Yik Yak and Other Anonymous Apps

There are dozens of apps that will let you say anything and everything anonymously. Some of the most popular anonymous apps include Secret, Whisper, and Yik Yak, all of which allow users in a proximal location to share nameless confessions, opinions, and statuses. These phone apps have an audience largely consisting of college and high school students. Unfortunately, since users’ names are not associated with what they say, it has become a large outlet for bullying and harassment.

Take Yik Yak, for example. Yik Yak CEO Founders Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll originally made the app with college students in mind. However, just a few months after being launched, Yik Yak rapidly spread to high schools and was littered with gossip, rumors, and more serious statements, like shootings and bomb threats.

The CEOs came up with a creative solution. Teaming up with Maponics, the Yik Yak team geofenced 85% of high schools in America, which prevented the app from being used on school grounds. If a school is not yet geofenced, an administrator can contact Yik Yak and be added to the list. When dealing with gossip and harassment, Yik Yak will remove a comment after it receives five down votes. It only takes one user to flag a post for the comment to be reviewed and possibly taken down.

Yik Yak is dealing with the more serious threats by partnering with law enforcement to track threat locations, which has actually led to several user arrests. In fact, a student from Bridgewater College was taken to court early this year for posting a shooting threat on Yik Yak.

Wired.com suggests that Yik Yak’s solution could improve other anonymous apps as well: “The story of how Buffington and Droll are working to eliminate these problems could serve as a model for how these apps can survive in the future–without ruining people’s lives.”

Two of the Eight Key Questions, liberty and responsibility, are at odds when thinking about anonymous apps. Is the liberty of being able to freely share anonymous posts more valuable than being held responsible for what you write? How likely are young people to maintain good character and to show empathy when they can speak out anonymously? Consider the possible outcomes these anonymous apps have in the everyday lives of college students.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Write My Résumé for Me

Whether you’re looking for summer employment or your first post-graduate job, a compelling résumé and cover letter are must-haves. JMU programs like Career and Academic Planning provide assistance to college students through résumé workshops, examples, and review sessions. But what if you could just hire someone to write it all for you?

Recently in The Ethicists column of The New York Times Magazine, an anonymous person wrote in with this dilemma: “I’m looking for a new job in the nonprofit sector and am considering using a résumé service to write my résumé and cover letter. Part of me feels morally conflicted about this process. Is it fair to have someone else write the two materials that show the quality of my writing skills to my future employer?

The three writers of the column responded in different ways. The first ethicist found it dishonest to use a service for the cover letter, but had a different opinion about the résumé: “It’s not obvious to me that résumé writing reflects those skills.”

The second ethicist said she would take advantage of the résumé-writing service, but wouldn’t take a risk with the cover letter: “In your own best interest, if you have writing skills, write the cover letter.”

The third ethicist had experience in reviewing applications and argued that the résumé is a reflection of a person’s writing skills, which would make a résumé-writing service unethical: “As someone who used to sift through hundreds of résumés… I looked very closely at the quality of a résumé. Are words spelled correctly? Is the punctuation done intelligently and by the rules? So I wouldn’t dismiss the art and the craft of résumés so quickly.”

How ethical do you think it is to hire a service to write your cover letter and résumé for you? Is it fair to have significant parts of the application written for you? Will using the service bring better outcomes than writing it yourself? Is it your responsibility to write your own résumé and cover letter? Consider these and other Eight Key Questions as you’re applying for jobs this semester.

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Smoking at JMU?

The JMU chapter of Colleges Against Cancer has recently proposed a bill that would ban smoking on all JMU premises. The bill is meant to provide a safe and healthy environment for students on campus. Assistance to quit smoking from the University Health Center would be expanded if this bill is passed. The bill must acquire signatures from 10% of the student body if it is to be considered by faculty and administration.

