Research Ethics at Duke and Beyond with Provost Kornbluth

By: Megan Zhao

Look around at your dorm-mates, your classmates, and your teammates. More than half of them will participate in some form of research before their time at Duke comes to an end. With such a high percentage of Duke undergraduates engaging in research, it seems obvious that there should be some form of education about integrity and ethical research. On Monday night, Provost Kornbluth joined Duke Student Government and Honor Council to discuss some of the most prevalent issues surrounding integrity and research at Duke.
Most people don’t have a problem with the concept of an honor code. Most believe themselves to be honorable people and don’t think twice about signing a pledge to refrain from cheating and plagiarizing. However, what does cause a second look is arguably the most important part of the honor code: the promise to act if we see the code being compromised.
Provost Kornbluth understands the concern students have with “telling on” their peers, but the issue of accountability and responsibility for others in the community is much more significant when the research you are conducting has the potential to influence other labs who might try to reproduce the results, and more importantly, for real-world applications such as patient care.
With the onslaught of technological innovations that allow for research to be conducted at an unprecedented rate as well as for information to be spread almost instantly, the discourse concerning medical ethics has increased over the years. Sites like RetractionWatch ensure that transgressions are publicized and researchers are held accountable for their conclusions. However, from time to time, something still slips by. This is why the willingness to report is integral to keeping the system honest. Nothing institutionalized, whether it be integrity training or anti-plagiarism programs, can stop one rogue individual who sets out with the intent of flouting the system.
In addition to a culture of reporting what looks suspicious and always checking results more than once, Provost Kornbluth is a strong believer in lab mentors leading and teaching by example. In many cases, misconduct occurs simply because a student is unaware that what they are doing is changing the results in a drastic manner. What is important is the continual education of young researchers while they are in the process of researching.

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Duke Lacrosse and the Law with Jim Coleman

By: Jared Edwards

Last week, on November 8, 2017, Duke Honor Council hosted law professor James E. Coleman. On this chilly night, an intimate group of around fifty students compacted themselves into Wellness Room 148 to hear Coleman give his take on the Duke lacrosse case. Yet, Coleman did not merely share a general perspective on the case, because he played a substantial internal role in the scandal that occurred back in 2006.

During the scandal, the media were reporting that the Duke lacrosse team had a history of bad behavior. As a result, Coleman, then a professor of law, was chosen by President Broadhead to chair a committee that would examine the Duke lacrosse team’s conduct on and around campus in the years leading up to the scandal. Broadhead gave Coleman and his committee one month to generate a report, with the purpose of revealing whether or not the lacrosse team exhibited behaviors significantly different from those of other Duke athletic teams and Greek organizations.

In the one-month window of time that they had to generate the report, Coleman and his committee worked around the clock, interviewing as many people as necessary and possible—peers of the lacrosse players, community members, and individuals to whom the lacrosse players did not need to show respect. Coming out of this whirlwind, Coleman’s committee found that the team did not exhibit any peculiar misconduct. Although the team frequently ran into trouble with alcohol misconduct, this was an average Duke behavior and larger community problem. Furthermore, the committee determined that the lacrosse team members behaved with respect towards others; nothing pointed to the type of behavior described in the media.

From this perspective and experience, Coleman made the conclusion: If you always do what is right, you will never be in the wrong and never have regrets, even if you seem to stand alone. As he investigated the conduct of the lacrosse team, Coleman was doing the right thing, even though he seemed to stand alone with respect to the backdrop of the media

But Coleman’s conclusion transcends the Duke lacrosse scandal.

As a Duke community member, if you always do what is right under the Community Standard, you will never be in the wrong and never have regrets, even if you seem to stand alone. Yes, abiding by the Community Standard may make you challenge yourself, as though you are standing alone; you may be put in the uncomfortable position of pulling an all-nighter so as to not cheat or calling out a friend for questionable behavior. But if you conduct yourself with this honesty, you will never have to face the regrets and the emotional turmoil associated with doing what is wrong. Choose what is right. Choose honor.


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Criminal Law and Financial Markets: Can Money Prevent You From Doing Time? – A Talk with Prof. Samuel Buell

By: Megan Zhao

After devastating events like the financial crisis of 2008, people are quick to place blame and call for the prosecution of those involved in the scandal. As I sat down with my plate of Guasaca, it seemed to me that white collar crime was simple. Commit fraud?—Prison. Insider trading?—Prison. Money laundering?—Prison. But what do you do when the line between what is right and wrong becomes blurred? This is the very question Duke professor of law Samuel Buell proposed as he sat down to discuss with members of Honor Council, Scale and Coin, Consulting Club, and other members of the Duke Community.

