Cultural gaps could instigate plagiarism

Haley Hansen

At the University of Minnesota, international students are cited for academic dishonesty far more often than their domestic peers — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trying to cheat.
 
For some international students, there are large disparities in the way plagiarism is viewed in their home countries and the U.S., an issue school officials are working to address. 
 
Last school year, 186 out of the 521 academic dishonesty reports to the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity involved international students.
 
OSCAI director Sharon Dzik said though those numbers fluctuate each year, international students typically fill a disproportionate percentage — a trend she said is  found across higher education institutions nationwide.
 
Beth Isensee, the International Student and Scholar Services assistant director, said there are cultural differences between countries, like the U.S. and China, regarding plagiarism and academic integrity. 
 
“We’re a very individualized society,” she said. “So individualism plays out even into ownership, even in individual ideas.”
 
Isensee said her office works with the Center for Writing and OSCAI to help international students from running into academic dishonesty problems, and it also discusses cultural differences during students’ orientation.
 
And besides those resources, she said the office is leading an initiative that will launch in the coming weeks that includes an online survey about academic integrity for prospective international students to complete before they attend the University.
 
When international students are cited for academic dishonesty, the University requires them to talk about the situation and why it occurred with an OSCAI official. 
 
Requiring international students to have a meeting with the University when they’ve been cited isn’t a standard practice at all schools, she said.
 
“It’s so simple, but it seems to make a big difference,” Dzik said.  
 
Jason Tham, a writing studies international graduate student, said it’s important that international students understand why they’re asked to cite their sources in their 
papers.
 
International graduate student Sumitra Ramachandran said words like “stealing” and “cheating” that have negative connotations are sometimes associated with proper citation. And by using those words, there’s a certain amount of fear that comes with making sure sources are appropriately credited, she said. 
 
Melissa Anderson, associate dean of graduate education and a higher education professor, studies science-based research integrity. She said although proper citation varies by context and field, there’s an effort to set a global standard regarding academic integrity.
 
Molly Hui, Minnesota International Student Association’s international engagement coordinator, went to high school in China, where she said she wasn’t required to cite sources in her papers. Still, she said she understands why it’s done.
 
“[Americans] really respect other people’s work, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said.