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You’ve Violated Academic Integrity . . . Now What?

 

I recently found myself in a situation where I had potentially violated Academic Integrity, and in a bevy of regret, I turned myself in, ready to face the consequences of a full board hearing. I won’t sugar coat this: it was without a doubt one of the most stressful, terrifying two hours of my life. I had lied to my professor about why I had missed class and the worst part wasn’t the imminent F I was about to receive—it was sitting at the table with her, having to look into the face of someone I had betrayed. The words, “disappointed,” “hurt,” and “corrosive,” sliced through the stifled air, lodging themselves into my stomach like a shard of glass. And I deserved every bit. The only reprieve was the end, where I was found responsible, sentenced accordingly, and advised to look at the violation as a learning experience.

In the first 24 hours, I suffered a flurry of emotions. I was shocked, still trying to grasp the meaning of everything. Then I was sad and finally allowed myself to cry—which if you’ve ever kept tears in, only to then release after 18 days of uncertainty, you know is akin to the Hoover Dam breaking. After I was sad, I was angry, and quietly plotting my new anti-establishmentarianism that was bound to usher forth a new era of administrative protest. Then I took a nap.

When I woke up from my nap, I felt calm, rational, level-headed. I was suddenly in the acceptance mode of this apparent 12-step Academic Integrity program. It was time for self-reflection, time to contemplate what I had done and why, and time to figure out how to move on without letting this negatively affect the rest of my collegiate career. I would need to glean the positives from this and figure out how to apply what I had learned.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “But how on earth could there be positives with this?” And at first, I couldn’t figure that out for myself. I sat in the office of my advisor, and listened to him talk about life and how we all make mistakes. “You need to be gracious with yourself, be forgiving,” he said. “What are you smoking?” was what I wanted to ask him. Gone was the scarf and sweater that I typically wore. Instead, it’d been replaced by an orange jumpsuit—a black F newly stamped on my back. Did he not see that he was talking to a college-convict? I had been led to the guillotine and academically executed—all to the fault of my own.

But I hadn’t been executed. Not really. And it was time to forgive myself, as hard as that would be. The easy part would be forgiving the two F’s added to my transcript—those could be fixed with time. The near-impossible would be forgiving myself for betraying my mentor—who it seemed as if I was going through a “breakup” with. I had a few of her books; she had a few of mine, and still needed to return my Homeland season DVD. I was grappling with what to do if I saw her on campus: Should I look the other way? Should I smile and wave? I should stop and talk, right? Wouldn’t that be the mature thing to do? These were the questions I never thought I would have to answer. Yet, I found myself attempting to do just that. The only thing I could tell myself was the old cliché, “time heals all wounds.” Whether that would turn out to be true, I couldn’t know, but I told myself to try and use this as a learning experience. It was all I really could do. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, and I hope you don’t—whether it’s academic integrity, student conduct, or maybe even substance abuse violation—this is the advice I can give you, without pretense or judgment:

First, the administration isn’t here to ruin your life, even though it may feel like it at the present moment. They are here to ensure your growth—to ensure your transition from student to functioning member of society. But most of all, they are here to ensure and uphold the integrity of this school. And sometimes, that comes with the price of teaching a hard lesson.

The lesson is this: You’ve made a mistake and as adults, we have an obligation to deal with consequences like mature beings. With that, you have two roads you can take. You can veer left, and wallow in self-pity, blaming everybody in the world, and spiraling downward. Or you can take a sharp right, recognize this as a chance to do better—both academically and morally—and you can show some courage with your ability to persevere in the midst of difficulty. You’ve done something stupid, and you might have failed, but you’re not a failure. And if you do any kind of research, not a single successful person has become successful without experiencing failure. It’s a part of the process, and it’s a part of growing up. It isn’t the end of the world.

The positive is that you now have an extra layer of muscle in your perspective and you have a new lens with which to observe—perhaps a bit of knowledge for the future. In turn, be gracious to yourself, be forgiving of yourself. Learn from your mistake and then try not to repeat it. You’ve been given a second chance, so take it and make the most of it, because in this life, defeatism isn’t an option.