The Big Q
A dialogue on the big questions college students face.
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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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014
Welcome Weekend and Move-In Day finally arrive—the culmination of the longest summer of a freshman’s life. Lines of fully packed SUVs wrap campus, bulging with mattress pads, futons, and Container Store bags. Students pulse with excitement and fidget with nervous energy. In the dorms, parents sort boxes and hang photos, while freshmen begin to contemplate the placement of a something especially significant—themselves.
During the first year of college, there’s a whole lot of new. Change lies in the far edges of an unknown campus, behind the door of a co-inhabited room, and underneath the cover of a thick, intimidating textbook. We’re bombarded with questions surrounding new faces, a new school, and a new routine.
Often, freshmen face the following questions and conflicts that test their conscience and push new boundaries.
1. Do I have to conform? It’s human nature—everyone wants to fit in. We want to feel comfortable, accepted, and loved. When making friends proves difficult, conformity seems to triumph over individuality. To an outsider, social skills and popularity render instant happiness. During freshmen year, students often ask themselves, how much of me am I willing to forfeit? Am I willing to lie about who I am?
2. Do I pick a major based on passion or post-graduate salary? Many freshmen hear a piece of conventional wisdom, “Minor in what you love, but major in what gets you a job.” College students stand at a pivotal crossroads in their lives, torn by conflicting voices. In one ear, we hear encouraging whispers of pursuing passions; in the other, we’re fed constant reminders of debt, expense, and the pressure to provide.
3. Do I have to adhere to “hookup culture”? We’ve all heard our friends’ and parents’ stories about finding love in college. Today, the hype over casual hookups seems to squash the idea of the classic, committed relationship. Do couples even meet in class anymore? Many freshmen enter the first year with an idea of the “norm” already in place—the courting happens after hours, often with a drink in hand. Is casual sex okay?
4. How do I live with someone else? In college, roommates present gifts and challenges, all in one. Soon, moments of “me time” shrink from entire evenings to convenient class schedule incongruencies. On move-in day some freshmen meet lifelong best friends; others meet acquaintances. Regardless of the situation, freshmen quickly learn that they’ll have to address both trivial and complex roommate conflicts. How do I tell someone that his or her behavior bothers me? What’s normal, and what constitutes “crossing the line”?
5. Do I party? The media broadcasts that college life revolves around one thing—parties. We hear the message loud and clear. A typical night involves keg stands, sweaty, packed basements, and an endless supply of potent drinks, right? Freshmen ask themselves, do I have to party to fit in? Does everyone drink? Unfortunately, the consequences of underage binge drinking (including it’s illegality) outlast the day-after headache. What does partying mean for my reputation?
Friday, Oct. 3, 2014
I’m a senior Finance major, Spanish studies minor from Phoenix, Arizona. Upon my first visit to Santa Clara, I was drawn to the university’s Jesuit education and emphasis on compassion and ethics. I like deep talks, long walks on the beach…but really, I do—I love picking apart the complex ethical issues that college students face. I’m excited to contribute to the Big Q this year, incorporating my passion for both writing and photography.
On-campus, you can often find me in the Business School building, Lucas Hall, running to and from meetings. In my spare time, I enjoy staying active and city life. I love exposure to new cultures, languages, and countries. Post-graduation, I plan to travel to South America before starting full-time at Apple as a finance associate in the fall.
Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014
Tony Williams is a Senior at SCU majoring in Sociology, with minors in Entrepreneurship and Japanese. He hails from the frigid tundra of Minneapolis, MN, where he grew up reading science fiction and staying inside as much as was humanly possible every winter. His primary interest, however, lies in Hip-Hop, where he is a well- known performer within the Minneapolis music scene as a member of the group "KILLSTREAK". Perhaps most notably, he created and performed a Hip-Hop mass in May 2014 at Minneapolis' Plymouth Congregational Church, a center of social advocacy and progressive faith.
Outside of music, Tony enjoys social justice work, video games, reading, and discussing contemporary ethical issues with anyone willing to listen to him for more than half an hour. After a long career of sidelining parties to discuss ethical conflicts of interest, he decided that he might as well get an internship that allowed him to discuss them on the clock. Jokes aside, he's thrilled to be working with The Big Q this year, both on their Twitter (Follow him at @bigqethics!) and on plans to bring a series of campus forums discussing ethical issues to SCU. He's thrilled to be engaging with a variety of ethical perspectives over the course of the next year, refining his own ethical compass and helping to make SCU a better place for everyone.