Santa Clara University


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.

  •  Five Ethical Dilemmas Freshmen Face

    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?


  •  Welcome Logan Peterson--Hackworth Fellow Working on The Big Q

    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.

  •  Introducing the 2014-15 Big Q Intern Tony Williams

    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.

  •  Congratulations Graduates!

    Saturday, Jun. 14, 2014

    The Big Q sends best wishes to all students who graduated in 2014 and wishes a great summer to everyone who will be returning to school in the fall. We will be taking some time off during the summer, but will be back with more contests and cases at the return of the school year. In the meantime, check out some of our old cases about ethical issues students face in their everyday lives! Feel free to leave us your thoughts and opinions! Happy Summer Holidays!

  •  Waitlists and VIPs

    Tuesday, May. 27, 2014

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

    Callie is the Senior Events Coordinator on her student government. She plans senior events throughout the year, but the biggest event is Senior Ball. Hosted each spring, the event includes a night of wine and dancing for 1,000 members of the senior class. Due to chaperone restrictions, venue requirements, and transportation issues, attendance cannot exceed 1,000 students. Each year, about 100 seniors who want to attend Senior Ball must be turned away.

    This year, the number of seniors who could not get tickets is even greater. The event sold out in two hours, and the line to purchase tickets was wrapped around the block. Callie had to turn away many seniors, including a few of her close friends. As she goes through the list of attendees a few days before the event, Callie realizes that there were some errors in data entry and five tickets remain. Since there was no possibility of adding additional spaces, Callie did not create a waiting list. Callie immediately thinks of her friends. She knows that there are other seniors who desperately want tickets, but she could easily fill the spots from only her friend group. Callie wonders if she can just distribute the tickets to her friends. They really want to go, and she wants them to be there. Callie spent the last several months working on the event, and thinks she deserves to have all her friends there to share it with her.

    She knows she could send an email to the senior class and create a waiting list, and draw names from the people who respond, but with only a few days before the event, Callie doesn’t feel that she has the time. She has to visit the venue, establish the set-up, confirm all the contracts and reservations, train volunteers for the event check-in, and make sure each participant has turned in the waivers. She knows that she’ll receive hundreds of responses about the tickets, and creating the waiting list will detract from her ability to prepare for a great event. For just five tickets, it doesn’t seem worth the extra work.

    What would you do in Callie’s situation? Is it fair to give the few extra tickets to friends, without extending the opportunity further? Can you extend the benefits of your student government position to your friends? When does it go too far?

    Useful Resources:

    A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

    Photo by Joshua Ganderson available under a Creative Commons license.

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  •  Lean on Me

    Monday, May. 12, 2014

    The first 20 student comments on “Lean on Me” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, May 25th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

    Patrick is a sophomore at a large university in Washington. He’s from Arizona, so he is paying out of state tuition. Patrick is fortunate that his parents are able to pay for his college tuition and apartment rent. However, Patrick had to find a way to pay for other essentials like food, textbooks, and any entertainment. As a result, he attained two jobs: peer tutoring and working at the on-campus Jamba Juice.

    One day during sophomore year, Patrick finds out that his best friend from high school, Jordan, is going through rough times back in Arizona. Jordan lost his basketball scholarship at his university because he was caught doing drugs. As a result, he wasn’t able to continue paying tuition and had to drop out. In addition, his single mother can no longer afford to support him.

    Patrick convinces Jordan to come out to Washington, so he can get away from his recent past and get onto a new track. Jordan crashes on Patrick’s couch for a couple of weeks. He has no money and no job, so Patrick begins to support him until he can get back onto his feet. He works longer hours and is busy all the time because of his two jobs and academics.

    Patrick talks to Jordan about getting a job. After a month, Jordan is able to get employed at a local restaurant. However, Jordan isn’t given many hours so he isn’t able to pay for many living expenses. Patrick tells Jordan to try and find another job, but it always seems like he is just hanging out while Patrick is at work or school, instead of actively looking.

