Ahhh! When I first thought about this topic I felt really uncomfortable, which forced me to ask myself why?
Yes, catching my roommate cheating would be awkward. Still, if I’m not the one doing something wrong, why does this question make me feel like I am?
I think the awkwardness of this situation stems from the right response being the unpopular response, which is often the case. When we grow up we’re told not to be tattletales. There’s a solidarity amongst peers, a general consensus that they shouldn’t tell on one another. It’s even encouraged by teachers in the classroom. Then you get to college, and it’s a different ballgame. I don’t know any teacher who would tell a student, “Don’t tattle on Mark if he bought that essay online.” I think they would be grateful to know, because it speaks to Mark’s academic integrity.
So should the same playground rules apply in college?
I think not.
Of course there’s varying degrees of cheating, and we can flesh those out. There’s no need to tell if your roommate is borrowing Suzy’s study sheet to copy down the answers. If it’s not sitting well with you, I think it’s important to have a conversation. Maybe just explain to him that you saw what happened, and that you don’t think it’s fair of him to put you in that position.
Also take the opportunity to explain why copying classmates’ answers is extremely unhelpful in the long run, because apparently he hasn’t learned this lesson before. Either he’ll take the lesson to heart and do his own work, or he’ll copy answers when you aren’t in the room. That’s his choice.
Besides smaller offenses, there are the big ones. If Suzy buys her essay from an online site, that’s a problem. If Mark hires Suzy to write his essay, this should also cause alarm. If Suzy’s writing answers in between her fingers, that’s concerning. Cheating isn’t something to take lightly. If you catch your roommate cheating, and cheating big, I’m sorry, the next steps are awkward.
Though there’s no easy way to handle it, there’s a right direction to take. The first step is talking to your roommate. There’s no reason to go straight to the teacher. Explain to them how you feel about the situation (uncomfortable, upset, HORRIFIED!, etc.). Then explain to them that you can’t just stand by. Give them the chance to tell their teacher, and if not, let them know that you have to. It’ll sound a lot better coming from them, and it speaks to their repentance and honesty.
I can’t promise you that Mark and Suzy will take this confrontation well. They might storm out. The might throw a fit. They might put your mattress on the roof.
I exaggerate, but chances are they will ask you to keep quiet. Worse, but still possible, they might badmouth you to your friends. However, if Mary and Suzy are friends worth keeping, they’ll take it in stride. It’s not going to be a fun conversation but I think you and your roommate will be the better for it.
Further, it’s not a one size fits all scenario. You’ll have a feeling in your gut, the same feeling that told you Mark shouldn’t copy Suzy’s homework. Hone in on that feeling and go with it. It won’t steer you wrong. If Mark and Suzy hate you for it, they might not be your forever friends. Would you even want them to be? Life’s full of experiences to learn from, and this is one of them.
If you catch your roommate cheating, do what you know in your heart is right.
*Suzy and Mark are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.