Cheating as a Culture
Theories of Teaching Ethics
Cheating has become more than a problem in the America; it is now a bona fide culture in itself. The media often highlights and popularizes the downfalls of many corrupt and unethical executives to the point where they become celebrities instead of criminals. Traditionally, the university has been a place where ethical leaders are born, but in the past couple decades there has been degradation in the integrity of the university community. Cheating is running rampant in university systems across the United States, and a new case can be found in the news every week.
Considering the economic climate of the U.S. culture, it is more important than ever that we start re-incorporating ethics into the college curriculum. Many disciplines have openly rejected the idea of incorporating ethics at the expense of their own practical skills curriculum. This essay is suggesting an incorporation of ethics by means of the academic honesty and integrity program already in place on campuses; creating a step between offense and a failing grade for the course is vital to the learning possibilities ethical violations have to offer.
Cheating as a Culture
The American society as a whole has become more comfortable with cheating, in both our professional and personal lives. White-collar criminals are getting away with more and getting very little retribution in the end. At the same time, spouses are falling out of love and allowing themselves to cheat their relationships out of what could have been. In this fly by the seat of your pants cheating culture, we are raising a generation of professionals who will have little to no ambition to truly complete any project in earnest honesty.
As evidenced by ethical disasters such as Enron and WorldCom, business ethical standards have taken the back seat to capital gain. As a bold statement, in 1987, William Morrow & Company published The Complete Book of Wall Street Ethics, by Jay L. Walker, in which all of the pages were blank. Although the book is obviously a gag to poke fun at the unethical businesses present on Wall Street, the publishing of this book gives two messages: we are aware there is a problem, and it is okay to make a mockery of a truly devastating issue in our society.
Unlike cheating in our professional lives, cheating in our personal lives is truly damaging to our inner moral compass. Whether it is against our family, friends, or romantic partners, people are finding cheating against their loved ones easier with today’s lenient society. Television shows like Cheaters, aired on local networks such as WALT, have become very popular. The show thrives on and takes advantage of cheating couples. As described by a Houston Press columnist writer:
The premise of the show is simplicity itself: a man or woman, suspecting their partner of philandering, contacts the steely professional Cheaters investigative team. They, in turn, put the suspected party under surveillance, amassing evidence of their infidelity for presenting to the complainant. A confrontation is “arranged” between the aggrieved party and their wayward lover. Hilarity then ensues, if by “hilarity” you mean emotional breakdowns and the occasional threat of physical violence.
This dramatization of cheating in the personal life is not uncommon and as evidenced in the popularity of this show, people get a kick out of watching the demise of other people’s actions, making cheating a laughing matter.
At one time, the average American received influence and advice from family and community, but today, more often than not, the media and popular culture largely influence the average American. Media not only has a large impact on society, but it manipulates information, taking advantage of this opportunity.
In Janice Peck’s, The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era, she examines the ways in which Oprah Winfrey’s television show and overall impact as a media icon has been more than influential but by “reaching 46 million U.S. viewers a week and airing in 134 countries,” her show alone has held a great deal of public prominence. Oprah was able to use the medium of television to convince millions of people there was something wrong with them, and the answer was inside of them. This type of therapy television created a sense of trust between Oprah and her audience, so much so that when she gave advice on political issues such as the 2008 presidential election, her viewers heeded and valued her every word. It is through this example; one can see the influence media and popular culture have not only on our personal and social lives, but also on serious professional and political issues affecting our nation. While much of Oprah’s brainwashing was innocent and in hopes of bettering the population, in the wrong hands, the mediums media has to offer can be detrimental to society.
The media has a bad habit of creating celebrities out of high profile criminals not matter the crime. Many networks will cover the trails closely, giving extensive back-story to all of the characters involved. This popularization of the trial not only gives the criminal a positive light in a negative situation, but also makes the criminals out to be role models for future murderers or unethical professionals. By the media creating celebrities of the criminals and calling it reality television, it is furthering the sense of laxity around unethical behavior in American society.
