$50 Amazon gift certificate to the best student response on this case received by midnight, July 17th.
Brad and Wilson are roommates. Brad is an outgoing, free-spirited, notorious "ladies man." Wilson prefers to spend his time in the dorm, reading and doing homework. At first, they got along well, with their personalities complementing each other. But then Brad started bringing women to the room unannounced. During the day, he'd make some not very subtle comment about wanting to be alone and expect Wilson to split. Sometimes he brought a date home for a "sleepover," and he seemed not to care if Wilson stayed in the room. But that made Wilson feel like a voyeur, so he slept on the couch in the lounge. Once he even missed class because, without his alarm clock, he overslept.
Wilson doesn't want to upset Brad by asking him not to bring women back to the dorm so late and so often, nor does he want their friendship to become awkward or tense. But he'd also like the use of his own room. How should he approach this problem with Brad?
$50 Amazon giftcard for best comment. Deadline Sunday, July 10, midnight.
Junior and senior year in high school sometimes seemed like one long slog to Christina.Between the PSATs, the SATs, the APs, the ACTs, her GPA, her sports practices, and her job tutoring, everything was oriented toward polishing her resume and getting her into college.
She went through the entire application process because that's what everyone expected her to do.Now she was in, an undeclared freshman, she couldn't help wondering what she was doing here.Was it right for her to be spending so much of her parents' money on college when she didn't even know what she wanted to study?Was she taking the slot of someone else who would have really known what she wanted from her education?Was college just going to be a repeat of that stressful high school experience, where she felt like she was always preparing for the future but not really living her life?
You're off to college. You've filled out your roommate survey and ordered your "dorm in a bag" set, joined the Class of 2015 Facebook group from your school and maybe even thought about what classes to take. But there’s another way to be prepared: Imagine what you will do when you face “The Top Ten Ethical Questions for College Freshmen.”
What am I doing here? Let's be honest: A lot of kids are headed for college because it's the thing you do after high school. But you'll get more out of the experience if you think about why you're doing it: To train for a job? To be exposed to great ideas? To party? A bit of each? Your answers to these questions will form the kind of person you become in college.
Do my parents belong at college? Should your parents have a say in your choice of major? Do they have a right to see your grades? Can you ask them to call a teacher when you’re having trouble in a class or contact a dean if you have a disciplinary problem? Many parents want to be involved (especially when they’re paying the bill), but when is that reasonable guidance and when is it an intrusion? Now that you’re 18, aren’t you an adult with adult responsibilities?
Do I want to rush a fraternity or sorority? If you’ve been thinking about this question in terms of how to improve your social life, you may want to add an ethical dimension to your internal debate. By its nature, the Greek system is exclusive; some people don’t get in. Do you want to belong to that kind of group? What are the kinds of activities, social and philanthropic, that the different sororities and fraternities on your campus support. Do these match your values?
How will I interact with people who are different from me? Your decisions about how you will deal with diversity may start before you even get to campus, when you must decide whether to live in a racially or ethnically themed dorm. Or they may arise when you're invited to a "Ghetto" or "Fresh Off the Boat" or "South of the Border" theme party. How will you treat people from other backgrounds? How much do you want to move outside your own group?
My roommate is anorexic, a drug dealer, a World of Warcraft addict, an aggressive vegan …. You’ve heard the roommate horror stories. While you’re trying to figure out how to handle a difficult roommate, considering the ethical side of things may help. What kind of obligations do friends have to each other? What is the fair thing to do when two people have to share a space? What behaviors are so dangerous that you have to kick the problem up to the next level?
What about cheating? Okay, this is an oldie, but you may be surprised by the new variations it comes in once you’re in college. Your calculus teacher may encourage you to work collaboratively with your classmates on problem sets, but your chemistry teacher does not. Is it cheating to study with a partner in chemistry? When you’re assigned a group project the same month as you have to play in three away baseball games, is it cheating if you don’t do as much work as the other members of your group? You’re pre-med but you have to take an art history course; how bad is it to copy the homework for a class you’ll never use in your professional life?
Should I call the EMTs? More than 70 college students have died from alcohol poisoning since 2004, according to media reports compiled by CompelledtoAct.com. In some instances, their friends had hesitated to call emergency personnel because they didn’t want to get their drunk friend in trouble or because they themselves were underage and had been drinking. If one of your friends is in danger, will you call the EMTs no matter what the consequences may be?
Facebook posting or cyberbullying? In a recent study from Indiana State University, almost 22 percent of college students reported that they had been cyberbullied and 25 percent said they had been harassed through a social networking site. Is that comment you’re posting for all the world to see harmless gossip or are you going to be making someone else’s freshman year a living hell? And what does it really mean to be a Facebook "friend"?
Sex!!!??? Ethics is about how we treat other people. Nowhere is that concern more complicated than in the realm of sex. Of course many high school students are already sexually active (62 percent of seniors in a 2003 study by the Center’s for Disease Control). But college, where you live your everyday life out of the view of most people over 21, is different. Before you come to campus, think about the place you want sex to have in your relationships. And then get ready for the ways your resolution may be challenged by alcohol, loneliness, and what everybody else is doing.
How do I treat the people who work for me? In college, a host of people keep your campus functioning. There’s a guy who trims the roses, and a woman who cleans the common areas of your dorm, and a secretary who works for the bursar. Do you even acknowledge these workers when you pass them? Do you make the effort to get rid of the pizza boxes after the dorm meeting or separate your dishes from your silverware on the lunchroom conveyor belt? If you don’t, what does that say about the respect you have for the people who work for you?
A version of this article first appeared on The Huffington Post, May 3, 2011.
Best student response this week wins a $50 Amazon gift card.
It all started when Frannie, a 19-year-old sophomore, went to work as a student assistant in the English Department. She had gotten a recommendation for the job from Bill Marsden, who had been her professor in the survey of British literature she took last quarter. The class had been so lively and engaging that Frannie was thinking of declaring English as a major.
After she started working for the department, Professor Marsden always stopped at the reception desk and spent some time chatting with her. As they got to know each other better, it seemed natural that Marsden asked her questions like whether she had big plans for the weekend or whether she had a boyfriend waiting for her back in her hometown. But then she began to notice other signals that maybe he was interested in more than the usual professor-student relationship. He would put his hand over hers for a moment while they talked, and he brought her a collection of the love letters from Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning.
Frannie was actually quite flattered by his attention. True, he was probably well into his thirties, but he was still cute, and he was a lot more mature and interesting than the boys she met on campus, whose idea of a good time was beer pong. Frannie was pretty sure Marsden would ask her out if she gave the right signals back. Should she get involved with someone on the faculty?
It has been a hectic fall quarter. Jack is checking his finals schedule: two exams on Tuesday (back to back) and two on Wednesday. How is he going to possibly do all of this studying? As he sits looking over his notes, Amanda, a classmate sits next to him, and he complains about the amount of work he's going to have to do.
She suggests Jack take a pill to help him concentrate and study better: Adderall. He really doesn't know what Adderall is, but Amanda says it will be okay. She has a prescription (a lot of kids take it for attention deficit disorder to help them focus), and he can trust her. She assures him that many college kids take Adderall and other drugs to help them study during finals week. Does Jack take the pill, believing his classmate and hoping that this will really help? Or does he decide that maybe it's not such a good idea to be taking pills to study especially if it's someone else's prescription?
Jaya has always been thin, but recently she has started to look emaciated. Jaya used to meet her roommate, Naomi, and some of their mutual friends for dinner, but lately, she tells Naomi she is "just going to grab something on the way to the library."
Also, Jaya works out like a fiend, running twice a day and doing endless crunches. Naomi has heard that this pattern is common in people with the eating disorder anorexia. She has tried to broach the subject with Jaya, but Jaya angrily denied that she had a problem. Last week, though, Jaya passed out after doing her evening sit-ups. She’s also cold all the time, no matter the temperature in the room. Naomi is truly worried.