What is so difficult when it comes to discussing honor in the corporate world is that there is no set of rules that outlines what is against the law and what is not. When a new trader or banker enters into the industry, there is an unspoken agreement to “cheat” a little bit. If you don’t cheat or play the system, you feel like you’re the only one losing the game. In an analogy Professor Buell used, if you enter into a game of poker, you better be ready to deceive the other players, and you better be prepared to get deceived. Crime, by its very nature, must be an aberration. When everyone is doing it, can it still be considered a crime?

Like in most real life situations, white collar crime is not as black and white as most people make it out to be. Crime in the corporate world is not so much a matter of finding the evidence to prove someone’s innocence or guilt as it is figuring out what should be considered a crime. When it comes down to prosecuting white collar criminals, intent is what matters. Did the accused know what he was doing was wrong at the time? Did he do it with the intent of harm, or was he simply carried off by the wave of institutionalized fraud? Even when there is evidence of mal-intent, it’s difficult to pin down who should be blamed. At the end of the discussion, the unanswered question was this: in a world in which everyone is involved in crime, what, if any, should the standard for honor and morality be?

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Ethics in Finance: Why Do People Cheat on their Taxes?

By: Brittany Paris Amano

On Thursday, October 12, Honor Council had the privilege of listening to Professor C.J. Skender as a part of our theme of ethics in business and finance this month. Professor Skender has served as a training consultant on three continents for IBM, Nortel, Siemens, Starwood and Wells Fargo. He has developed and delivered various executive education seminars as well as CPA, CMA, and CIA review courses. For six years, he lectured simultaneously in the State, Carolina and Duke CPA preparatory classes. C.J. has received multiple teaching awards at the Fuqua School of Business, the Kenan-Flagler Business School, and North Carolina State University. C. J. has taught 300 sections of college courses and over 14,000 students during his academic career.

Professor Skender spoke about how honor and ethics played out in his life both personally and professionally. In everything he does, he asks himself if it would make his parents and his kids proud if they saw him doing that. He shared anecdotes of catching students in his classes cheating both in graduate and undergraduate courses as well as spoke about how cheating on a test now can translate to larger consequences in the future including going to prison for stealing money from a company or breaking up a family due to cheating on your spouse.

Professor Skender taught all three of his children at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and said his daughter even got a B in his course. He said he knew he taught his kids well when his daughter responded with, “That’s what I deserved”. A student asked a question regarding his experience dealing with dishonesty in the auditing business and if he would ever compromise his ethics to keep the client from going to another auditing firm. Professor Skender said that the firms do worry about losing their clientele to customers, however, he strongly urges against cheating on tax forms and says he wouldn’t want to work with clients who requested that he do so anyway. Honor Council was grateful to have Professor Skender bring the perspective of an esteemed faculty member who sometimes has to go through the painful process of seeing his students expelled for cheating on exams. His core value of only doing things if his parents and children would be proud of him doing so has proven to be a success in his life. To learn more from Professor Skender, sign up for Econ 174!

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Duke Honor Council Welcomes the Class of 2021

The Duke University Honor Council was privileged to help welcome the Class of 2021 during O-Week with messages on honor and integrity delivered by council chair Kushal Kadakia. He delivered a welcoming address (transcript below) to the entire class followed by a signing of the Duke Community Standard banner, and he led an informational session on academic integrity. Read the transcript of his speech below:

Good evening Class of 2021!

My name is Kushal Kadakia – I’m a junior serving as the Chairman of the Duke Honor Council – and I am so excited to welcome you to campus tonight.

Today has probably been a bit of a blur – new faces, sights, and sounds. And as you’ve begun to meet the rest of your class, I bet you have been asked same questions a few hundred times:

“What is your name?”

“Where are you from?”

“What dorm are you in?”

“What are you planning on majoring in?”

Hopefully O-Week’s seemingly never-ending icebreakers have begun to reveal Duke’s most special quality – the diversity of its students. Over the past two years of being at this university, I have yet to find two Duke students who are exactly alike. Some of you, like me, are the only students in your class from your hometown. Others of you might have flown in from across the world, while a few of you might have driven in from just down the street. But after today, all of you, no matter where you came from or what you look like, will proudly call Duke home.

