Culture of Perfectionism:

Restoring Integrity

Elisa D.
By Maya L. & Emily S.
November 1, 2018

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort. It’s choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. It’s choosing to practice your values rather than simply professing them.” - Brené Brown

 

When the Head of Westridge School Elizabeth McGregor introduced this year’s school theme of integrity in her convocation speech, she left students, parents, and faculty with Brown’s words. Westridge was founded one hundred and five years ago, yet the importance of morality and honest - especially academic integrity - has been emphasized more now than ever before. What caused this sudden change?

 

Some speculate that social media has contributed to this sudden change, and students feel unprecedented pressure to succeed. “It doesn’t seem to be okay anymore to just be average at some things, to just enjoy being who you are,” says Aaron Eichelberger, upper school physics and calculus teacher. College applications, extracurriculars, report cards, and social media pages have turned into platforms where teenagers must market themselves to others in order to feel successful. The concept of perfection harms this generation because it completely reshapes society's morals.

 

Eichelberger, who is especially outspoken about this issue, believes that the images and ideals illustrated in social media contribute to the rise of stress and pressure for today’s teens to strive for perfection. “Because everyone is cheating, it stops people from feeling like it’s such a horrible, awful thing to do.”

Junior Anelise P. agrees. “For students who a feel a lot of pressure to be high achieving, I don’t know that it is so much an obligation to cheat,” she says, “but that they can get those higher scores when they cheat and please those around them.” Excusing academic dishonesty starts to reach a point where society views it as normal.

 

Westridge does not struggle with this problem alone. According to Stanford University, the amount of cheating among high school students has risen dramatically within the past fifty years. Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University informally known as the “founding father of research on academic integrity” conducted a study between fall 2002 and spring 2015 among over 70,000 students from 24 different high schools. He found that 64% of students confessed to having cheated on a test, 58% admitted to plagiarism, and an alarming 95% said they had engaged in some form of cheating before.  

 

Students are also thinking about integrity in the Westridge Community.  Sophie C, the junior class president, says, “Integrity should not be this year’s focus because Westridge’s issue is high stress levels, and the administration needs to come up with a new way to combat it.” Sophie also noted that last year’s theme caused campus-wide controversy, with its mixed message of mindfulness, which was an attempt by the administration to de-stress students. Ironically, this focus on relaxation coincided with an increase in academic integrity issues.

 

As more and more issues with academic integrity have arisen at Westridge, the administration is in the process of establishing an Honor Council on campus. Gary Baldwin, Director of Upper School, and Laura Hatchman, an upper school biology teacher, currently co-head an Honor Code task force. This task force aims to not only discuss integrity problems among faculty but also to reach out to students and engage them in the conversation. “There used to be an Honor Council at Westridge,” Hatchman says, “and with the theme being integrity this year, there was the possibility of bringing it back.”

 

McGregor strongly believes that integrity influences all areas of life. Regarding academic integrity issues at Westridge, a mistake like cheating can be an opportunity for growth, peer to peer discussions, and reflection on what could be done differently. Through this process, McGregor hopes to cultivate an instinctive routine of internal motivation, but this skill develops with choosing honesty over convenience, even if this compromise comes with consequences.