    Patrick doesn’t know what to do. Jordan is his longtime best friend. However, Patrick knows he won’t be able to sustain his financial support for Jordan. What should Patrick do? What is best for Jordan’s future? Patrick’s? Is there a way Patrick can help Jordan get back on track, or is it up to Jordan now to figure it out? Is there something Patrick could have done earlier to avoid this situation entirely?

    Useful Resources:

    A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

    How to Help Loved Ones in a Financial Crisis

    Mooching friends -- how to deal with them

    Photo by Amy available under a Creative Commons license.

  •  You Don't Say That

    Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014

    The first 20 student comments on “You Don’t Say That” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, May 11th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

    Linda attends a large public university in Oregon. Before coming to college, Linda was a closeted lesbian. In her hometown she never felt comfortable opening up to anyone, be it family, friend, or mere acquaintance. When she arrived at her university, Linda was able to find a safe haven with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) club.

    As Linda got more comfortable at her university, she began to go out at night to meet individuals outside of her LGBT community. She was able to find friends involved in different parts of her college campus: multi-cultural club, Greek life, student government, and more.

    One day, Linda is at a fraternity party with some of her friends in Greek life. While dancing and enjoying music, Linda overhears a conversation occurring at the beer pong table. One of her friends, Justin, is disappointed that his teammate is taking so long to finish his drink. She overhears him say, “That’s so gay.”

    Linda confronts Justin and expresses her distaste with the language he used. She tells him “gay” shouldn’t be a slang-term for lame or stupid. Justin doesn’t understand what the big deal is. He tells her that he is fully accepting of homosexuality and didn’t mean any harm with his words. Linda doesn’t accept this, refuses to speak to Justin again, and leaves immediately.

    A few weeks later, Linda and Justin are at the same nature hike with the Wilderness Club. At the end of the hike, there is a waterfall where you can jump into a lake below. Justin overhears Linda telling one of her friends to “Man up.” He confronts her about the term, saying that man up implies gender norms. Linda doesn’t understand why he’s so upset with this term. She says that it is used universally and isn’t supposed to insult anyone.

    Do you think there is a difference between using the terms “That’s so gay” and “Man up?” Is it okay to use either of them? Does American culture condone this type of language? Does the unconscious use of these terms contribute to harmful stereotypes or does everyone understand that they don’t really mean anything? 

    Useful Resources:

    A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

    Duke's 'You Don't Say' Campaign Reminds You Which Words Shouldn't Be Used As Slang

    Photo by Gian Franco Costa Albertini available under a Creative Commons license.

  •  A Cog in a Machine

    Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2014

    The first 20 student comments on “A Cog in a Machine” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, April 27th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

    George is a junior at a small university in Washington State. He is a frequent user of Amazon to purchase materials for college including textbooks and school supplies. In fact, George has an Amazon Prime account to save money on shipping, since he uses the site so often. George has recently started to take advantage of his prime account by purchasing almost everything on Amazon, from clothing to books to head massagers. On average, George uses the website three to four times a month.

    One day, George is perusing the Internet and notices an article headline that shocks him: Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers.

    George reads that Amazon is not only scientifically managed to the T, but that the employees are treated more as cogs in a machine than as human beings. He reads that Amazon uses monitoring technology to track movements and performance of employees. The company has conducted several studies to find the fastest way to perform tasks in the warehouse. All employees are instructed to follow the “one best way” of completing tasks for maximum efficiency. The logic behind this strategy is to ensure that employees are customercentric, creating a “cult of the customer.”

    George goes on to read that workplace pressure at Amazon pushes up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at a barely livable rate. The speed required to complete tasks causes many employees to struggle to meet targets and less skilled employees often fail. If an employee fails three times, Amazon uses a three-strike policy and fires him or her.

    George is shocked by this article, but at the same time he doesn’t know what to do. He has already paid for his Amazon prime membership and relies on the website for most of his purchases now.

    Should George continue shopping online on Amazon? How credible is this one article? Can George rely on this article to make an educated decision, or does he need to conduct more research? Should customer satisfaction be held with utmost regard, even if that means that employees are treated as robots and pushed to unrealistic limits? Is it ethical to treat employees as a cog in a machine, or a means instead of an end? What can George do to better the circumstance of the Amazon workers, if anything?