On the surface, this process is already underway. Over the next week, your class will begin to color in the blank slate of East Campus, from the murals that you will spray paint on the bridge to the home-makeovers that you will give to your new dorm rooms. And as the weeks turn into months, you too will begin to leave your mark on this place – whether it is adding your own voice to the sound of Duke’s acapella groups, or putting your own name on the ballot for a Duke Student Government election.

And although these experiences at Duke will push you to new highs and lows, it will be the people you meet and the friends you make who will keep you grounded through it all. Because what makes this place special is how students who start off as strangers from all across the world can converge together and build each other up around the principles of honesty, fairness, and integrity.

It is that ethic of community that I would like to share with you tonight. At Duke, I lead the Honor Council, a student group commissioned by the university to promote the values upon which our school was built, which are known as the Duke Community Standard. The Community Standard synthesizes aspiration with action into three core principles:

  1. I will not lie, cheat, or steal in my academic endeavors;
  2. I will conduct myself honorably in all my endeavors; and
  3. I will act if the Standard is compromised.

The first one is easy enough – after all, Duke is first and foremost a school. But ethics are not limited to the classroom. In college, we live where we learn, and that special privilege requires extending the same respect and kindness wherever we go – from the dorm to the dining room, from the lab to the lecture hall, from Duke into Durham.

That leads us to principle number two – which extends Duke’s definition of ethics to all endeavors. Did you know the Community Standard was written by Duke students for all members of the Duke community? That includes administrators, faculty, and staff. These are common norms that we pledge ourselves to, because at Duke, we are one community – one where students like you and me have the privilege to set the example and take the lead.

But ethics is also a two-way street. It is not enough to simply preach moral action – it is imperative that we engage in it ourselves. Principle number three is that call for accountability – to “act if the Standard is compromised”.

Without a doubt, Duke is a community built around action. Let me give you a few examples. If you choose to tent for the Duke-UNC game like I did this past spring, you will learn that the Line Monitors who run the tent checks and maintain order in K-Ville are none other than your fellow Duke students – because at Duke, students trust one another to keep the community in check. And if you ever encounter misconduct on campus, you will discover that every disciplinary hearing includes undergraduate panelists just like you – because at Duke, students enforce the norms they create.

I hope you will join me in continuing this history of action. After tonight’s speeches, come up to the front and join me in one of your first Duke traditions – the signing the Community Standard. Later this week, the Honor Council will hang this banner in Marketplace as a reminder of what our community can and should be.

Because at Duke, and in life, you’ll be confronted by moments of right and wrong and you may not always choose the right one. But make it your mission to be just a little bit better every day. Never forget to question the actions you’re doing and the systems you’re a part of. After all, accountability is a collaborative effort – and I can’t wait to see how your class will join the Honor Council in preserving and protecting the academic and social foundations upon which our community is built.

Thank you for your time, and welcome to Duke!            

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Class of 2021 Common Experience Essay Contest

Duke Honor Council relaunched its annual essay contest this year for the incoming Class of 2021 to give them an opportunity to reflect on and expand upon the ideas portrayed in their common experience reading of Richard Blanco’s The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. Along with their copy of the book, the members of the Class of 2021 were provided a card that outlined our essay contest prompt:

“In the Prince of Los Cocuyos, Richard Blanco struggles to define his personal identity and reconcile conflicting cultural norms and expectations. In diverse settings – whether on Miami’s beaches or in Duke’s Gothic Wonderland – how should individuals respond to community imposed pressures to conform? Essays should be between 500-700 words and may draw upon the book, historical examples, or personal experiences.”

We received a record number of submissions this year, so the selection process was extremely difficult for our panel of executive council members. After a thorough review, one winner was chosen along with four other finalists. The winner’s essay is published in The Chronicle, and the winner will receive $500. Each of these five students and their submissions are recognized below; the finalists are listed in no particular order.