The Eight Key Questions can be used to decide if this bill should be approved:

  1. With fairness, one may argue that prohibiting smoking is discriminatory toward students and faculty who smoke. Then again, others would say it is not fair that non-smokers are exposed to it.
  2. With outcomes, this bill has the potential to make a number of positive changes in the lives of people at JMU. The UHC program to stop smoking would expand and become more accessible. People would no longer be exposed to secondhand smoke, and those who smoke might find the bill an incentive to quit. However, a negative outcome would be the inconvenience it causes for students and faculty who need to smoke in between classes, and staff members who need to smoke on breaks.
  3. In regards to responsibilities, the university feels it is a responsibility to keep JMU a safe, healthy, and clean environment. Would passing this bill be a responsible move, or would designating smoking spots on campus be a more responsible compromise?
  4. With character, those in favor of the bill may think that JMU’s image will benefit from a smoke-free environment. Then again, is this bill criticizing the character of those who smoke? Does a non-smoking policy on all JMU premises reflect good or bad character on the university’s part? Will regulating this behavior help JMU to achieve a particular institutional ideal?
  5. Liberty certainly applies to this situation. Should people who smoke have the freedom to do so on campus? Should the university restrict that freedom? Virginia is one of the few states left that hasn’t issued a statewide ban on smoking in specific public places, while states like Kentucky have banned smoking on all state-owned property. Being a public school, JMU is on state-owned property, which means that smoking on campus could already be illegal if JMU wasn’t in Virginia. Should other states’ policies on smoking affect our decision to protect or restrict the freedom to smoke on public grounds?
  6. Empathy also plays a large role in considering the bill. On one hand, one should empathize with the people who have experienced the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially if it’s taken a toll on their health. On the other hand, one should empathize with people who are addicted to smoking and find it too difficult to quit.
  7. The deciding authority for the bill will ultimately be JMU administration. President John Alger and Director of Human Resources Diane Yerian would have the authority to edit the wording of the bill. If someone is caught smoking under the new act, the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices would have the authority to decide the . Campus leadership would also have to formulate additional regulations and policies for all JMU employees. One question to consider is: How difficult would it be for authority to enforce this bill and decide appropriate disciplinary action?
  8. Last but not least, there are rights. Do students have the right to attend classes on a smoke-free campus? Since the behavior isn’t illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia, do people have the right to smoke while on campus at JMU?

We should consider the impact this bill has on every member of the JMU community: students, faculty, and staff. If the bill collects enough signatures, SGA will take a vote. A two-thirds majority vote in favor of the bill will take it to the administration level. The full story is featured in The Breeze.

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Difference between Men and Women’s Ethical Reasoning

A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has shown that differences between men and women go beyond physiology – one’s gender can affect decision making in ethical dilemmas. According to the research, women experience greater confliction due to their higher emotional responses. Participants were given 20 dilemmas involving various crimes, and women were more averse to causing physical harm than men, even if harming one person benefitted the majority.

There are two types of ethical reasoning that the study was observing. The first is deontology: the ideological approach to right and wrong. This approach holds society’s moral norms as absolute and focuses on the morality of the action itself, without looking at the long-term benefits or consequences of doing it. The second is utilitarianism: the belief that outcomes determine the morality of an action. In this “means to an end” approach, an action could be perceived as right or wrong, depending on the context of the situation. An example would be lying. In deontology, it is always wrong to lie. In utilitarianism, lying can be justified if the situation calls for it.

The study revealed that women were more likely than men to use deontological reasoning. However, both were equally likely to engage in utilitarian thinking. While there was not a significant difference when it comes to rational thinking and cognitive abilities, women proved to be more empathetic and emotionally-driven when making decisions.

It is interesting to think about how gender might influence what key questions we frequently ask ourselves when making decisions. Empathy, noted in the study as being more of a women’s prerogative, is one of the Madison Collaborative’s Eight Key Questions. Of course, that doesn’t mean men can’t be empathetic too! Think about which of the Eight Key Questions you use the most. Do you believe your gender affects the choices you make when faced with a dilemma?