College should be a time for expanding a student’s academic horizons, as well as their relationship with humanity. With all of the cheating in society today, the university is the first place we should start the shift back to an honest society both professionally and personally. Whether traditional or non-traditional, college students are malleable minds ready to take in important life lessons, and it is up to the university culture as to whether those lessons are helping or hurting the future of American society.
A rampant cheating culture is not only affecting society but also putting many universities in a bad publicity light. In 1940, only 20% of college students openly admitted to cheating, whether it was happening more often or not, students were certainly not bragging about it. Today, the number of college students openly admitting to cheating at some point in their college career has skyrocketed to an astounding 75%-98%. This jump shows more than anything that this culture of cheating is making it okay and normal to cheat in the university setting, and certainly not taboo to talk about it with random survey takers.
By loosening the stigma society once had over cheating and unethical behavior, the doors are opened wide to many unethical possibilities. While the underachieving student has long been expected to cheat, the overachiever who feels they need to cheat to stay ahead has become just as guilty in recent years. “Less social disapproval coupled with increased competition for admission into universities and graduate schools has made students more willing to do whatever it takes to the A. ” Students admit they are no longer okay with simply passing in college, but more importantly they are cheating to stay ahead of the game. It is this desperation that creates unethical students and eventually unethical professionals in the field.
When it comes to cheating, the student may make an honest mistake from time to time, but while not all cheating is deliberate, there is certainly something to be said about the rise in cheating in the high school and college age student. Pressure for cheating is coming from a variety of arenas in the student’s life, and all of that pressure will eventually take a toll on the moral compass. With mixed messages coming from the student’s family, friends, media sources, and school officials, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the ethical rational in such an important environment as education.
The International Center for Academic Integrity conducted a survey from 2002-2005 of over 63,000 undergraduate students and over 9,000 graduate students in the U.S. The survey revealed:
- 36% of undergraduates admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from Internet source without footnoting it.”
- 24% of graduate students self report doing the same
- 38% admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from written source without footnoting it.”
- 25% of graduate students self report doing the same
- 14% of students admit to “fabricating/falsifying a bibliography”
- 7% of graduate students self report doing the same
- 7% self report copying materials “almost word for word from a written source without citation.”
- 4% of graduate students self report doing the same
- 7% self report, “turning in work done by another.”
- 3% of graduate students self report doing the same
- 3% report “obtaining paper from term paper mill.”
- 2% of graduate students report doing so.
These results show the desperation in the average college student, and the means to which they are willing to go to achieve the best grade with the least about of effort possible.
As cheating in the American culture has become more blasé in recent years, the mantra students are being pushed to live by is cheat to stay ahead, everyone else is doing it and if I don’t, I’m a sucker. “Experts say the reasons are relatively simple: Cheating has become easier and more widely tolerated, and both schools and parents have failed to give students strong, repetitive messages about what is allowed and what is prohibited.” In this sense, life is more of a game than a reality. An adolescent then does not understand the difference between using cheat codes in a video game, and using a cheat sheet on an important exam. Both scenarios allow the player to win the game, and often, neither have consequences when done properly.
The pressures in a student’s life to cheat are overwhelming. The American Dream rises just out of the reach of many Americans every day, and just keeps getting higher and harder to reach. Every youth understands education is the most important gift they will ever receive and through that gift and how they proceed with it, truly defines their future in many ways. While merit and money are big proponents in the pressures to cheat, the thrill cheating has to offer can sometimes lure people into the unethical trap. Some people are natural born thrill-seekers and will push the boundaries as far as possible. By not being caught, they student feels they have done nothing wrong and will look for more opportunities in life to cheat for the thrill. If not rehabilitated or punished, these type of cheaters only further the unethical culture the American society has been becoming comfortable with over the past couple decades.