Winner: Anuk Dayaprema – Trinity ’21

Throughout the time I spent between the covers of The Prince of Los Cocuyos, I was astounded by Richard Blanco’s dynamic relationship with the novel’s sole “antagonist”: his abuela. It seemed that no matter how many times he was chagrined at her attempts to negotiate the English language, or was forced to repress his very personhood to meet her traditional standards of manhood, she never ceased to be a pillar of support for a young Richard Blanco. But beyond his grandmother, Mr. Blanco made it quite clear that he was surrounded by a pueblo of family and friends throughout his childhood and adolescence, a village that would confound his “becoming” but foster his growth, make him question his identity and yet be intricately connected to it. It is this support, the strength derived from community, that I consider most beneficial to those facing pressure to conform.

Obviously some measure of conformity is necessary for a society to function smoothly; it’s hard to fathom a long-lived country where people get to choose which side of the road to drive on. On the other hand, ideally one should be true to one’s heart, if Disney’s Mulan is to be believed. But these are neither solid pieces of advice nor wise counsel; they are at best hand-wavy, wishy-washy statements that offer no guidance on traveling the minefield that is remaining true to oneself. In fact, given the wide swath of human experiences, it is difficult to imagine a panacea effective for each and every trial and tribulation people may encounter in maintaining the integrity of their identities; personally, I don’t think one exists. Just as there are myriad events, emotions, and memories from which one’s identity develops, it surely follows that there are just as many ways social norms act to compromise one’s individuality, ostensibly for the worse. Therefore, it seems that an indirect solution would best serve individuals filled and bombarded with doubt about who they really are; namely, the unwavering support of a community would allow individuals to resolve, on their own terms, their inner conflicts stemming from outward pressure.

I hope that I am not regurgitating some cliché or offering something either unrelated to or not in the spirit of the question at hand. Nonetheless, it is hard to disregard the importance of strong social ties in providing strength and resilience. Evidence in support of this abounds, and herein listed are just a few examples: (1) A study conducted in Canada found that LGBTQ students in schools with strong gay-straight alliances experienced fewer suicidal ideations and attempts. (2) The National Crime Prevention Council lists community intervention as a proven strategy for reducing gang violence. (3) A case study of Iranian migrants in Turkey proposed that immigrant networks are vital for displaced individuals to regain their sense of identity. Therefore, I suppose the following would be the best course of action for dealing with the pressure to conform to social norms: assemble a cadre of compatriots, whether that be one or one hundred others. Fortunately, at a place that samples the world over, finding one’s social niche in the ecosystem that is Duke must be easier than in other locales.

Of course, the above assumes that one is able to escape animosity and/or find the support of others. For those who find themselves with no social support or even concerted efforts to undermine their identities, their paths to “becoming” are that much more difficult. These individuals, understandably, would find nothing of use in the words above. However, much can still be done. The majority of this spiel has been centered on the individual finding community; not a word has been said on the community reaching out to the individual. As was mentioned, Duke clearly seems to be doing its part in helping those in need of backing; however, the same cannot be said for many places elsewhere. With only eighteen years of unremarkable life experience, it may not be in my place to suggest something that others should work towards; regardless, I feel that going through the next four years and beyond with an arm ready to be extended to someone lacking anyone is something worthwhile to strive for.

Finalist: Bing Ho – Trinity ’21

A Fish Enthusiast’s Guide to Confronting Conformity

Step 1: It’s ok to be self-conscious

If you’re an immigrant or a fish enthusiast like me, embarrassment is no stranger: The whole class cackles when the substitute always mispronounces your name or when your shrimp tank is an outlier amidst a sea of Legos and Barbie dolls at show-and-tell. Yes, you hear snickers behind your back as your peers watch you open up your bento box during lunch, revealing hokkien mee noodles with a side of durian. But don’t worry, their brown paper sacks that smell of cold-cut ham are no match for your fish-shaped mochi waffles mom packed as a treat.

Step 2: Attempt to assimilate

So it’s recess now, and the other kids give you rude glances while you read your beloved fish encyclopedia. You mistake the basketball players’ sneers in your direction as friendly gestures to join them. Hastily tossing aside your book, you join the ”cool kids” but end up watching courtside- nobody wants to be judged for including “Mr. Fins”. Now you’re in the same boat as Blanco, drifting further out to sea between the birthplace of your identity and this new frontier.