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Racial Struggle in Sigma Alpha Epsilon

The University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter was suspended due to a racist chant caught on video. The nine-second video showed members of the fraternity clapping and chanting on a bus: “There will never be a ni**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a ni**** SAE.”

The two fraternity brothers leading the chant were expelled from the university in accordance with the school’s zero tolerance policy for racist behavior. One of the boys has issued an apology, while the other student’s family released a statement apologizing to “the entire African American community, students and university faculty.” Other alumni and members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon have spoken out about their shock and disappointment at the video. Jay Vinekar, a founder of the University of Oklahoma’s SAE chapter, said, “I don’t want it in my house, and I don’t want those people to wear my letters, claiming to represent me.”

Oklahoma’s chapter of the fraternity was suspended and its house was shut down; University of Oklahoma President David Boren intends to keep the fraternity from ever returning while he is in office. In Boren’s opinion, some fraternities come with a culture that needs to be “snuffed out.” This belief might have some validity considering the track record of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

In 2011, an African-American student was killed while pledging Cornell University’s chapter of SAE. George Desdunes was bound by his hands and feet and endured forced consumption of alcohol during a fraternity initiation ritual. He was left unconscious on a couch in the fraternity house and found dead the next day. Though it is not clear whether or not Desdunes’ race played a role in the hazing, it was a critical incident and serious strike against the fraternity’s reputation.

Other incidents involving SAE and racism have been reported at the University of Cincinnati, Texas A&M University, University of Memphis, Valdosta State University, Washington University, University of Arizona, and Clemson University. The recurring pattern of racism exemplified by members of this fraternity have caused other universities to question whether or not they should allow an SAE chapter on their campus. Should all universities take a proactive stance and close down their Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapters, or should it depend on each individual chapter’s behavior?

In regards to the 8 Key Questions, would it be fair to close down SAE chapters across campuses, including ones who haven’t behaved in this disreputable way? Who is the authority here, and what actions must they take to stop the racist trend in this fraternity? Perhaps it is not only the national fraternity headquarters’ responsibility to eliminate this trend, but the members as well. If the SAE brothers exhibit behavior they are proud of, whether it’s caught on camera on not, they may have a chance of redeeming their legacy.

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bursting the “Filter Bubble”

Search engines and social networking sites have found a way to personalize your online experience… by tracking your browsing history.

It originates from an idea called “homophily” – people prefer to interact with others who are similar to them. The same can be said when choosing which articles to read and which links to click on; the articles that align with one’s beliefs are more frequently read than ones that differ. Sites such as Facebook and Google use the websites you’ve visited to tailor advertisements, news feed content and search results to your interests. As a result of this, a biased and limited view shows up on your screen, with other viewpoints filtered out. Eventually, the Web becomes a biased atmosphere, centered on the opinions of the internet user: you.

While this is supposed to personalize and enhance the online experience, the MIT Technology Review fears that “being surrounded by only people you like and content that you agree with” could “polarize populations, creating potentially harmful divisors in society.” They fear this could cause users to become increasingly single-minded and inconsiderate of differing points of view.

The big debate is whether these filter bubbles are helpful or harmful. Should your search results and news feed only reflect your own viewpoints? Should these companies even have access to your browsing history in the first place?

If you want to combat this “filter bubble,” visit links that don’t align with your views. By clicking on and reading a variety of viewpoints on an issue, you can create more variety in your search results and news feeds. Researchers at Yahoo Labs have also created a search engine that connects people who have opposing views on some topics, but share a common interest in others. This way, users can experience diverse exposure on the Web while still sharing that common interest that connected them in the first place.

Regarding the 8 Key Questions, here’s some thoughts to keep in mind:

As a media consumer, do you have a responsibility to seek out sites and sources that don’t neatly match up with your point of view?

Do these corporations (Google, Facebook, etc.) have the authority to personalize your online search results and newsfeed information?

