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What Is “Appropriate Aid?”

By India ‘20

It’s 2 a.m. You’re sitting at your desk, fixating on the AP Biology study guide that is staring you right in the face.  Your fingers keep grasping for the trackpad to bring the display back to life. You know that if you stay up any longer, you’re going to be worn out tomorrow, but if you decide to go to sleep, you’re going to fail the quiz. All you want to do is text a friend and ask to compare study guides for a bit of help on this grueling night, but you question your actions–is that allowed under the Honor Code? According to the school handbook, all students must sign a pledge that reads, ‘“On my honor, this is entirely my own work,’ [in order to] confirm that one has neither given nor received inappropriate aid of any kind on tests, quizzes, exams, or in the preparation of a formal paper.” What the Honor Code fails to address, though, is what kind of aid falls under the umbrella of “appropriate.”

I want to open with a disclaimer–I respect and appreciate the Honor Code. It instills trust in each and every student and inspires us all to be honorable people. I think, however, that the Honor Code’s gray areas have resulted in a competitive mindset. With each successive grade, the intensity of the academics ratchets up, creating an increasingly competitive environment. As the pressure mounts, it is natural for peers to turn to each other for help; however, we feel frightened to help each other because we don’t know if our behavior will violate the Honor Code. In the worst circumstances, we use the Honor Code as a convenient excuse for not supporting each other, blaming our unwillingness to help on an ambiguous policy that doesn’t specify what kind of aid is, indeed, appropriate.

In my opinion, one of the most honorable things a person can do is help out their peers. However, the stigma around violating The Honor Code gives girls the impression that sharing a study guide or any type of academic information about a worksheet or homework is unethical. How are we supposed to judge what is “appropriate” aid? Where do we draw the line? By leaving it so unclear, the administration, while trying to prevent cheating, actually fosters rivalry. At a school like Marlborough where students get to learn in a supportive environment, the idea that we are committing some sort of infraction by helping one another is destructive. It makes us see our peers as competitors rather than the friends and equals that they are. As a result, we can become stuck in a “sink or swim” mindset, not looking to uplift our peers but rather to isolate ourselves from them academically.  

Women are pitted against each other in both personal and professional arenas. At a school like Marlborough that prioritizes equal opportunity, the honor code runs counter to collaboration and cooperation and instead stokes competition and self-absorption.