By Frances Marion Givhan
On November 4, Sewanee’s Honor Council hosted a Mock Hearing in Guerry Auditorium in order to provided some clarity to the process of plagiarism hearings. The Council created a scenario in which a biology student had plagiarized a source he had cited but not quoted, and had taken a paragraph from his lab partner’s report. The Council then went through every step of the hearing process to help the Sewanee community understand how they handle these kinds of cases. The examples of plagiarism given during the Mock Hearing allowed the Honor Council to easily show the process behind hearings, but they did not prompt serious questions example during the hearing was a sentence taken from a source that the student had cited, but not placed quotation marks around. This counts as plagiarism, which might be new information for some students. The Council negated that example though by presenting a blatant form of plagiarism: a whole paragraph taken from the student’s lab partner’s report. That is indisputable.
Despite the time restraint of the event, it would have been interesting to see a complex case with more discussion, rather than an example about which the Council had no real questions. The Council told the audience at the Mock Hearing that sometimes they discuss cases for hours. A snapshot of that would have encouraged more understanding of the Council’s difficult job than what they presented. Mark McAllister (C’17), the Chair of the Council, said that he hopes they will do more events like this in the future, and I encourage them to show us cases that will make us question and will make us think. At one point during the Mock Hearing, it felt as if the Honor Council were trying to propagandize the audience. Jelwz Davis (C’16), who portrayed the student who had plagiarized, made a statement toward the end of the hearing where he said, “Being in this situation brought flashbacks to my first time at Sewanee, when I walked into All Saints and touched the cornerstone and signed the Honor Code. Because I love Sewanee more than anything else, I want to change my plea to guilty.” While a sweet statement and probably a result of roleplaying the student, that, how can we help students learn citations? It was an unrealistic reaction. A student such as Davis portrayed – arrogant, clearly guilty, and untruthful – would not have a sudden change of heart like that. It also sounded as if the Council were trying to guilt the audience with sentimentality, which I did not appreciate. Now that the Honor Council has hosted this event, I think the University and its community should collaborate on ways to help the students avoid ending up in a hearing. There are cases where the plagiarism is unintentional or accidental. David Prehn (C’16), Vice Chair of the Honor Council, said, “the instructor needs to first try to determine the likelihood that the plagiarism was due to carelessness rather than the intent to deceive before bringing a student to the Council.” But even before that, how can we help students learn citations?
The scare factor that comes from hearing about plagiarism cases does help students take the initiative in learning to cite sources. One student came into the Writing Center recently with a political science paper and asked the writing tutors to help him go through his citations. He’d heard about a recent case of a suspended student and did not want to end up the same way. While the tutors on my shift were happy to help (we don’t want to see that happen either), the tutor that took the paper had to look up citations online and relearn everything herself before she could help the student. This made me realize that we currently do not have a consistent way of learning various styles of papers and citations. I still do not understand the differences between Chicago and MLA, but am currently learning APA. The responsibility of teaching and learning these skills falls on the individual professors and the student themselves. While the Honor Code does explain the broad spectrum of plagiarism, the University’s students might benefit from having a mandatory study skills class or a one night lecture that covers citation information. There needs to be a way to ingrain this information in the students’ brains, so even on those late nights in the library, citing sources is mechanical. Thank you to the Honor Council for hosting the Mock Hearing. I hope you all continue to sponsor events such as this in order to increase understanding and communication between the Council and the greater Sewanee community.