What should Naomi do? Should she talk to someone at the University Health Service? Should she call Jaya's parents?
Michelle is looking through Facebook after class and notices that her good friend Anthony has a new album uploaded on his profile entitled “FOBs R Us.” Michelle looks through the photos and video clips and sees that both white students and students of color are depicting stereotypes of immigrants from Asia. There are people speaking in fake accents, wearing pointed farmer’s hats and ethnic garb, bowing to each other, posing in mock martial arts positions, and carrying around chopsticks in their pockets.
Michelle knows that most of the photos were taken at a “Fresh Off the Boat” party Anthony held the weekend before. Michelle was invited but made up an excuse not to go because the whole idea made her uncomfortable. Now that she sees the photos, she’s even more uncomfortable, but she notices that a lot of her friends have “liked” pictures from the album. Is there something wrong with Michelle’s sense of humor, or is there something wrong with the FOBs R Us?
Seniors Sarah and Ben, who have been good friends since freshman year, became “friends with benefits” after a party a month ago. They just kind of fell into bed with each other. Over time, though, Sarah has started to have romantic feelings for Ben. She continues for a while in their current arrangement, in the hope that Ben will at some point begin to reciprocate her feelings. Eventually, however, as she comes to realize that a long-term relationship doesn’t seem to be in the cards, she tells Ben that she no longer wants sex to be part of their relationship.
That weekend, they decide to go to a party together. The beer is flowing freely, and both of them get drunk. As the evening wears on, they end up going home together and hooking up. When she wakes up in Ben’s apartment the next morning, Sarah realizes that she and Ben have had sex even though she had told him she didn’t want to do that anymore. She’s furious with Ben, but he reminds her that they both were pretty wasted.
Who is at fault? Why?
Best student response to this case wins $50. Comments must be posted by April 10 at midnight. Rules
The other responders to this case have covered several of the ethical issues, especially how to balance the right of free speech with the harm that may come from attacking someone else’s identity.
Identity has become an increasingly important part of ethics. For a long time, ethics was much more concerned with whether some isolated action was right or wrong, and not as concerned with who was doing the action—with the person’s history, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, core values, context, and all the other things that make us who we really are and that profoundly affect what we do.
While this new dimension of identity has been a boon for ethics in many ways, there are times when it has stopped ethical reflection dead in its tracks. This happens when identity becomes something unchanging, beyond challenge, unable to be discussed, and easily offended: I am who I am, and you have no right to infringe on my sense of who I am. When I speak, I am asserting who I am in a way that you may not question.
But identity can’t be locked down, definitely not in life and rightfully not in the swirl of conversation that is college life. We may affirm something constant about who we are, but we have to acknowledge that we are always changing, too. And speech—whether it’s a poster on a dorm room door or a discussion in class—is the great engine of this change. Could the poster on Mary’s door initiate a conversation in the dorm that changes the way that Mary and James see themselves? Perhaps that conversation leads them to change their opinions of Prop 8. Perhaps it leads them to re-affirm those opinions. Perhaps what emerges is an unforeseen, diverse community on a dorm hallway previously inhabited by separate, fixed identities of the too-rigidly assertive and the too-easily offended.
To think about this case, I have to go back to the primary reason I sent my kids to college: to be educated. If I had wanted them to encounter only the ideas I raised them with, they might as well have stayed home. From that perspective, I’d say that a campus should remain open to different viewpoints to the widest extent possible. In other words, Mary’s poster stays.
That doesn’t mean I’m insensitive to the offense James feels—or the pain a Jewish student may feel when a floormate posts a “Zionism=Racism” poster or a Latino student may feel about a "Support Arizona" poster. While there may be some posters that are beyond the pale even for me, the examples above are expressions of political beliefs. I may not agree with them, but as a general rule, I think the value of dialogue on a university campus supersedes the possible offense such expressions may create.