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.

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  •  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
  •  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?

  •  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?


  •  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.

  •  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.