Step 3: Neither here nor there

With the scent of your favorite duck dish forming an aromatic symphony with the barbecue next door during the Fourth of July block party, Dad can’t resist anymore and brings the whole family to this “foreign festivity” after years of refusal. Shooting hoops with the neighbors, your teammates’ cheers for you drown out your feelings of loneliness; you’re finally one of them. Heck, you’re starting to sound and act like them too: telling Sam he’s dope for letting you ride his sick bike and saying grace before dinner. You stuff your face with your roast duck (cooked to perfection), but your friends gawk at the carcass and your alien pallette in horror. Suddenly, you’re alone again, eating your duck at the picnic table and as confused as Blanco about where you belong. Calling your best friend back home, you can’t even relate to him anymore as he rambles about his favorite K-pop artists and foods that suddenly seem so obscure. Your identity is stuck between your roots and the present and you vie for a community to be a part of…to call home.

Step 4: Accept yourself

With your emotions scrambling to find their ground, you resort to the one thing that knows you: fish. Whether they’re coming to the front of the tank to greet you in the morning or swimming to your fingers for food, they’ve always been there for you. Watching the tank grow from its infancy to mature tranquillity, you’ve become a part of the community. The diverse species each contribute their own strengths to support the vibrant ecosystem. You discover that no matter the color, shape, or size, there’ll always be a place for you- you just have to find it. What matters is not the differences between you and them, but the person you have become, “a little from everywhere” as Yetta might say. Your insecurities no longer hold you back from participating in your community but shine a spotlight on where you belong.

Step 5: Be a Maverick

As Victor would tell you, “ you know who you are and that’s never going to change, nunca”. The basketball players who judged your relationship with fish, wondering “what’s wrong with you?” now approach you during the science fair asking, “Tell me how you did that!” Even as your teammates give you weird looks as you drink a Japanese Ramune soda, you ask them to try and pretty soon everyone is begging you for a bottle. You were stuck between two worlds, but now you have the best of both. “Daring to disturb the universe”, you start sitting with “that nerd” during lunch or showing the new kid around school- finding companions in the nooks and crannies of your community.  Everyone still knows you for your quirks and oddities, but own being different- being “un farito”- for the others that are stranded between their identity and their surroundings. You guide the missing parts of your community ashore, creating a brighter and better society than when you first found it.

Finalist: Daniel Egitto – Trinity ’21

I’ll never forget the night I became an Indian.

It was early October, a couple months into my high school senior year. One of my Indian friends had been inviting people out to this big Gujarati dancing festival over at the India Association, and one way or another me and my fluorescent-white skin had found ourselves sucked out of my basic jeans-and-tee-shirt, stuffed into this jumble of clothes whose names I could barely even pronounce, and shuttled off to dance the night away on a choreographic skillset that had never gotten much beyond the “funky chicken.”

Standing with two white friends in the midst of 200 Indians, waiting for the start of an unknown dance in a language I didn’t speak from a culture totally alien to my own—if it’s possible to lose sight of the last iota of community or place, that is how I felt that night.

It was a strange sensation, to be so fundamentally alone. This white kid squished into Indian clothes, tripping through a stranger’s dance, a Richard Blanco caught between the expectations of two worlds I’d neither fully claimed nor understood. All my life, of course, there’d been some tacit understanding that I was “American,” part of American culture and a greater American community. But what did that even mean? What was that “American community”—and why did it feel so different to be involved in a festival like this, when this culture must be part of America too?

The United States is and always has been a melting pot for culture and identity. Communities come here from everywhere under the sun, mingling, adapting and claiming ownership to the idea of America while still upholding their own senses of self. But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who weren’t born into these communities or who don’t connect strongly with them, left as we are to a culture whose meaning depends so much on the identities that make it up? It’s here we run into the greatest challenges of diversity. As with all diverse societies, America lacks the definition that comes with a universally-held heritage or system of belief. America is composed of people from every imaginable walk of life, and because of this there is only so much we can achieve by simply conforming to the American super-community’s demands.

Whether it’s on the scale of a nation, a city, or a university, no truly diverse society can ever be understood passively. Culture-defining elements and conformist expectations are always ambiguous in these settings, and when we fail to recognize our true diversity, it becomes all too easy for us to forget ourselves in the clamor of the loudest voices shouted from the largest crowds. These voices are rarely accepting, and they are never pluralistic. They are the definition of the status quo, reactionary forces that respond to inroads of diversity with little but prejudice and fear. If we fail to engage with the communities around us, these voices can bring ruin to multicultural growth on all levels, both societal and personal.