Does the use of internet history and cookies for marketing purposes infringe upon your right to privacy?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Alternative to Spring Break: Volunteering for the Greater Good

For some students, spring break is not a week spent at home or relaxing on vacation. Instead, it is an opportunity to volunteer in places across the nation, or even around the world! JMU offers Alternative Breaks to students every year, whether it is during spring break, Thanksgiving break, winter break, May break, or even a weekend break. All of these service trips have a variety of locations with different types of volunteering, and are all student-led. The mission of the program is “To prepare the JMU community to be educated and enlightened citizens committed to positive social change by providing reflective experiential opportunities with diverse community partners.”

The majority of Alternative Breaks are scheduled to occur over spring break. Caitlin Foley, a junior majoring in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies with a minor in Inclusive Early Childhood Education, went on an Alternative Spring Break trip this year to volunteer in her area of study. Along with nine other JMU students, Foley spent one week in Lakeland Florida, travelling along the East Coast to different migrant Head Start schools in the area. The Head Start program is a federally-funded early childhood program that promotes academic, social, and emotional development in children from low-income families. “My personal goal was to further my knowledge on Head Start,” Foley said. “But as a team, we intended to immerse ourselves within the culture by speaking with parents and teachers in order to learn about the migrant lifestyle.”

The classrooms ranged from infancy through preschool. The JMU students worked with the children, assisted in creating materials for the classrooms, and helped plant the school gardens. When relating the 8 Key Questions to her experience, Foley stated, “My trip focused a lot on empathy, which we later defined as expressing and acting with care. In order to have empathy, you must put yourself on someone else’s level.” Alternative Breaks are a great opportunity to model and educate other communities about ethical reasoning, while strengthening or even redefining your own values and perspectives. Volunteer work is a true example of ethical reasoning in action.

Read about other Alternative Spring Break trips in The Breeze.

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Preschool Ethics Lesson

An unexpected question arose last week in my preschool practicum. For College of Education students, practicums are an opportunity to observe and assist in the classroom. I look forward to spending each Friday of the week with a rambunctious group of four year olds, watching them learn to read, explore ideas through centers, develop social skills, and grow as young individuals. But I never thought I would end up learning something from them.

I had preschoolers Mike and Jay out in the hallway, playing an alphabet board game. The players needed to pick out the right letter in order to move forward on the board. Mike got the letter wrong and couldn’t move his piece. “Dang it!” he exclaimed.

Jay turned to me with wide eyes and said, “Miss Megan, he just said a bad word!”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say. As an adult, I know there are worse words than “dang” that could have been said! To me, it did not seem like a bad word; it’s certainly not a swear word. But clearly, Jay had parents who did not want him saying “dang it.” I did not want to tell him it is an okay word to use, because it would go against the rules his family had set for him.

However, I wasn’t going to punish Mike. If he had said an actual curse word, then sure, I would explain that it is not appropriate and that kind of language shouldn’t be used anywhere, especially not in school. But if you count every relatable form of the expression, including “dang,” as a bad word, then the actual category of profanity will lose significance. One could keep adding more and more words to that list until there are very few (if any) phrases left. The main questions to consider are: What is a teacher’s role in censorship? How can we teach morality to children without imposing our own beliefs on them and perhaps contradicting the beliefs of their parents? Who holds the moral authority over children in school: parents, teachers, or administrators? What ethical rules regarding language and profanity would you have in your classroom?

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBBS Bowl for Kids’ Sake 2015

Big Brothers Big Sisters held its annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraising event last weekend, earning a record amount of $122,893! The proceeds go towards the organization’s mission of matching up “bigs” (adult volunteers) and “littles” (children in high-risk situations) through an in-depth interview process and background . BBBS is America’s largest donor and volunteer-supported mentoring network. Bigs serve as role models for their Littles and spend quality time with them in order to form meaningful relationships “that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.” This can be through reading, games, homework help, or even outings in the community. The program hopes to foster positive self-esteem and instill ethical reasoning skills, too. One of the best ways to do that is to have great role models involved in these children’s .

