At home, you may have told your parents you were “sleeping at a friend’s house last night.” You may have tried to coax your teachers into believing variations on the perennial classic, “The dog ate my homework.” You might have tried to convince that traffic cop that as a Doogie Howser-like medical prodigy, you were actually speeding your way to a surgery stat. Or perhaps you instantly shed a few pounds when filling out that health form that asked for your weight.
Whether we like to admit it or not, all of us lie — and some of us cheat. While other vices may be more ethically black-and-white, dishonesty is more like a massive gray area bound by the fine lines of “right” and “wrong.” Yalies may say they oppose dishonesty in principle, but their actions suggest otherwise.
“I lie to my parents about eating candy and watching rated-R movies,” Marissa Levendis ’07 said.
Students agree that lying to parents is a generally accepted form of dishonesty.
“There’s also a kind of implicit lying that you do when your parents have this image of you that isn’t reflective of you,” one student said. “[To them], I am the model child.”
Even lying in the educational context is sometimes excusable, some students said.
Ashley Campbell ’07 said she cheated on a spelling test in second grade because she didn’t know how to spell the name John — and got it wrong anyway. Campbell added that she would never cheat again because “I learned how badly I felt afterward” — and because “it took so long to cheat.”
“I faked a CAT scan to get out of class one time,” one upperclassman said. “In reality, I took a nap and watched some television.”
She justified her lies as a matter of “sleep and health.”
“So many Yalies prioritize their time differently than what is most healthy for them,” the upperclassman explained. “Lying isn’t about getting around responsibility; it’s about doing what you need to do to remain sane in an insane institution.”
But is there a line where dishonesty is plain wrong? Some pointed to cheating on a significant other.
“I am a huge monogamy person,” one Calhoun student said. “Maybe it’s because I’m personally paranoid, but infidelity is the only truly inexcusable thing in a relationship to me.”
Yet even the worst kinds of dishonesty can be complicated by extenuating circumstances.
“I had a friend at school who told everybody that she had cancer because nobody liked her — the girl eventually had to tell everyone that she was lying, so she left the school that year,” Gilbert Addo ’07 said.
Some Yalies said they feel just as desparate when it comes to grades. One professor said she has faced cheating almost every semester of her career at Yale.
“People tend to put themselves in situations where they have to pass in order to graduate, and they’ve created a situation where they’re just that desperate,” she said.
But there are different kinds of cheaters.
“People who cheat on tests fall into two categories: people who are stressed and desperate and had no other choice and people who are extremely lazy and will do that and will cut any corner they possibly can — those are the people that usually get expelled,” one student said.
Whatever the reason, cheating often goes unnoticed, and the professor speculated that there were several issues to blame. Professors who try to combat academic dishonesty must maneuver through miles of red tape and legal technicalities before anything is done.
“A lot of my colleagues are not looking for it and prefer not to have to deal with it,” she said. “[But compared to other schools], Yale has been very supportive when situations have arisen.”
Moreover, the professor said such students usually master the art of cheating well before entering college. “By the time the kids get here, they already know how to do it, and they do it in a very sophisticated way.”
Students remain adamant, however, that dishonesty is not a way of life at Yale.
“I think that the only two things that merit kicking a person out [of a school] are abuse of the person and abuse of intellectual trust,” a Calhoun freshman girl said.
Perhaps the reality lies somewhere in between lying as a vice and lying as a necessary evil.
As one student concluded, “Lying is accepted, provided it doesn’t become a way of life.”
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