Two weeks ago, I talked about the Bystander effect and how it contributes to the spread of cheating and contract cheating. This week, I’d like to spotlight what we are doing at UC San Diego to train people to stand up and speak out for integrity.

Our Bystander Intervention Training (BIT) was developed by adapting training to prevent sexual assault and by incorporating understandings from the ethical decision-making and acting literature and removing information that isn’t normally paramount in cheating situations (like safety).

Our training begins by educating people on the 4 tests that can be used to recognize ethical issues. This is a critical step in the training because without the ability to recognize an ethical situation when facing it, people fail to act. In other words, in order for people to act ethically they must be able to see ethically.

Briefly, the four tests are: gut feeling, values, standards, and exposure. The gut feeling test is intuitive and instinctive. While we can’t train people to have “gut feelings”, we can train ourselves to pay attention to our gut feelings. The tight shoulders, the sweaty palms, the clenching fists or jaws, or the insatiable need to either fight or flee are all signals our bodies uses to say “hey! Pay attention! Something is terribly wrong here!” And, once trained, we can use the values, standards and exposure tests to quickly check our gut instinct. Asking oneself simple questions can run our brains through these tests rather quickly:

    1. is what I am seeing undermining honesty, trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, or fairness? (values test)


    1. Is what I am seeing a violation of standards, rules, codes or laws? (standards test)


    1. If others saw what I am seeing, would it (or my inaction) be approved or condemned? (exposure test)

Once we can see ethically, we will be able to come up with IDEAs on acting ethically. These IDEAs for acting ethically can also be best described with questions:

    • Interrupt - is there a way that I can interrupt the unethical behavior in progress or interrupt the situation so an unethical action doesn’t occur?


    • Direct - can I direct the actors to an alternative ethical action instead of unethical ones?


    • Engage - would it be useful to engage others in the situation to help me resolve the situation ethically?


    • Authorities - do I need to act by reporting this to the relevant authorities?

It should be easy to see how these IDEAs could be useful actions for a student, a teaching assistant (TA), or even a staff member to take in the face of cheating. For example, if a student feels that their neighbor is trying to copy off of their test, they could interrupt the behavior by hiding their test or they could report the situation to the authorities (their teacher). Or, a TA who sees cheating during a test could interrupt the behavior by taking away the cheating aid, engage with other TAs to make sure of their observations, and/or report the behavior to authorities. Finally, if a student tells their resident hall advisor that they are feeling better about their ability to succeed in the course because they found a tutor online to "help" them with their homework, the resident advisor can interrupt by asking important questions to clarify the ethicality of the tutor or direct the student to alternative sources of help on campus like the TA, supplemental instruction, or the instructor. 

Once people have IDEAs on how they can act ethically, they are trained to think through the best IDEA by running them through the 4 tests again (see above). Again, a rather simple question can be useful - of all of the possible IDEAs, which will best uphold the applicable values and standards, and which one would pass muster if exposed to others (like the media or institutional leadership)?

And finally, our training ends by helping people develop the courage to act. We do this by educating them on the typical rationalizations for NOT acting ethically and having them pre-script responses to these rationalizations. This idea of pre-scripting is critical to building courage because it helps people feel prepared and the possible objections will not shock them into psychological paralysis.

The UC San Diego Bystander Intervention Training illustrates why acting ethically cannot be left to chance or by appeal to people’s better natures. To act ethically, one needs to see ethically and then have the courage to do something about it. And, in many ethical situations, one has to act rather instantly with little to no time for thinking. Thus, training and practicing can help prepare one to be able to act in an instant. So, using this BIT along with case studies and role plays can help people practice and develop their acting muscles. But ultimately, we cannot provide sufficient practice in the short training sessions we are usually afforded. However, at least with the BIT training, we've provided them with a tool that they can learn and practice in their daily lives until they become sufficiently skilled to see and act ethically when the moment presents itself, which it always does.