The final pillar for Giving Voice to Values (Gentile, 2012) is reasons and rationalizations. In academic integrity work, student rationalizations for academic misconduct are dominant in the decision-making process when students cheat (Stephens, 2017).  In general, people want to be “good” and will always rationalize their behavior by disengaging morally to avoid cognitive dissonance. If educators expect students to stand up for academic integrity, for example through a requirement that they report their peers for academic misconduct in an honor code, then they should train those students to identify and recognize when those rationalizations occur. Gentile (2012) argues that recognizing and naming the unethical argument reduces its power. At this point it is no longer an assumption; thus, students can choose to act against that assumption.

Some common arguments provided by Gentile (2012) include expected or standard practice, materiality, locus of loyalty, and locus of responsibility. Observe the standard practices of your own courses and your expectations for student work. Require citations, even for small assignments or when quoting from the textbook. The example you set normalizes student behaviors, making it abnormal to write anything without citations. Ask students to stand up for your class when they are doing assignments and give them a script. For example, in a computer science class you may be allowed to discuss a topic without sharing code. Give them an example of what is and is not permissible on that assignment. When a classmate asks for help, the student in question will then possess the language to help appropriately and to say no if their peer pressures them to give more help than is allowed.

For materiality, students are often forced in GPA dependency. Students must maintain a certain GPA to remain enrolled in school, receive certain financial aid (e.g., the HOPE Scholarship in Georgia), or maintain other statuses (e.g., Honors students). Students may hear their peers say, “If I do not receive a high grade on this assignment, I will not pass this class. Then I will have to drop out of school.” Most people have some form of empathy and compassion that might compel them to stay quiet when they see misconduct in this instance. Help your students flip this script. Have them question peers about whether one bad grade will realistically damage their academic careers, or if they are just stressed. Give students a list of resources to help their friends if they are on the brink of losing a scholarship instead of cheating.

This may all be born out of some sense, or locus, of loyalty. When students feel they owe their loyalty to their peers, they are not likely to speak up in support of academic integrity. In your class, help students be loyal to the knowledge they can gain when they apply themselves. Help them develop loyalty to the skills they will develop across the institution that will help them reach their dreams. Cultivate loyalty to the field of study and what it means to be a practitioner in that field. If you can build that loyalty, you help students overcome their excuses for not calling out a fellow student for academic misconduct.

Finally, there is the locus of responsibility. Students may see academic misconduct and trust that the instructor will catch it. Why should they intervene when it is not their job? It is vital that you help them understand that they are part of the campus culture. When they do not stand up for academic integrity, they associate themselves with a culture of cheating. They need the language to explain to classmates that they value the degrees they will earn. If they are getting the degrees without earning them, it will impact long-term employability. It is their job to push back against their peers in this instance, just as it is your responsibility to report academic misconduct according to your institution’s policy.

After four weeks and seven pillars, I hope you feel empowered to give your students the courage and opportunities to champion academic integrity. Like Giving Voice to Values, the final pillar of academic integrity is courage. Courage is triggered by different things for different people. Your students may show courage in voicing their values because the alternative is unbearable, because they have hope, or simply because they find academic integrity a service worth championing. Whatever this may be, you can help them get there.

How are you giving students opportunities to champion academic integrity? Share by commenting below or by posting on social media.


Gentile, M. C. (2012). Giving voice to values: How to speak your mind when you know what’s right. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Stephens, J. M. (2017). How to cheat and not feel guilty: Cognitive dissonance and its amelioration in the domain of academic dishonesty. Theory Into Practice56(2), pp. 111-120. 

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