A professor’s job is to create a comfortable learning environment, and to impart the knowledge of the subject upon the students to the best of their ability. Professors often encourage their students to branch out in college, and get a feel for who they really are and what they truly enjoy. Professors want their students to be independent, creative, and responsible in all of their academic endeavors, but sometimes this freedom is taken to an unintended extreme.
Many Professors will tell you they have at some point in their career neglected to turn in a suspected cheating student for fear of tarnishing the student’s record. When it comes to cheating, professors are often met with crying and/or distraught students, who also claim to not have known any better, and sometimes this is enough for the professor. It can weigh a lot on ones conscience, and is truly an ethical dilemma in itself when the professor feels guilty for turning in a suspected cheater.
Professors understand, through their code of ethics as university instructors, they must follow the academic integrity policy closely, but sometimes this is not enough to calm to the uneasiness that comes with actually turning in a student to the academic review board. Pressures from administration can also put pressures on faculty to be more lenient with cheating students, furthering this comfortable relationship the American society has created with unethical behavior.
Technology and ethics have a rocky relationship in every field and profession; education is no exception. The role technology plays in this saga of cheating in the university is astounding. Within the university setting, technology is being used to both aid in the cheating scandals, as well as in the valiant efforts to subdue said cheating. With both sides of the issue working through the same medium, it is hard to distinguish if technology is actually hurting or helping the fight against unethical behavior in the university.
A study recently published in the October 2012 edition of the Journal of Business Ethics shows great evidence that the presence of technology is damaging to the effort of building an ethical culture. The study evaluated the means by which technology gives opportunities to the user to be unethical, and the amount of cognitive morality one might use to overcome the unethical possibilities. The result of the study shows a significant role for technology in enabling unethical behavior compared to the lacking cognitive moral reasoning one needs to overcome the temptations. This study applies directly to any student who has plagiarized a research paper. The Internet opens the door to ever-growing possibilities in plagiarizing a research paper, and it is the instructor’s job to keep up with those possibilities and discourage the students from using them.
Just as technology is constantly used for dishonesty, it is also being used to sniff out cheating in the classroom. Websites, such as Turnitin.com, describe themselves as helping “educators encourage original student writing and discourage plagiarism.” These types of programs offer a database of over 250 million papers and over 65 billion webpages to which the instructor is able to compare the students’ work to ensure original work is being submitted. While this type of sleuth technology is handy, it still leaves room for subjectivity and error. The program evaluates the paper by giving it a percentage of plagiarism, as it does not understand how to ignore properly cited work, it is up to the instructor to gauge the percentage and take a deeper look into what exactly is coming back as plagiarism.
Theories of Teaching Ethics
There is an age-old academic debate on whether or not ethics can actually be taught. Like ethical decision-making, this too is not a black and white issue, because while some academics may say ethics cannot be taught, they may believe they can indeed be reinforced. Whether instilling or reinforcing, teaching ethics is highly theorized by scholars from all branches of academics.
The methods of teaching ethics will not turn a mass murderer into an ideal citizen, but the it will hopefully resurrect the moral compass the student may have been ignoring for some time. Ethics is not only a course needed in the university, but should be begin being enforced in the early years of education. Ethics theories are not difficult for even the youngest minds to understand. Respect and sharing are examples simple ways young ones can begin to understand ethical behavior, which will follow them into adulthood and help to mold them as ideal citizens.
Integration is the key to teaching ethics to any age student. Ethics is a very abstract and psychological subject to teach, and may not be easily receptacle to all students. By integrating ethics theories into basic subjects such as literature and natural science, the student is able to put a more concrete idea with the concepts of creating an ethical culture. This type of integrated learning also allows the student to better understand ways in which they can incorporate ethical theory further into their education and personal lives.
The class this essay is proposing is based not only upon the many theories of teaching ethics, but also in the very scholars many students are already studying in various disciplines throughout the university. The class is not meant to be a punishment for the accused student, but rather a means for further educating the student on the importance of being ethical and preventing future incidents.
