend decided to dig a deeper hole and actually ‘do the work’, submit and tell the professor previous submissions were by accident. This was a little hard to believe considering the document submitted was verbatim with nothing different other than the font type, and the name of the author.
Anyways, things didn’t quite play out in my friend’s favor. For myself however, I walk away with hard lessons learned and an idea of signs to look for if someone is trying to take advantage. Save yourself some grief and speak up, reach out to someone, or just be the person that has to say no sometimes. Trust me – they will get over it. I also know now that I really wasn’t doing my friend any favours as much as I may have thought I was at the time. Instead, my friend likely thought that challenging work wasn’t valued, and doing the work yourself was no big deal. I also have learned how incredibly important it is to have integrity. If I hadn’t been honest throughout the entire process, things would may have gone a lot worse for me as well. I would’ve been left a student scorned and full of resent.
So please take it from me, and never share your work with people who undervalue you – or anyone for that matter. The work is yours, it came from you, and that’s all that matters. No matter how much you think it’s ‘no big deal’, or ‘just this once’, it is a big deal, and you will only regret it.
The hard lessons learned are not black and white, so take it from me; and have some integrity!
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