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The Big Q
Top Ten Ethical Issues for College Freshmen
Friday, Jun. 10, 2011
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.
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