The class would consist of an eight-week commitment from the student, one day per week, for two hours each session. The class would be broken down into four modules consisting of the following:
- Week 1 and 2: Basic Values, Morals, and Ethics Theory
- Week 3 and 4: Ethical Standards and Obligations as Members of the University, Community, and Society
- Week 5 and 6: Applying and Assessing Ethical Decision Making
- Week 7 and 8: What It Means to be a Global Citizen
By breaking down the class into these four modules, the material becomes both more accessible and assessable. When teaching and reinforcing ethics, it is important to create an understanding of the basics, as well as how even the simplest of theory is applied in everyday life. The students should leave this course feeling empowered and equipped to be part of the solution in creating a more ethical society.
The first module is the meat of the course, familiarizing the students with the vocabulary needed to proceed. Many people have difficulty recognizing the differences between values, morals, and ethics, and therefore are unfamiliar with the means to successfully apply them in their lives. In learning the basics, the module will cover the theories of popular ethicists such as: Socrates, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and many others. These popular ethics theorists are also thoroughly studied in other disciplines, allowing the students to integrate the knowledge they learn about ethics with the other branches of study with which they are familiar. Integration will be a vital part of this course, as the students will feel they have truly learned about the importance of ethics once they are able to apply it to their professional career goals.
In the first couple weeks of the course the students will also evaluate where their sense of right and wrong comes from, and how it may change and differ from person to person and from environment to environment. By understanding how and from where we all receive our moral messages, it will allow the students to better understand their current moral compass. Studies show the moral compass is set at a very early age with the basic understanding of right and wrong, but humans never stop learning and evolving, and the moral compass is no exception. Our morals can shift depending on the various environments in which we find ourselves throughout life, allowing us to better mesh with the ethics of our surroundings, while also remaining true to ourselves, and the roots from which we have come.
Following closely with the themes of the first module, the second module will allow the students to identify the important role ethical standards play in the university, community, and society as a whole. This exercise will make the students knowledgeable about the policies and give them the tools they need to educate others of possible ethical violations. Because the students are in the course due to unethical conduct, this could be the most important module of the entire course. Often when students are caught cheating, they learn not to get caught, instead of to do the right thing. By covering the written and unwritten standards of the university, community and society as whole, the students will hopefully gain a better understanding as to why what they have done was wrong and how to avoid future violations.
This module will also teach the students how ethical standards change from different careers and universities, as well as cultures. We live in a very diverse world, and what is ethical to an American, may not be ethical to someone in India. The same can be said between professions, the ethical standards for a doctor may be very different from the ethical standards of a fast-food employee. We must learn to abide by the ethical standards in whatever institution we find ourselves, because while we have greatly varying standards of morals, the ethics of an environment or institution should be the glue that brings everyone together and onto the same page when making any size ethical decision.
The third module will focus on the means by which ethical decisions are made, and assessing the students’ understanding of the process and overall material. Ethical decisions need to be made in all aspects of our daily personal and professional lives. Ethical decisions are not black or white, nor a case of right or wrong, but often very complicated, too complicated to judge from only one perspective. The students will be divided into four groups, and assigned a basic ethical perspective through which to view a given case study. Through this exercise the students will be given the opportunity to see a single case through many moral compasses and ethical lenses, giving them the understanding behind ethical decision-making.
As outlined in Ethics at Work, the four basic perspectives of ethics are through the lenses of justice, individual rights, the common good, and self-interest. The justice lens focuses primarily on the laws, which can be applied to the case, and what is right based on the laws we have put in place concerning the issue. The individual rights lens questions those laws, favoring what is right based on the rights we all have as humans and American citizens. The common good lens differs greatly from the first two by concerning itself with what is best for everyone involved. The common good also tends to give up some individual rights in favor of what will suit the most people. Lastly, the self-interest lens, not to be confused with a selfish lens, looks at the case with a focus of what is best for the immediate issue at hand.