The sway of these voices, however, only remains strong as long as we forfeit our courage for complacency. When we take ourselves out of our comfort zones, when we look more closely at the needleworks of community that underlie the fabric of our world, when we overcome our insecurities and step out into the rhythm of a new song—when we do these things, we not only extend ourselves beyond the tyranny of the loudest voice, but we also begin to develop an identity and a voice of our own.

Because as I slowly let down my barriers in the melodies of that night at the India Association, America became so much more to me than the sum of vague shouts and conformist demands. This was the real America, here among these strangers, caught up in the freedom and expression and strength, whites and Indians brought together under a single beat. No, I was not a good dancer. No, I did not know the songs. But there was one music, one dance, and one humanity—and in that moment, the Indian and the American were one.

Finalist: Dennis Harrsch Jr. – Trinity ’21

Humans are fundamentally a duality – we live as simple creatures, one with Nature in our physical existence and needs, and yet simultaneously as thoughtful beings, in that we consciously exist before, within, and beyond ourselves. We are separate from the Earth’s other inhabitants in that we have beliefs, morals, and passions that define who we are. Without these, what truly are we? It is in those important ways that we exist within ourselves – however, through the heritage of our parents and histories forged long ago, we are shaped before our life even begins. The basis of who we will be exists, amorphous and malleable, before we experience the formative world around us. Thus, we exist before ourselves, in those ideas, and find our very basis in that fundamental part of who we are. Moreover, through our interactions with others, we can exist beyond ourselves, encouraging our children, friends, and peers in how they live, view the world, and exist beyond the simple needs of the body. Knowing this, we must not ignore the importance of any of these components to our being – our personalities are important, and equally valuable are the roots of these personalities and their impact on others. We should cherish our heritage, culture, and personalities, as they are a celebration of who we are at our core. The very fact that we are able to be anything is beautiful, and we must recognize that beauty and love it for its value to us as humans.

All of this being said, we are still a part of Nature, and can learn much from the world around us. One thing that is strikingly clear in the ecosystems around us is that diversity provides stability. Differences in niches or food sources allow organisms to work together and coexist – without differences, it would be impossible for all of them to exist together. Diversity allows for organisms to specialize, finding their specific role within an ecosystem, and through this specialization ecosystems become more able to withstand difficult times. It is the same for humans – when we exist in a diverse community of people with different interests, backgrounds, and cultures, we are build a strong social group in which people are better able to work together and find where they fit in. This diversity, founded in different backgrounds, builds communities which give back to their inhabitants, and which are built to last.

The value and importance of personality and diversity is clear, and yet, for reasons buried deep within our human condition, we fear differences and what we do not know. Due to these fears, each of us will inevitably be confronted at some point with pressures to conform to some norm, or to a culture that is not our own, or to give up some belief, simply on the basis that it isn’t what others are “comfortable” with. For examples, we can look to Richard Blanco’s memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos, in which he describes these pressures from several sides to be “American”, or “Cuban”, or straight, depending on the situation. These pressures to conform are all too common, and yet we cannot yield to them. Just as the Elie Wiesel described the opposite of love to not be hate, but indifference, so too is the opposite of diversity not uniformity, but rather conformity. We know the value of our who we are and of diversity, and we must protect these commodities by actively resisting those pressures, by more firmly being ourselves. Blanco, despite societal and familial pressures, chooses to discover who he is, instead of simply being what he is told to be. He, like the fireflies which give his own pueblo its name, found a way to shine, even when others were attempting to force darkness upon him. We must each do the same. We must be. We cannot passively allow ourselves to be who we want to be: instead, choose to actively be who we are in the decisions we make. Like the fireflies in Blanco’s Cuba, or perhaps in our own backyard, when the sun begins to set, we must force ourselves to shine, and in shining, light the way for others to do the same.

Finalist: Natalie Ecanow – Trinity ’21

“Strive to be in the world, but not of it”. These are the words preached by my high school English teacher, and the very words that hover in the dense air of Richard Blanco’s Miami.

Speaking to a class of soon to be high school graduates, my teacher wished upon us a life in which we participated in the world as productive and engaged citizens while remaining distinctively unique, individual, and wholly our own. Remaining informed while resisting societal pressures to conform was the essence of his message.

