To the Editor:

Just the utterance of the word “plagiarism” can elicit fear in students and professors alike. Most students have come to understand its parameters within an academic setting, but they do not always grasp how it translates to the real world. During a writing seminar that I recently attended as a member of the Honor Council, I realized that students generally comprehend plagiarism in an academic milieu, but struggle when it pertains to non-academic information sharing. In light of the digital age, plagiarism issues have become more complex and even more imperative to descry. I have spent many years as a magazine publisher, and I have hired (and sadly fired) many talented writers, who simply missed the genesis behind plagiarism ethics — it’s all about creativity. It’s not only about protecting creativity, but encouraging it as well. I think if we could step back and look at the honor code in a macro setting, it may be easier to discern its universal mission.

During the writing seminar, students expressed enormous displeasure when someone “stole” their quotes, comments or photos from Facebook or Twitter and tried to “pawn” them off as his own “super smart ideas.” That’s precisely it: It’s all about honoring and protecting a hard-earned, super-cool idea —that’s what deserves the focus. Whether it’s an academic paper, a social-media post or a project at work, at the core of the matter we are expected to bring our own unique ideas to the table, or simply give appropriate credit when expanding on someone else’s.

The end of the semester is upon us, and we all have significant papers to accomplish; I encourage you to keep these words in mind as you embark on that process. The protection and encouragement of creativity is a key aspect of the honor code at Georgetown University; having a strong honor code in place creates an environment for students (and professors) to dig deeper and tap into their creative process. Creative ideas are rare, thus it is important to nurture and protect them at all costs.

Hoya Saxa,

Melissa Harris

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