The last module is by no means the least; it forces the students to look past themselves and into the big picture of the impact of their actions. It is important the students leave this course with the ability to apply ethics and ethical decision making to every aspect of their lives. By learning to look past the immediate consequences of our actions, and considering the greater good of society, the students will be sure to come away from the course with a renewed sense of passion for being part of the solution in creating a more ethical culture.
Being a global citizen means more than simply abiding by the rules of mankind, it requires one to put forth an effort to make the world a beautiful and livable place. As defined by Pace University’s Global Citizen Initiative, a global citizen:
- Is aware of the wider world and has a sense of his or her own role as a world citizen.
- Respects and values diversity.
- Has an understanding of how the world works.
- Is troubled by social injustice.
- Participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global.
- Is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place.
- Takes responsibility for her or his actions.
- Feels an ethical responsibility to others around the globe.
Through this definition, the students will gain not only more respect for themselves and what great feats of kindness they can accomplish but also for the world and everyone within it.
The university should be a place that fosters change in society, a change that will result in a more ethical American culture. Cheating has overrun society, and while the university system is not the only culprit, it has the means to be the solution for a better future. All aspects, even the unfortunate situations, should be learning opportunities for the college student, and cheating gives the perfect platform on which to begin integrating ethics education back into the college curriculum. This course would be a great addition to the academic honesty program, but ethics education should not stop here. All disciplines in the university should see it vital to begin the reintegration of ethics into their curriculum, allowing their students to not only be competent professionals, but ethical professionals as well.
75 to 98 Percent of College Students Have Cheated, "Education Portal."
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"Babies Know Difference Between Right and Wrong When They Are Just 15 Months Old."Mail Online: Health, October 7, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2046604/Babies-know-difference-right-wrong-just-15-months-old.html (accessed December 4, 2012).
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Ahead. New York: Houghton Mifflin Haircourt Publishing Company, 2004.
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Elliott, Deni. Ethics in the First Person: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Practical Ethics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.
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http://plagiarism.org/resources/facts-and-stats (accessed November 26, 2012).
Goodpaster, Kenneth. The Moral Agenda of Professional Education. Greed is Not Good!:
Teaching Ethics to Professionals. Edited by Howard Munro. Sydney: The Federation Press, 1996.
Haar, Pete Vonder. "Reality Bites: Cheaters."Houston Press, April 25, 2012.
http://blogs.houstonpress.com/artattack/2012/04/reality_bites_cheaters.php (accessed November 26, 2012).
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McCabe, Donald L., Linda Klebe Trevnio, and Kenneth D. Butterfield. "Cheating in Academic Institutions: A Decade of Research."Ethics and Behavior. 11. no. 3 (2001): 225-226. http://faculty.mwsu.edu/psychology/dave.carlston/Writing in Psychology/Academic Dishonesty/Gropu3/review.pdf (accessed December 4, 2012).
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Peck, Janice. The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008.
Perez-Pena, Richard. "Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception."The New York Times, September 7, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/education/studies-show-more-students-cheat-even-high-achievers.html (accessed December 4, 2012).
Roberts, Jeffery A. "Moral Reasoning in Computer-Based Task Environments: Exploring the Interplay between Cognitive and Technological Factors on Individuals’ Propensity to Break Rules."Journal of Business Ethics. 110. no. 3 (2012): 355-376. http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-011-1196-z (accessed November 26, 2012).
Ryerson University, "Why Students Cheat: 14 Top Reasons Students Cheat." Last modified 2012. Accessed December 4, 2012.
Turnitin, "A Summary of the Effectiveness of Turnitin." Accessed November 26, 2012. http://pages.turnitin.com/rs/iparadigms/images/Turnitin_Summary_of_Effectiveness.pdf.
Turnitin, "Products: Overview." Last modified 2012. Accessed November 26, 2012. http://turnitin.com/en_us/products/overview.
Walker, Jay L. The Complete Book of Wall Street Ethics. New York City: William Morrow & Co., 1987.
 Kenneth Goodpaster, “The Moral Agenda of Professional Education,” Greed is Not Good!: Teaching Ethics to Professionals, ed. Howard Munro (Sydney: The Federation Press, 1996), 13.
 Jay L. Walker, The Complete Book of Wall Street Ethics, (New York City: William Morrow & Co., 1987).
 “Cheaters: Real Reality Television,” 2012, www.cheaters.com.
 Pete Vonder Haar. "Reality Bites: Cheaters."Houston Press, April 25, 2012. http://blogs.houstonpress.com/artattack/2012/04/reality_bites_cheaters.php.
 Janice Peck, The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era, (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008), 3.
 Ibid, 3.
 75 to 98 Percent of College Students Have Cheated, "Education Portal." June 29, 2011. http://education-portal.com/articles/75_to_98_Percent_of_College_Students_Have_Cheated.html.
 David Callahan, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wong to Get Ahead, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Haircourt Publishing Company, 2004), 168.
 David L. Jaffe, and Drew Nelson, "ENGR110/210 Perspectives in Assistive Technology,"Academic Cheating Fact Sheet (blog), September 21, 2012, http://www.stanford.edu/class/engr110/cheating.html.
 75 to 98 Percent of College Students Have Cheated, “Education Portal.”
 "Facts & Stats: Academic Integrity in College and Graduate School."Plagerism.org. http://plagiarism.org/resources/facts-and-stats.
 Callahan, 228.
 Perez-Pena, Richard. "Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception."The New York Times, September 7, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/education/studies-show-more-students-cheat-even-high-achievers.html.
 Ryerson University, "Why Students Cheat: 14 Top Reasons Students Cheat." Last modified 2012.
 Donald L. McCabe, Linda Klebe Trevnio, and Kenneth D. Butterfield, "Cheating in Academic Institutions: A Decade of Research,"Ethics and Behavior, 11, no. 3 (2001): 225-226, http://faculty.mwsu.edu/psychology/dave.carlston/Writing in Psychology/Academic Dishonesty/Gropu 3/review.pdf.
 Ibid, 225-226.
 Ibid, 2256-226.
 Jeffery A. Roberts, “Moral Reasoning in Computer-Based Task Environments: Exploring the Interplay between Cognitive and Technological Factors on Individuals’ Propensity to Break Rules,” Journal of Business Ethics, 110, no. 3 (2012): 355-376, http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-011-1196-z#.
 Turnitin, "A Summary of the Effectiveness of Turnitin." Accessed November 26, 2012. http://pages.turnitin.com/rs/iparadigms/images/Turnitin_Summary_of_Effectiveness.pdf.
 Turnitin, "Products: Overview." Last modified 2012. Accessed November 26, 2012. http://turnitin.com/en_us/products/overview.
 Marilyn Dispensa, “Recent Buzz about Turnitin, Writecheck, and Plagiarism,” Ithaca College: Edu Tech Talk (blog), September 12, 2011, http://www.ithaca.edu/its/services/iss/blogs/edutechtalk/recent_buzz_about_turnitin,_writecheck,_and_plagia/.
 Deni Elliott, Ethics in the First Person: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Practical Ethics, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 29.
 "Babies Know Difference Between Right and Wrong When They Are Just 15 Months Old."Mail Online: Health, October 7, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2046604/Babies-know-difference-right-wrong-just-15-months-old.
 Callahan, 228.
 Alice Darnell Lattal, and Ralph W Clark, Ethics At Work, (Performance Management Publications, 2005), 123.
 Ibid, 127.
 Ibid, 127.
 Ibid, 128.
 Ibid, 129.
 Pace University Office of Student Success, "Global Citizenship Definition."http://www.pace.edu/office-student-success/global-citizenship/definition.