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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Ethical Reflections from 3 Graduating Seniors



Lessons from Psychology, Marketing, and Computer Engineering

Kelly Shi

Graduation is upon us. For seniors, this means decorating caps, powering through their very last finals, and… engaging in ethical reflection? 

At least it is for seniors Leah Emery, Tiffany Lu, and Jonny Sofer. In less than two weeks, they will be graduating with degrees in Psychology (College of Arts & Sciences), Marketing (Leavey School of Business), and Computer Engineering (School of Engineering), respectively. Given their difference in not just majors but also colleges/schools, I asked them each to share a valuable lesson they learned about ethics during their four years at SCU. Here’s what they said:

Leah: For me, being a Psychology major made me really appreciate the importance of confidentiality. People are naturally curious and want to hear interesting stories. Say you’re a clinical psychologist or a researcher. It might start small, like mentioning that you have a client or research participant who experienced the same issue as the person you’re talking to. But you have to try to stake a hard line, like censoring names or potentially identifying details. You’ve been trusted with a lot of information, and you never know how it might be useful or dangerous to someone else. Even for the tiniest things.  

Tiffany: It’s like setting a precedent, which could happen if your boss tells you to do something that’s on a small scale but still unethical. In my Business and Ethics class, my professor said that literally within three of weeks of employment, you’re almost guaranteed to face some sort of ethical dilemma. So it’s important to figure out a guideline or process to help you face those situations, which are going to happen no matter what. So if there’s something that you’re not comfortable with doing because it’s unethical, don’t set a precedent by agreeing to do it. Even if it’s something small like lying about the date on a form. If you establish that you’re not willing to do that, chances are people are not going to ask you to do other things like that in the future. 

Jonny: Yeah, we talked about that in my engineering classes too. There’s always some kind of toss back between managers and engineers. Managers might impose deadlines and restrictions that engineers know are unrealistic or unsafe. Take the Challenger disaster, which is basically the de facto example when it comes to engineering malpractice. The day before the launch, the engineers reported that the air was too cold for a lot of the space shuttle parts to work. But the managers didn’t listen because canceling a space launch would be super expensive. As a result, all the crew members died that day. It’s on the managers to listen, but it’s also on the engineers to keep on pushing. Ethics is part of their job. 

Fortunately, it seems that for these three seniors, ethics will be a part of their jobs. Hopefully the same is true for the rest of their graduating class. Congratulations, Class of 2016! 

Kelly Shi is the Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Jun 2, 2016