Bowl for Kids’ Sake is the largest fundraising event BBBS holds, and this year, it was held March 21st at Valley Lanes in Harrisonburg. To get involved, one could either contribute to the cause by donating, or simply pay the $50 fee ($25 for students) to participate on a bowling team. The event was held by Big Brother Big Sister organizations across the country, but each location’s fundraising directly circulates back into their local BBBS programs.

The event was sponsored by an array of businesses in Harrisonburg, with Perdue Farms, Inc. being the presenting sponsor. Radio stations like Fresh 96.1, 105.1 BOB Rocks!, and Q101, as well as local TV station WHSV 3, served as media partners for advertisement in the days leading up to the event. On their Facebook page, BBBS stated, “We can’t thank our sponsors, participants, donors, and partners enough… We are so grateful to the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County community for such tremendous support of the children we serve.”

BBBS serves as a prime example of how much of a difference a positive influence can have on the lives of children. At a young age, children are already developing character, discovering outcomes, fighting for fairness, and looking for that authority figure that will guide them through life. Having an encouraging and ethical Big can make a big difference in Littles’ present situations and future decisions. In fact, 67% of former Littles say their Bigs played a large role in their decision to attend college!

Although Bowl for Kids’ Sake is finished for 2015, you can still make a difference by donating at any time to the BBBS organization! Visit the BBBS of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County website at: http://www.bbbshr.org/site/c.ajJTLfNOJjL8H/b.6499741/k.EEDD/Home_Page.htm

Posted in Student Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week Three of the Madison Collaborative Interactive Pilot

During the third week of the MCI pilot program, the main character meets their new mentor, Raymond, who explains their first work assignment and introduces them to some of the older, more established employees. The protagonist quickly learns that this workplace filled with many disparate personalities and that while the company’s message is focused on unity and teamwork, some of the individuals working there aren’t exactly focused on the larger good of the business or on the well-being of their co-workers. This becomes very clear when they encounter a case of workplace bullying with one of their fellow new hires. After this incident, the pilot readers were asked to think about the question of authority (“What do legitimate authorities (e.g. experts, law, my religion/god) expect of me?”) and select one of four possible actions while determining an appropriate course of action for the central character. The following answers were chosen as good examples of how these readers explained their decision-making process for this chapter:

Response One:

“After witnessing this event and considering all of my options, I have decided to stay neutral in this situation. This decision was rather difficult for me in that I had to put my personal beliefs and morals aside in order to do what was best for my career.

When focusing on what authorities expect of me, I had to decide who exactly the authorities were. Was the authority Morgan? Was the authority Julie? Was the authority the law? Was the authority God? After thinking about this, I realized that authorities are ever changing and it is impossible to please all of the authorities. Due to this fact I realized that I needed to keep my own best interest in mind for it is impossible to make all of the authorities content.

Once I established that, I tried to balance fairness and possible outcomes. What Morgan did to Luis was not fair and I understand that. However, the possible outcomes of me reporting the incident to the police or the company would have a negative effect on my career, including possible unemployment. Along with this, reporting the incident may cause Morgan to harass him more if he believes Luis was the one who filed a complaint. However, this was a hard decision for me in that I do not condone bullying whatsoever, whether it is based on ethnicity, gender, appearance, religion, or anything else.

Despite this I sadly had to put my best interest in mind and choose to D: Stay neutral and try to change the subject.”

Response Two:

Authority: What do legitimate authorities (e.g. experts, law, my religion/god) expect of me?

                I believe that is expected of me to be honest in what I saw. It is expected for me to tell others of what I saw because it could potentially hurt someone. I think that since Miri and I both saw Luis being bullied by Morgan, we both have to be honest and tell someone else in order to protect Luis and others from being emotionally hurt by Morgan.

Fairness: How can I act equitably and balance legitimate interests?