In his book On Judaism, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber writes that, “Sin is basically
nothing more than inertia.” This phrase cannot help but haunt the mind that ponders conformity. If we, as individuals, allow society to dictate our whereabouts and whatabouts, we do not only relinquish uniqueness, but, according to Buber, we are sinning. Passively submitting to society’s incessant murmur is a form of inertia. In turn, trading the flavor of distinct character for the blandness of life in a uniform society would be as if society resorted to a life of sin. This is precisely why human beings have the responsibility to uphold their beliefs. Individuals cannot allow their values to be swayed by what scrolls across the screen in their living rooms, what is plastered on billboard advertisements, or whatever society presents as what is “good” and what is “true.” This is not to say that individuals should boycott the media, get rid of the television, remove themselves from the secular world and return to the primordial. We should indulge in the pleasures of modernity and fully engage in our world, yet be cognizant of the dangers of becoming of it. Inertia is threatening. The value of decision is priceless. Individuality is priceless. It is the human responsibility to live a life immersed in culture and community, while upholding whatever it may be that makes us distinctly our own.

These contemplations are no doubt complex in execution. It is challenging to maintain a stance of duality in which one foot is planted in society, the other in individuality. Perhaps, this duality is what defined Richard Blanco’s childhood struggle: how to balance his Cuban heritage with his patriotism for his new home in America. He wanted to be an American who shopped at Winn-Dixie and ate Turkey on Thanksgiving. Surely, fried plantains beside the candied yams was not how Blanco imagined his Thanksgiving feast. Thanksgiving is its own American entity, separate and distinct from Cuban tradition.

Humanity has struggled with the concept of “two” for generations. This struggle reached the peak of its strength in Nazi Europe. The New York Review of Books published an article by Timothy Snyder entitled Hitler’s World, in which Snyder writes about the Holocaust. He describes that, “The world’s problem, as Hitler saw it, was that Jews falsely separated science and politics…The solution he proposed was to expose Jews to the brutal reality that nature and society were one and the same” (Snyder, 10). The Jewish mindset, according to Hitler, was corrupt and dangerous. Jews were leaders in two frontiers. They were at the forefront of science, discovering and innovating upon nature’s principles, while remaining active in society —in politics and religion.

Whether it be nature and society, America and Cuba, or, more broadly, society and individuality, every individual finds himself oscillating between two distinct realms, urged by community imposed pressures to conform. Inertia, however, is not the answer. We are to remain strong in our beliefs, uphold our traditions, all the while extracting value from the community that surrounds us. After all, is there really anything wrong with having fried plantains on Thanksgiving?

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I-Week Lunch with Prof Philipsen

On Wednesday, March 22nd, Duke Honor Council held a talk with Professor Dirk Philipsen as part of Honor Council’s Integrity Week. An Associate Research Professor of economic history at the Sanford School of Public Policy and a Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Professor Philipsen’s work focuses on economics, capitalism, and sustainability. These topics became the basis of discussion for this Honor Council event. More specifically, Professor Philipsen talked about the intersection of economics and sustainability, focusing on the fact that, in the years to come, our market structure will not allow us to continue our current way of life here on earth. We are already using well beyond a sustainable amount of earth’s resources, and our market’s focus on growth, Professor Philipsen argued, is unnecessary considering what we currently produce and its ability to support the world’s inhabitants.

What really struck a chord with listeners was Professor Philipsen’s question, “what will you tell your children when they must face what we’ve done to the earth?” Though it is certainly frightening to think about the earth’s current prognosis, Professor Philipsen’s focus on what we, the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and educators, can do to improve the situation gave listeners hope and reason to think about our actions.

Professor Philipsen also encouraged listeners to think about what truly matters to them, opening the discussion by asking students both what they cared about and what bothered them. Coupled with his discussion on sustainability, listeners left Professor Philipsen’s talk thinking about meaning, purpose, and our ability to make the change that needs to happen for the world. His talk provided fascinating examples of honor, integrity, and morality, as he encouraged students both to seek authentic, purposeful lives and to care about one of the most pressing concerns of our time.

You can learn more about Professor Philipsen, on his website, Duke Honor Council gives a huge thank you to Professor Philipsen for a fantastic and engaging discussion!

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Honor Council Endorses Jackson Dellinger for DSG President

It is with great enthusiasm that Duke University Honor Council endorses Jackson Dellinger for President of Duke Student Government. While Honor Council members were pleased with Riyanka Ganguly’s emphasis on communication and community building, Jackson stood out with his strong visions for beneficial change and a successful background to back up his claims.

