Phone a Friend: What’s the Limit?

Stuyvesant’s rigor gets to the best of most students; however, does this justify the depths students reach to achieve their desired success? What are the positives, negatives, and limitations of friends lending a hand academically?

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Picture this. You’re already tired from the three hours of sleep you had last night, you have an entire day of rigorous classes looming ahead of you, an extracurricular commitment after school, and heaps of homework to do as soon as you get home. After completing these tasks, you find yourself out of time to study for the exams you have the next day. 

Stuyvesant is known for being a notoriously difficult school, so it is natural that academic hardships will persist. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in the day, making it easy for students to fall behind in one, or a few, of their many classes. Due to this, many students resort to finding an alternate source of information to ensure success: their friends. 

Studying for exams at the end of a long day can be extremely overwhelming, leading to detrimental study habits and procrastination, which is a common problem for students at Stuyvesant. “I know a couple of friends and myself included who have severe cases of studying at the last minute,” Senior Yuri Wang stated in an email interview. 

The most common way that students help each other is by creating study guides and sharing them in the class’s designated Facebook group chat. Sophomore Fiona Zheng experiences this phenomenon firsthand: “In study groups, my role is the person who makes the study guide from notes and provides it to a group chat. This is my role 90% of the time because I like doing things myself.”

Zheng explained that although she creates study guides for her own success, this does not mean she can not or should not share her success with other people. “I don't believe that people leech off of others for study resources. If someone makes a study guide and shares it in a group chat, most likely, it's because of their desire to help their classmates succeed as well […] I share study guides with people out of good intentions.” Zheng stated. 

Sharing study guides can create closer bonds between classmates by giving students the opportunity to both contribute and benefit from a communal resource. Most students are not exceptional at every subject, and there are bound to be subjects that they need help in. “Throughout junior year I was making study guides for every AP Chem unit and sharing them with my AP Chem group chat, some friends, and all the members in my club [ACS Chemistry]. For Precalc[ulus] and Annual Comp[uter] Sci[ence], however, my teachers set up communal study guides where everyone in the class contributes to one document and I never contributed to those. Mostly because I wasn’t confident in the class material and thus relied on others who were more proficient to add to the study guides,” Wang remarked. In this way, the practice of crafting study guides and reading that of others exemplifies teamwork, which is an important life skill. 

Sophomore Sydney Wong pointed out the pressure that comes with helping her friends by describing the act of sharing study guides as “mainly [acting] as an underlying rule as part of friendship.” Since schoolwork is so ingrained into students’ lives and is what drives many friendships to form in the first place, helping each other academically seems to be a given. “It's the norm to help out friends, and since a bunch of the friends that you have come from school, it's bound to result in helping out academically,” Wong explained. This norm can build a sense of indebtedness between peers where friends feel obliged to share work in order to maintain their friendships, as friendship becomes more about using each other as resources than anything else.

Although it can harm friendships, Wang observed that this social pressure can help deter the cut-throat competition that students have with their peers. “Having this pressure to help our friends is better than viewing everyone as competition and refusing to help others,” she explained. “The latter is very tiring to keep up, thus as a social community we gravitate towards working together to benefit more people,” she explained. In an already stressful environment, students look forward to time with their friends, and thus the communal bonds that form from helping peers out academically, which is preferable to struggling in isolation. 

On the other hand, junior Brandon Waworuntu believes that Stuyvesant's competitive culture interferes with generous and community-oriented practices of sharing work. “At Stuy, everyone is super competitive with each other in terms of academics and there’s not really a sense of community.” The extreme competition that’s prevalent at Stuyvesant pits students against each other as they work to impress their teachers or build an appealing resume for colleges. Waworuntu opposes this cutthroat attitude towards academics, and said, “I think people should share their study guides and resources because we’re all in this together.” 

Likewise, an anonymous junior stated that they are generally willing to share homework answers in order to help out a friend. They said, “If my friend asked me they’re probably asking because they didn’t have time to do it or because they had a test to study for.” However, Anonymous has clear limits to their homework-sharing generosity and said that if a friend starts asking for answers multiple times a week, “I wouldn’t give it to them, at that point. I would just tell them to do it on their own because I feel like that’s what is best for them.” Though students are willing to help a friend out in emergencies, many believe the act of doing homework themselves is both critical to a student’s overall learning and success in a class.

Anonymous also made the distinction between sharing work for homework and assessments. Anonymous feels an unspoken social pressure to not copy answers on tests, though the same feeling does not apply for more casual assignments. “There’s this like mutual social contract that you would take this test to the best of your ability and everyone else would do the same [...] Homework is different in that it’s just like daily, and it also just matters a lot less compared to a test.”

Sharing exam answers can also create serious repercussions when caught. “There was a time in [Computer Science] class where we had a lab and were allowed to work with one other person, but many people ended up getting 0's because of academic dishonesty which came in the form of copying someone else's code,” Wong shared. These students are prime examples of the devastating effects of overstepping the boundaries of sharing. Wong shared her own thoughts as a spectator in this Computer Science class: “When [sharing] gets to the point where a bunch of people end up with one person's work, there is an obvious problem that needs to be addressed.”

Complex social dynamics compounded with unhealthy competition between students as well as diverse ethical beliefs can encourage academically dishonest behaviors. Limitations of sharing work—from study resources and homework to segments of major projects—will differ among students as they navigate social and academic life. Students should aim to maintain their personal beliefs without the influence of social pressure as they determine their boundaries. Nevertheless, competition can coexist with community, and we must look to support each other in our four years of time together.