Julia Jenak ’21 is an environmental science major and a 2020-21 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.
In my first weeks as a Hackworth Fellow, I was introduced to the Ethics Center’s Framework for Ethical Decision Making, a document that was designed as an introduction to thinking ethically. The Center defines ethics as the standards of behavior that tell us how human beings ought to act in the various situations in which they find themselves—as friends, citizens, students, professors, and so on. The Framework demonstrates how ethics can be integrated into the process of decision making through five distinct steps: 1) recognizing an ethical issue, 2) learning the facts of the issue, 3) evaluating alternative actions for addressing the issue, 4) deciding on an action to take, and 5) reflecting on the outcome of that action. As humans, we are constantly making decisions that determine how we act and how we speak. However, as university students, with different social pressures, insecurities, and ignorances, we may not always be making these decisions with ethics in mind.
Over the past four years, I’ve observed a general hesitancy among most undergraduate students to engage in conversations about topics that may be controversial or taboo, myself included. And now, with a global pandemic requiring social distancing and virtual meetings, and “cancel culture” prevailing across social media and other virtual communication platforms, students seem all the more hesitant to speak up. Just as the Framework outlines, I recognized this issue on SCU’s campus, among myself and my peers, and took action through my fellowship project. I chose to center my project around the ethical decisions that students make within difficult dialogues with one another. I was curious to learn more about how students initiate these conversations, the topics they choose to discuss, and the friends or peers they choose to discuss them with. And for myself, I was curious to discover how I would do the same.
To bring the project to life, I recorded a series of conversations between myself and other SCU students concerning the different ethical problems I observed on campus. After each recorded conversation, I created a podcast-like episode and a written post that supplemented the content discussed in the episode. The goal of these episodes is to exemplify what these difficult conversations can look like, how they can be initiated, and what ethical issues they can focus on.
To start, I thought about the ethical issues I had observed in my community over the past few years—issues that were apparent in my own lived experiences, and those that I observed from afar. Then, I thought about the people in my life who I wanted to speak with—close friends, frequent classmates, and housemates. I used past interactions, public events, books and articles as my method for initiating these conversations. Then, in each conversation, the Framework for Ethical Decision Making served as my guide, informing the ways in which I thought about and discussed each issue and the subsequent actions I took to address them.
Choosing to engage in these difficult dialogues isn’t easy—it’s an ethical decision in-and-of itself. It can be nerve-racking to talk about a topic that you’re still learning about; to enter a conversation in which it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll make some sort of a mistake, use the wrong language, or make a inaccurate generalization. The hope for this project is that those who engage with the podcasts and posts will feel like they have the tools and examples to initiate the same sorts of conversations in their own lives. To hear conversations about performative allyship, the disregard for social distancing, and the stigmatization of food insecurity on campus, check out the recorded podcast episodes on the Hackworth Fellowship website.
About Julia Jenak
"I am an Environmental Science major from Boulder, CO, and I’m interested in how sustainable agriculture can be used as a tool to address social injustices in our communities. A dream of mine is to have my own line of fermented foods. I have worked as an apprentice at SCU’s Forge Garden, and worked at a local organic farm this summer. To save money and explore my own relationship with food, I source much of my food from these farms.
My current role model is the author and journalist Michael Pollan, who explores the complexities of our current food system in his books. Pollan’s work has inspired me to analyze the disconnect between student ethics and food purchasing patterns and explore how to more closely connect students to the food they eat.
I enjoy backpacking, road biking and yoga. I am a trip leader for SCU’s outdoor club, “Into The Wild,” and also coordinate the club’s sustainability initiatives."