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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

3 Ethical Issues for College Students in 2016

New Year, New Issues?

Alex Disney and Kelly Shi

I. The 2016 Presidential Election

Come Tuesday November 8th, voters all over the country will be casting their ballots for the next president. But how many of those votes will come from college students? There are two main factors that could cause low youth turnout rates in the coming election. For one, it is often inconvenient for college students to deal with registration deadlines, short voting windows, and transportation to poll sites. Another factor is widespread disillusionment among many young voters who believe that their vote will make no difference, especially in states with a consistent record of voting for a particular party. This year’s challenge, then, is to mobilize college students to become more active  - not only in the polls, but also on campus among classmates and friends. Political involvement and civic engagement comes in many forms, some as simple as watching debates with other students or holding debates of your own.


II. Student Debt

Whether you’re a freshman choosing a major, a sophomore or junior eyeing internships, or a senior about to enter the “real world,” the problem of student debt likely lurks in the back of your mind. And it probably should, considering that the average student debt is steadily increasing. But what choice do college students have, when the bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma - required just to be minimally competitive in the job market? It’s no surprise that many college students today feel pressure to choose “hirable” majors like Computer Engineering or Accounting over “impractical” ones like English or Philosophy. This is especially worrisome to students whose academic passions do not directly guarantee a high-paying job after graduation. College students in 2016 will have to continue wrestling with the challenge of getting a job that not only pays well but also brings personal fulfillment.


III. Race Issues on Campus

In recent few months, race issues on college campuses have been brought to national attention. At Yale, students demanded the resignation of two faculty members, one of whom who sent out an email criticizing the university for officially discouraging students from wearing culturally insensitive Halloween costumes. At University of Missouri, University President Tim Wolfe resigned after students protested his failure to address racially charged threats against black students. The latter event gained further controversy after a photojournalist was kicked out by student protesters after attempting to photograph the protesters’ tent city against their wishes. In addition to these criticisms from angered students, the student protesters themselves were criticized by media outlets nationwide for overreacting and being ideologically intolerant. In turn, members of the media have been criticized for unfairly ridiculing the efforts of college students to develop and voice their beliefs. These debates will surely to continue in 2016 to  address race issues on campus and how students, university officials, and the media should react.


How will you approach these issues in 2016? Did we miss one? Let us know below, and keep up to date on these issues and more on the Big Q’s Facebook and Twitter!


Alex Disney is The Big Q intern, and Kelly Shi is the Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. 


Jan 7, 2016