Jackson, a current senator for Durham and regional affairs, demonstrated his passion for being a voice for all students through his prior experience working as an attorney representing juvenile offenders in the Durham area. His firm belief that the institution fails when it stops listening to its members aligns with Honor Council’s belief in building a more genuine and communicative campus culture.

During the interview, Jackson impressed Honor Council with his honest approach to reforming SOFC funding. His ideas of making money easier to obtain for deserving clubs while also publishing data collected so that the committee remains transparent with its funding showcased his strong ownership of moral integrity. Additionally, members appreciated that Jackson’s efforts to open communication between DSG and other student groups based on their own personal goals instead of pushing for a DSG agenda.

Overall, Jackson’s willingness to communicate, competency of institutional knowledge, and openness to interact with diverse student groups make him Honor Council’s endorsement for DSG President. We are proud to support Jackson Dellinger as a harbinger of ethical change on campus and an outstanding example of moral courage.

Honor Council would like to extend a sincere appreciation to all candidates for sharing their ideas for improving Duke’s campus and culture. Council supports Riyanka’s claim that if students find passion behind the actions they pursue on campus, they are more likely to consider the ethical implications of their actions. Will’s plan to make DSG itself more honorable in its work also stood out to Honor Council as a great direction for DSG to move in.

*Kushal Kadakia (T’19), Nick Santangelo (T’20), Rasheca Logendran (T’20), David Frisch (T’20), and Brittany Amano (T’20) recused themselves from the endorsement process. 

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Lunch with Dr. Ariely

by Cindy Pan

Dr. Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, graciously welcomed members of the Honor Council community into his office for a luncheon and conversation on January 25.

To stimulate dynamic discussion, Dr. Ariely first engaged with questions from the audience regarding moral dilemmas on campus. One topic that came up often in conversation was the idea of comparable human values. Dr. Ariely claims that the average person values outcome over process, which leads to a series of harmful choices such as lying or corruption. Specifically, honesty and friendship were brought up as two contradicting human values when applied to academic integrity. Students in attendance questioned whether staying silent to protect their friends is more “right” than the lies they would have to tell. In response, Dr. Ariely warned students about the effects of convincing themselves that good will result from lies, explaining that dishonesty and corruption are infectious. On college campuses, where students tend to follow the “accepted behavior” around them, this can be especially detrimental.

In addition to academic integrity, Dr. Ariely explored questions related to the recent election, relationships, and behavioral studies he had previously conducted. A particularly memorable study questioned how often subjects lied depending on whether an authority figure was corrupt or not. Unsurprisingly, those who didn’t respect the researcher were much more likely to lie in order to obtain their goal. This applies directly to life on campus as well; those who don’t feel like administration can “control” them or have seen others’ detrimental actions go unnoticed are much more likely to act against regulations. Honor council members encourage students to speak up if they see behavior they’re uncomfortable with on campus; an active change of campus culture can only happen with the help of those who care to improve it. Thank you to all those who came out to Dr. Ariely’s luncheon, and continue to engage in thought on the ethical dilemmas around you!

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Lunch with Dr. Lefkowitz

by Cindy Pan

On Tuesday, November 8th, Honor Council facilitated a luncheon with Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, a respected professor of medicine and Nobel Prize Laureate. He led 30 members of the Duke Honor Council community through a thought-provoking conversation on science and research ethics.


Dr. Lefkowitz focused on the ethical implications behind the Anil Potti research fabrication scandal. Students attending were captivated by his first-hand account of the situation, which incited excellent discussion regarding blame, the reasons behind falsification of scientific data, and how science ethics translates back to everyday life. The “chain of power” between Potti, fellow researchers, and the head of the laboratory was also analyzed. In particular, Dr. Lefkowitz told the story of the “hero” of the case, a third year graduate student who upheld his own morals by reporting the situation to his superiors continuously until he was heard.

Through this conversation, those attending were encouraged to think deeply about what they would have done in this situation. In life here at Duke, science ethics can be extended past the lab; preserving honesty, integrity, and humility is vital inside and outside of the research environment.

Dr. Lefkowitz ended his luncheon by sharing a favorite, “tongue-in-cheek” philosophical essay, “On Bullshit” by Harry Frankfurt. Duke students who are interested in understanding different styles of communication and falsification should give this recommendation a read!


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