    Useful Resources:

    A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

    Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers

    Photo by thisisbossi available under a Creative Commons license.

  •  Charitable Acts

    Wednesday, Apr. 2, 2014

    The first 20 student comments on “Charitable Acts” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, April 13th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

    Paula is a freshman at a large university in southern California. She is involved with a sorority, Alpha Alpha, on her campus. Paula rushed Alpha Alpha because she heard that it was heavily involved in philanthropy. In fact, Alpha Alpha hosts an annual philanthropy week donating money to a charity that raises money for cancer research.

    Paula is excited to take part in the weeklong activities because philanthropy and service have always been an important part of her life. She wants to find out more about the charity, and is thrilled that other college students will also be finding out more about cancer research and what they can individually do to help fight cancer.

    When the week approaches, Paula is surprised at the activities that will take place. She notices that not once in the week’s activities does it mention cancer research. Teams simply sign-up and have each member pay $15 to partake in the activities. Paula notices that the activities are simply attending a dinner at a local restaurant, performing a two-minute dance on stage, a karaoke tournament, a fashion show, and a scavenger hunt.

    Paula thinks the week is a lame excuse of a philanthropic effort. She hears from her older sorority sisters that teams just pay the fee and never hear about the charity again. Teams allegedly just participate to get drunk and attempt to win the activities for bragging rights. Paula is disappointed to be a part of such a philanthropy week.

    Are philanthropy weeks, like the one Paula’s sorority puts on, ethical? Do participants actually get an idea where their money is going? How can philanthropy weeks better incorporate education about the cause they are donating to? What about charity balls that older individuals take part in? Oftentimes individuals pay a large sum of money per plate at these charity events, but don’t learn much about the charity and just attend to boost their social status. Is there a difference between the way they are run and these college philanthropy weeks?

    Useful Resources:

    A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

    Photo by Ahoova available under a Creative Commons license.


  •  Neknominated

    Monday, Mar. 17, 2014

    The first 20 student comments on “Neknominated” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, March 30th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

    **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

    Lawson is a junior at a large public school in California. He is still in touch with many of his childhood friends who now attend other universities around the country. Most of his communication with his old friends is over social media. One day, Lawson gets a notification from one of his friends at a college on the East Coast. In a video called a “Neknomination,” Lawson’s friend shows himself chugging four different types of alcoholic drinks while standing in the trunk of a moving car. His friend has now nominated Lawson to do a Neknomination within the next 24 hours.

    Lawson looks online to research what Neknominations are. He finds out that the new Internet craze, that entails videos of people drinking alcoholic beverages on social media, originated in Australia with individuals recording themselves chugging a beer. The craze has now escalated, with participants trying to do even crazier stunts with booze than their friends who nominate them. He even reads about some deaths that have happened due to the challenge.

    Lawson is faced with a difficult decision. On one hand, he doesn’t want to complete the nomination for many reasons. He isn’t 21 yet and doesn’t want to post a video of himself on social media drinking alcohol, because he is afraid of the repercussions it may have on him while job hunting. He doesn’t know if he can top his friend chugging four alcoholic drinks in the trunk of a moving vehicle. He also has academic commitments within the next 24 hours that will be negatively affected if he attempts a stunt.

    On the other hand, Lawson wants to be a good sport and has always enjoyed competitions like this with his friends. He knows that if he doesn’t follow through with this Neknomination, not only will his good friend never let him live it down, but it will also be broadcast to his large network of friends since the craze all centers around social media.

    Lawson isn’t sure what to do. Should he accept the Neknomination and post a video on social media? Should he try to top his friend’s post or just chug one beer? Is it ethical and safe for students to be playing a game like Neknominate on social media sites? If Lawson goes along, will he be contributing to the escalation of this game to unsafe levels?

    Useful Resources:

    A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

    Online Drinking Challenge Goes Viral Globally

    Neknominate: 'Lethal' drinking game sweeps social media

    Photo by Danny Howard available under a Creative Commons license.