Shut off the spotlight

Students and faculty should reach out to international students to ensure they do not feel targeted by the Honor system

The number of international students in U.S. colleges and universities has grown dramatically in the past decade. A 2013 study found that between 2003 and 2013, the international student population throughout the country increased by 40 percent.

The percentage of international students has likely increased thanks to widespread outreach and recruitment efforts. But, as a recent Chronicle article points out, once you recruit the international students to your institution, you need to shift your focus to helping them succeed.

David L. Di Maria, director of international programs and services at Kent State University, surveyed staff members at five Ohio public universities to find out whether international students have sufficient access to necessary university resources. Three quarters of survey respondents thought that international students are at a disadvantage coming into an American university, and almost two-thirds of respondents felt that their offices (residence life, student counseling and career services) were not doing enough to help international students overcome that disadvantage.

The University is composed of about 6 percent international students, which may not seem like that much. But considering that two-thirds of students must be Virginians in order for the University to receive state funding, international students make up a significant portion of the pool of students that can come from outside the state. We can see the ways that international students may be disadvantaged at the University, specifically by examining the Honor system.

International students — along with minority students and student athletes — are reported for Honor offenses more often than other student populations. The reason why international students are reported more often is uncertain. Biased reporters could be one explanation. “Spotlighting,” as the Honor Committee has termed it, involves focusing on the offenses of a certain minority demographic, while “dimming” is disregarding the offenses of students in the majority demographic. Another explanation could be that international students are more likely to commit Honor offenses, not because they intentionally disregard the Honor code, but because their different educational backgrounds may give them a different perception of what does or does not constitute academic dishonesty.

Ninety percent of staff surveyed by Di Maria said that they wanted more training to better prepare themselves to help international students. In the case of the University, which prioritizes student self governance, student leaders may need to take it upon themselves to learn more about how they can be reach out to international students and be a resource for them. Honor, in particular, needs to come up with a plan to make sure all international students understand policies on plagiarism when they enter the University.

Such a plan should involve garnering extensive feedback from international students, in order to identify common points of misunderstanding. Faculty must also educate themselves on how they can provide international students with all of the information they need in order to complete assignments that meet all of the course standards. A team effort between professors and Honor committee students can likely remedy the disproportionate reporting rates.

The Honor Committee assigned a working group to discuss the problem of disproportionate reporting in late January. Hopefully the group will discuss these potential initiatives. International students should feel just as much a part of the community as any other demographic of University students. Disproportionately high reporting rates may make international students feel as though the system works not for them but against them. If we want to restore faith in Honor among the entire student body, this is a trend that cannot continue. It is imperative to recognize that not everybody will automatically understand the Honor system. Targeted education is necessary in order to make sure the system serves everyone equally at this University.

Published February 20, 2014 in Opinion

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