In order to go about the situation fairly, I think that it’s necessary to stay by Miri’s side so she isn’t alone with bringing up the bullying. However, I also think that it’s important that Luis knows that Miri and I saw Morgan bullying him and want to help Luis out. I believe that filing a police report is too drastic for this situation, but staying neutral and forgetting about it won’t be fair to Luis and other people Morgan might bully.

Outcomes: What achieves the best short- and long-term outcomes for me and all others?

  • Reporting the incident to someone in the company with Miri will have the short-term outcomes of Morgan’s bullying habits being brought to the company’s attention. A long-term outcome of this choice would be people seeing me and Miri as “tattle-tales” because you said something bad about a long-term, trusted employee.
  • Filing a police report will result in the short-term outcomes of Morgan being reprimanded for his actions. A long-term outcome from this choice would be Morgan losing his job and resenting me and Miri for ruining his career.
  • Mediating the situation may result in the short-term outcomes of Morgan retaliating against Miri and me for standing up to him. A long-term outcome may be Luis being thankful to Miri and me for standing up for him against Morgan.
  • Staying neutral could cause a short-term outcome of Miri and me feeling guilty for not doing anything to help Luis. A long-term outcome would be Luis becoming severely emotionally discouraged due to the constant bullying from Morgan.

I would choose the option of reporting the incident to someone in the company with Miri, Option A.

Response Three:

“After going through my first day at work, I have to choose a decision that results in a positive, ethically sound impact as an effect of my choice. There are multiple authorities that expect a certain action from me. The experts, or mentors, of the company expect me, Luis, and Miri to “sugar” our resume up and make us look good to the higher ups, which has a direct impact on our mentors as well. The higher ups in the company, not the mentors, expect the new hires to be honest and display our positives and negatives to them, which conflicts what the mentors want because it could possibly backfire and make a new hire look unimpressive. When it comes to breaking the law, Morgan stole Luis’s crucifix and could be reported for theft. My religion, or lack of one, demonstrates that stealing a crucifix is morally wrong because it is highly significant to both Luis, demonstrated by him crying, and to the new hires because everyone should be religiously tolerant.

I want to balance all legitimate interest, however, the best short and long term outcomes are entirely dependent on what Miri and I should do next. If I go with Miri to report the incident to someone in the company, in the short term I am being honest and reporting a violation that I have seen someone make within the company, which the higher ups in the company would appreciate in the short and long term. This would, however, create a rift between the new hires and the mentors because we ignored the trust that they want us to have with them so that everyone could exceed in the workplace. If I called the police, I would be yielding to the authority of the law, however, reporting a theft while ignoring any potential solutions to the problem would be ignorant because communication could easily solve this problem, and it jeopardizes the company and the people who work in it. Calling the police would only be an available option if nothing remains solved, therefore it is the last option.

Working with Miri to attempt to mediate the conflict between Morgan and Luis demonstrates how I am choosing to trust the mentors by directly talking with Morgan about his improper conduct, without betraying them by going to a higher authority. The company in the long term would not have to find any violation, and the mentors would have security in knowing the new hires found a way to solve conflict without taking it to someone in a higher position. If I choose to stay neutral and change the subject, I am not being faithful to my religion or a good law-abiding citizen. I am jeopardizing the company by watching a violation take place and doing nothing, and I am demonstrating that the behavior of the mentors is acceptable, which, in the long term of the company, is unprofessional and potentially damaging, (what if Luis attempts to sue?).

I would (A) report the incident to someone higher in the company while voicing my concerns about the mentors wanting us to be dishonest in our resume. I cannot recognize the mentors as a legitimate authority because they pressured me to lie in my resume, which is against my morals. They also mistreated Luis, and this abuse could be very damaging to the company. Bullying is not okay, and I would never go to the bullies and attempt to solve it if the bullies have already been pressuring me to lie to higher authorities.”

Such great answers! The students in the MCI pilot program are doing such a wonderful job of providing thorough and deliberate responses to each installment—we really appreciate their participation.

Posted in Announcements, MCI | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment