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The Big Q

A dialogue on the big questions college students face. Like The Big Q now on Facebook to stay updated on the latest post and winners.

  •  Halloween Costumes and Cultural Appropriation

    Monday, Oct. 19, 2015
    Heidi Klum, dressed as Cleopatra. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
    Heidi Klum, dressed as Cleopatra. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

    Join The Big Q and Together for Ladies of Color for more discussion on this topic on Monday, October 26th at 7:30pm in the Multicultural Center.

    There are some things that happen every Halloween: Kids go trick-or-treating. Too many people dress up as cats. And some insist on committing cultural appropriation.

    Some people will disagree with that last statement. But we can all agree that on Halloween, some people wear culturally related costumes that do not belong to their culture. For example, a non-Japanese person might dress up as a geisha, or a non-Romani person might dress up as a "gypsy" (a term that some Romani people find offensive).  Some might call that cultural appreciation, while others call it cultural appropriation. Who is right? And how can we determine that?

    First, let’s take a look at the definition of cultural appropriation. At first glance, cultural appropriation seems to occur when people adopt elements of a culture that is not their own. But this definition is too broad. It ignores the non-mutual nature of cultural appropriation that differentiates cultural appropriation from cultural exchange. With that in mind, we now have a more precise and useful definition: cultural appropriation occurs when members of a dominant culture take elements of a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group

    Now let’s apply this definition to the example of white Americans dressing up as Native Americans for Halloween. When white Americans dress up as Native Americans for Halloween, they are taking elements of Native American culture.  And white Americans are members of a dominant culture that has systematically oppressed Native Americans. So when white Americans dress up as Native Americans for Halloween, they are committing cultural appropriation. 

    But what about white Americans dressing up as the Disney character Pocahontas? Does this still count as appropriation? Some might claim that the Disney character does not belong exclusively to Native American culture, while others might argue that the Disney character itself is a form of cultural appropriation because it distorts a Native American historical figure. (This is not to mention the fact that non-Native American individuals have profited tremendously from that distortion.) 

    Can you think of other cases of cultural appropriation? What do you think about dressing up as a geisha or a "gypsy" for Halloween? What definitions or standards would you use to identify cultural appropriation? And why does cultural appropriation matter at all?

  •  The First Q: What IS the Big Q?

    Monday, Oct. 12, 2015

    Hello! My name is Kelly Shi. I’m a senior Philosophy major at Santa Clara University. As part of my major, I study a lot of ethics. Or at least enough to be allowed to blog about ethics. And as the writer of The Big Q, perhaps I should be embarrassed to be the one asking this question: “What is the Big Question?”

    Could the Big Q simply be, “What is ethics?” Or maybe, “What is ethical?” Or even, “Does ethics matter at all?”

    Say we actually do identify the Big Q. Now we’d have to find the answer to the Big Question: the Big Answer. And that is the part that truly matters. Or is it?

    Here at The Big Q, we believe that questions about ethics are no less important than the answers. It’s the reason why this blog exists. Over the course of this year, we’ll explore and develop all kinds of questions as well as answers about ethical matters. We’ll share perspectives, challenge assumptions (especially our own), and grow to better appreciate the relevancy and complexity of ethical questions.

    So here’s my Big Q for you: “Are you ready?”

  •  Job Search Ethics

    Monday, May. 18, 2015

     As college students enter the workplace, they are often confronted by ethical issues in their job search.  In collaboration with the SCU Career Center, former Center Hackworth Fellow Carmen Wahlgren offered these questions to assist her fellow students as they look for jobs.

    Can I embellish some of my experiences to impress the employer?
    Lying is never okay—not on your résumé and not during your interviews. For example, do not falsify your GPA. Also, do not downplay your accomplishments. Remember: You’ve got something to offer! And employers expect you to highlight your strengths. It says a lot about your character to be honest and confident.
    Is it okay to interview just for the experience?
    Avoid submitting résumés to employers you aren’t sincerely interested in or whose eligibility requirements you haven’t met. It may be easy to submit multiple résumés on the Web, but it’s not a good use of your or a potential employer’s time. Additionally, you are taking an interview slow away from the candidate who has a strong interest in working for that company.
    Once an interview is scheduled, is it okay not to show up if circumstances change?
    Once you have scheduled an interview time, it is your ethical obligation to be there, prepared and on time. Consider these reasons: the number of interview slots available on the recruiting day is limited; an unused interview time costs someone else an opportunity for that job; and an interviewer’s time is one of his/her most substantial resources and wasting that time is like burning someone else’s money. Further, Santa Clara University’s reputation suffers as a result of no-shows.
    Cancelling an interview at the last minute is somewhat different from not showing up at all. If personal illness or a family emergency prevents you from keeping your appointment, missing your interview is not unethical. However, to minimize disruption to the interviewer’s day, let the Career Center know you are unable to make the interview as soon as you know.
    Should I accept an offer just in case I don’t receive others?
    Before accepting a job, consider whether the position fits your interests and goals, provides opportunity for growth, and addresses your financial needs. If you accept an offer for a job you’re not interested in “just in case”, you limit opportunities for your peers who may be genuinely interested in that employer. You also put the employer in a difficult position.
    I already accepted an offer; can I back out?
    Once you accept a job offer, the strong presumption is that you will start the job. Your employer considers the position filled and backing out may result in the employer being understaffed. Additionally, second-choice candidates may have already accepted other positions. Withdrawing your acceptance may hurt Santa Clara University’s reputation as well as your own.
    Remember that once you have accepted an offer, you need to withdraw from all other interviews.
    How can I find out about whether an employee is ethical?
    Research the company thoroughly. Does it have a code of conduct? What is the company’s ethical reputation? How does it maintain a positive and ethical culture? Talk to the company’s employees to get a sense of its standards?
  •  The Drinking Age: The Ethics Behind Change

    Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015
    Binge drinking and partying—just a part of college, right?  Nowadays, when envisioning the college social scene, we see red cups, handles of liquor, and jam-packed frat parties.  In an attempt to end self-destructive and harmful habits, universities like Dartmouth have decided to ban hard alcohol on-campus. But, we must ask ourselves, what’s the root of the problem?
    According to the US Center for Disease Prevention and Control, binge drinking accounts for nearly 90-percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21. Binge drinking comes with unintentional injuries, risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual assault. What’s to blame for the unhealthy drinking culture?
    When my parents discuss their college years, sure, drinking comes into the conversation—but not to the extent that we see today. The excessive shots and frequent “black outs” seem to be a trait of our generation, a commonality among the millennials.  Similarly, while studying abroad in Spain, I noticed a distinct difference in how young people handled themselves with alcohol. Although the Spaniards stayed out late partying and dancing in the discotecas, severe intoxication took a backseat to responsible, social drinking.
    Some argue that the drinking age causes binge drinking; students must “hide” their behavior, and therefore abuse alcohol.  Kids should enter college having tried alcohol and practiced drinking responsibly in their homes. In contrast, the opposing side deems lowering the drinking age as medically irresponsible. Drinking at eighteen only legalizes a higher volume at risk of dangerous situations in clubs, at parties, and on the roads.
    What are the ethical implications of lowering the drinking age? Who’s accountable? Although illegal, is underage drinking unethical? In our new Big Q experiment with YikYak posting, I posed a questions surrounding binge drinking and the legal age.
    One student responded in favor of lowering the drinking age, writing, “As someone who comes from a country where the drinking age is 18 […] I never encountered binge drinking until now. I grew up having a glass of wine with my parents all the time. I learned.” Another student answered, “It’s just a part of college culture.” Although the YikYak community seemed overwhelmingly in favor a legal age of eighteen, we must consider the ethics behind both sides of the debate.
    What are the ethical implications of adulthood? In the United States, when we turn 18, we become legal adults with new and different rights, responsibilities and privileges from those of minors. Does the ability to monitor our own alcohol consumption fall into this category?
    Who’s ethically responsible for accidents involving alcohol? Lowering the drinking age puts more people at risk of injury. Is the government morally obligated to keep its citizens out of harm’s way?


  •  Diversity on College Campuses

    Friday, Feb. 13, 2015

    According to the Santa Clara University website, nearly half of our student body identifies as “white.” This statistic leaves proportionally small percentages to minority groups like Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans.  There are only 166 African American students out of roughly 5,000 undergraduates.

    The numbers made me think. College campuses need diversity. Diversity means change and tolerance.  We learn from people with different backgrounds; these differences encourage collaboration and foster innovation. In fact, a study by Aaron Thompson, professor of sociology at Eastern Kentucky University notes that diversity:
    • expands worldliness
    • enhances social development
    • prepares students for future career success
    • prepares students for work in a global society
    • promotes creative thinking
    • enhances self-awareness
    College marks a pivotal time in our young adult lives. During these four years, we should grow together. We should embrace and accept the beautiful differences in our friends, classmates, and coworkers—but, does SCU have an inclusive environment? The statistics and research prompted me to ask a couple Big Qs.
    Do we consider our university to be accepting?
    Does Santa Clara welcome diversity?
    To present the question to the student body, I decided to turn to a popular discussion forum—YikYak. The smartphone application allows users to post anonymous, geo-specific “yaks” that other users can agree with (up-vote) or disagree with (down-vote), as well as comment. The app creates a safe space for discussion, free of judgment. A few days ago, I wrote, “Is SCU an accepting environment for minorities?”
    My post received 15 responses, including the following:
    One user responded with a short “nope.”
    Another user wrote, “You’re not gonna get to participate in the hook-up culture but otherwise it’s chill.” His or her post received 22 up-votes.
    “SCU is okay. Be prepared for all sorts of racist microagressions like the ones found in this thread tho.”
    Several hours later, another user posted, “Will you get sh*t? Yes. Is it as bad as the schools in the south? No.”
    What would you Yak?
  •  Eating Disorders: When to Step In

    Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015
    The emotional realization that a friend has an eating disorder—unfortunately, far too many of us can relate. We’ve experienced the feelings of helplessness, the desire to intervene, and the stomach-churning urge to seek help.
    You’re at dinner, and a friend picks at her food. She takes a few bites, and then awkwardly places her napkin on top. “I’m full,” she says, smiling. You’ve spent the day together, and you noticed that she’s shied away from food since morning. You sense that something isn’t quite right.
    That’s just the beginning.
    Over time, you watch her collarbones slowly begin to protrude. You see her jeans loosen around her increasingly bone-thin waist. You realize that your friend constitutes one of the 24 million people, of all ages and genders, suffering from an eating disorder.
    We all want to look out for our friends—but we’re adults. There’s a fine line between intervention and nosiness, but we feel morally obligated to step in. Friends have each other’s backs, right?
    What do I do?
    Should I call my friend's parents?  The health center?
    Do I accept that they’ve made their own decision?
    Most college women can relate to the desire to control weight.  A study conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) found that “91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting.”  Such statistics give us the empathy that we need to approach our friend. 
    According to psychologist Ann Kearney-Cooke for the Huffington Post, the intervention needs to come from a place of compassion. Although disordered behavior can be frustrating, you must confront the situation with kindness and calmness.
    • Speak to them one-on-one.
    • State what you've seen.
    • State exactly what you feel.
    • Talk about what you'd like your friend to do.
    • Don’t force labels.
    • Be open about your own experiences and vulnerability.
    Look for a quiet place to talk, a place without distractions. Voice what you feel—what you’ve seen and why you are concerned. Focus on relating to your friend. Discuss your own vulnerabilities and weakness. End the conversation by letting him or her know that you’re there for them, always, and just want them to be happy or healthy.
    For a more detailed description of how to intervene, visit the ANAD website.
  •  The Spirit of Giving

    Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014
    Despite returning to classes, final presentations, and exams this week, many students, including myself, continue to exude that post-Thanksgiving glow.  We have happiness leftovers. The holiday’s warmth and joy remains within us, like the excess turkey and mashed potatoes that fill our fridges.  We’ve spent a week surrounded by friends and family, laughing, reuniting, feasting, and expressing gratitude.
    However, how long will this feel-good Turkey Day attitude last? Especially with winter holiday season on the immediate horizon, and with so much talk about thanks, thankfulness, and giving thanks, we must ask ourselves, what are the ethical implications of giving?
    I’m a fulltime student, and college isn’t cheap. Besides tuition payments, excess expenses for extra-curricular activities, gas, and the costs of just day-to-day life,  I work several on-campus jobs for spending money. Am I obligated to donate this money? Isn’t my money hard earned? Many students juggle the fine ethical line between supporting others and supporting themselves.
    On my driving route to and from campus, I regularly pass a homeless man or woman on the interstate turnoff, holding a dilapidated sign and asking for spare change. Despite my gut feeling, my urge to help, I keep on driving—and I don’t think that I’m alone. Why?
    At a Jesuit institution like Santa Clara University, the faculty and staff strive to educate the “whole person” on spiritual, emotional, and intellectual level.  Students learn the importance of competence, conscience, and compassion. From an academic standpoint, we enroll in courses that incorporate social justice, ethics, and community involvement. In business classes, we study corporate responsibility, and a company’s obligation to act and transact in a manner that benefits the society at large.
    Maybe, we should flip around the logic. Let’s look at individuals, ourselves, and not entities.
    What are we doing to give back to the community? Are we fulfilling our civic duty?
    And, more importantly, what are the ethics implications behind social responsibility?
    This holiday season, I encourage everyone to “pay it forward,” to keep the Thanksgiving joy alive. A holiday gift to ourselves and to the community—keeping this powerful momentum of giving constant throughout both December, and the rest of the year.


    Happy Holidays!
    © RP Stillworks
    © RP Stillworks
  •  Sexual Assaults on Campus

    Monday, Nov. 10, 2014

    On Thursday evening, one by one, students poured into the ethics center classroom, eager to discuss an important issue on campus—sexual assault.  The attentive crowd exuded emotionally charged energy. Women composed the vast majority of the audience; however, several men sat peppered throughout the crowd.

    Students already face many hurdles as they learn, develop, and mature during college. Sexual assault should not be one of these challenges.
    We’ve already heard the alarming statistics. One in five women will likely be victims of sexual assaults (or attempted sexual assault) on college campuses. Every 21 hours, another rape takes place on college campuses. Among college women, nine in ten victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender.
    Now, we wanted to hear the voices, your voices. 
    In our culture, topics of sex are shushed and somewhat taboo. Discussions of sexual assaults, specifically, are difficult and often traumatic for the victims. Our goal? Create a comfortable, safe space to unite—men and women, activists and victims—and to actively explore the virtues of justice and compassion in light of such experiences.
    The Big Q has particular interest in the intersection between sexual assaults on campus and university responsibility. Our forum brought forth the following questions:
    • Do universities have an ethical mandate to help to end sexual assault on campus? Is it the school’s job, student’s job, or a combination of both to create a safe environment?
    • How should judicial policies reflect the ideals of justice and compassion for the victims?
    • What role do ethics play in protecting the rights of the accused offenders? 
    Finally, where are our current efforts to end sexual assault lacking? The numbers alone show these incidences on campus are far too common. We’re called to action.
    What are some next steps for us to take?
  •  Snapchat and Internet Privacy

    Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014


    At Santa Clara University, “Week 5” sparks a tidal wave of midterm studying stress and a seemingly endless “to-do” list of assignments.  Last week during the chaos, I sat in my library study cubicle and surveyed the concentrating students around me. I noticed a peculiar trend. Instead of typing away on term papers or studying lecture notes, students played on their smartphones, the screens forming a sea of flickering yellow.  One after another, students posed for pictures with coffee mugs and stacked textbooks, giggling at their shameless “selfie” Snapchats. Snap! Snap! Snap!

    Snapchat. It’s photographic documentation at super speed.  Since its launch in 2011,   the application has seen massive success. In fact, users send an estimated 700 million photos and videos via Snapchat per day. The best part? The photos disappear after an allotted amount of time—or so we think.

    Despite its popularity, Snapchat’s privacy issues have slammed national news headlines. Security breach issues first surfaced earlier this year after a hacker website obtained over 4.6 million user names and phone numbers. Two weeks ago, hackers released another overwhelmingly large database of photos, this time accessed through a third-party application. In all cases, users believed that their “snaps” disappeared after opening; however, in our technologically advanced society, hackers managed to make the vanished reappear.

    The issue brings up several ethical questions regarding technology and privacy. First, if we willingly share photos, can we blame others when and if the content leaks?

    In addition, we can examine privacy itself. Is privacy a right or a luxury?

    Finally, what role do technology companies have in protecting our privacy?

  •  Fast Friends: Rushing Intimate Relationships

    Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014

    We’ve all heard that “your greatest friends come in college”—those lifelong friends that you toast to at the Grand Reunion or dance the night away with at your wedding reception. As freshmen, we envision ourselves surrounded by this core group of loyal companions from the get-go. We’re expected to post pictures of our fabulous new BFFs on Facebook and form an inseparable clique within a matter of weeks.

    When we come to college, we don’t want to wait around. We need friends, and we need them quickly! We rush relationships. We talk about our successes and failures, our home lives and our love lives, our fears and our ambitions.  

    The problems arise when we over-share and try to force intimacy.  Relationships don’t need to be physical to be intimate; close friendships are intimate in an emotional way. Premature intimacy of any kind can lead to heartache.
    Imagine that you’ve had a rough day. For comfort, you confide in a new friend, Sam. After a night of venting, you decide to share a troubling secret—you feel safe.
    The next day, however, you’re approached by a stranger in the hallway.  The stranger places his hands on your shoulders, and says, “Hey, Sam told me what happened. Feel better!”
    What!? Your new friend spilled. You’re hurt, but you doubt that Sam shared your secret maliciously. Either way, what do you do? There’s an imbalance of trust.
    Healthy relationships depend upon a strong foundation of trust, and trust takes time. Think carefully about your closest friends. How long have they been around? Many of our dearest friends have held prominent positions in our lives for one, five, or maybe even ten years. Often, you’ve grown up with one another, from the toddler diaper days to the teenaged braces phase. You’ve seen everything—the good and the bad. You’ve endured catty high school drama or vigorous sports team practices side-by-side. You know each other inside and out.
    During the beginning of college anonymity seems devastating, yet friendships with unreciprocated trust may sting just as badly.  What has been your experience with friendship in college?  When do you know you can trust someone?  How do you define true friendship?