Forced Sterilization—Using the 8KQ to Determine Reparations

$400,000. By most standards, that’s a lot of money. In JMU terms, it would pay for about 172 meal plans for students who live on campus, 1,818 annual parking passes for full-time students, or a year’s worth of tuition and fees for 41 in-state students. Many JMU students would be grateful to have that much money to throw at their educational expenses.

$400,000 looks rather different, though, when you examine that amount in the context of the entire budget for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia’s biennial budget allots $47,013,163,377 for fiscal year 2015 and $47,563,883,725 for fiscal year 2016. With that much money in play, $400,000 seems miniscule in comparison. Why fixate on hundreds of thousands of dollars when our state has billions at stake?

We should be interested in Virginia’s spending of $400,000 because that’s the amount recently designated by the General Assembly to compensate victims of the state’s forced sterilization program which ran from 1924 to 1979. Over a decade after the General Assembly officially apologized for the state’s actions, the 11 remaining identified survivors of this program will receive $25,000 each from this specially created fund. This stands in stark contrast to North Carolina’s Office of Justice for Sterilization Victims which will be distributing $10,000,000 to applicants who have been verified by that agency.

North Carolina and Virginia were not the only states that crafted legislation based on the flawed principles of the eugenics movement, but they are the first to try and atone for the damage done by those laws. Finding appropriate ways to make amends for wrongs done in the past is an enormous struggle, so how could use of the Eight Key Questions affect the reparations that are increasingly being offered by states around the country and in our very own commonwealth? The questions of fairness (“How can I act equitably and balance all interests?”) and liberty (“What principles of freedom and personal autonomy apply?”) are especially relevant in this case because these survivors have had their personal freedom grossly usurped in an egregiously imbalanced way, but the government must tend to the interests and self-determinations of all its citizens when deciding upon appropriate restitution.

As members of the JMU community, we are asked to be engaged citizens capable of bringing about great change; how can we use our finely honed ethical reasoning skills to work toward justice and equity for those Virginians whose lives were transformed by this horrible chapter in our state’s history? How might we use the 8KQ to help restore some measure of fairness and liberty to these proceedings while encouraging empathetic and fiscally responsible actions from our state lawmakers? How can our representatives use this ethical reasoning framework to arrive at a solution that will satisfy their constituents while also satisfying the larger need for just action?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The College of Education Embraces Ethical Reasoning in Action and the Eight Key Questions.

When it comes to embracing the Madison Collaborative’s mission, the College of Education has been a leading advocate this year. With the support of Dean Phil Wishon, the college developed the Madison Collaborative Initiative Grants to provide financial resources to support faculty projects aligned with the Collaborative’s mission, vision, and values. Three projects were funded and each was innovative in its approach to understand and enrich ethical reasoning.

In a recent conversation Dr. Wishon noted, “The Madison Collaborative has the potential for doing something elevated and is a test of the university. We need to steward the movement to keep it going.” He added that his role as a dean is to remind people of its importance. “Coming from a profession of helping others, there is more that we can do. We are less than we think,” he asserted. “We can’t afford to become complacent on campus, with our partners in the community, or in our college.”

The three funded projects include faculty member Michelle Cude’s that will integrate the Eight Key Questions into the Social Studies Methods courses for middle school teacher education candidates; a collaborative project submitted by faculty members Michele Estes, Rich Ingram and Diane Wilcox in the department of Learning, Technology and Leadership Education to develop a book of case studies specific to ethical dilemmas in education; and a research project developed by faculty member Sharon Blatz that uses the Eight Key Questions as a framework and justification for a study to determine the impact of using hands-on approaches to teach algebra to students with special needs or those who have consistently struggled to master math concepts and skills.

These are just three examples of how ethical reasoning and the Eight Key Questions are being supported and integrated in and around the university. We know there are others. Let’s share our efforts and continue to support what Dean Wishon of the College of Education refers to as the university’s “essential message around issues of conscience.”

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JMU’s Other Mascots

For those of you who might not know, James Madison University has a mascot that isn’t Duke Dog. In fact, it has two. Neither of them will ever been seen at a sporting event. They frequently run and hide when big tour groups come through campus. This doesn’t sound like the typical behavior of a college mascot, does it?

This behavior makes more sense when you realize I’m talking about Dolley and Jimmy, the two black cats who make their home on JMU’s Quad. You’ll find the Quad Cats sunning themselves when the weather is warm and hunkered down on heating grates once winter rolls around. Thanks to Mother Nature’s most recent arctic blast, that’s where they’ve been spending most of their time lately. In spite of these frigid temperatures, they still find the time to rub against my legs and follow me to my office in the morning. It takes more than a nasty cold spell to diminish the affections of these cats.

Despite being semi-feral, Dolley and Jimmy are sweet and good-natured creatures. Dolley is the more outgoing of the two; she’s often the first to greet me with a little meow in the morning. Jimmy is more reserved but once he knows you, he’ll jump up and command attention. Both of them love being rubbed behind their ears. They might like seafood-flavored cat treats even more.

At this point, you’re probably asking why I’m talking about the Quad Cats on a blog devoted to ethical reasoning in action. Choosing to care for these animals is certainly not an ethical dilemma, but I know that the JMU community has great affection for Dolley and Jimmy. Put that affection into action. We’re a community that values engagement, that believes in taking care of one another. I’m writing this post to encourage you to help look after the smallest members of the JMU family. Watch the video below to find out more about how you can help JMU’s other mascots.


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Ethics in Journalism

The media is notorious for reporting biased news. In some cases, it uses unreliable sources and unchecked ideas that are presented as facts. In a YouTube video, a group of journalism students at a Vermont high school decided to use their knowledge of the ethics of journalism to refute the bias of Fox News. The channel, which has the reputation of being a very conservative network, had labeled Vermont as a state of “mindless liberals” and visited the state to interview and “humiliate” people on the streets as part of The O’Reilly Factor show.

The students recited lines from the ethics code verbatim, calling out Fox News on its inaccurate surveys and prejudiced data collection. The newscast had visited only one town in Vermont (Bennington, VT) and used it to represent the entire state. Only six interviews were featured in the broadcast, further lowering the accuracy of demographic representation.

The journalism students’ high school was, in fact, located in Bennington, VT, which was why they felt it was a personal attack from Fox News and wanted to stand up for their town and state. The attack became even more personal when the news network featured an allegation that had first appeared in The New York Times, claiming that the students’ school, Mount Anthony Union High School, was full of heroin-users. The source who made the claim was proven to have no knowledge of heroin at any school in Bennington, VT. The “careless and inappropriate” comments made during the news segment were undone, piece by piece, by Mount Anthony Union High School students. (Watch the full video here: )

In relation to the 8 Key Questions, the students stood up for the character of their school, town and state. The biased news report showed a lack of fairness toward those being interviewed and a lack of empathy for the citizens of Vermont who were being purposely depicted in a bad light. By taking initiative to fact-check and creating a video disclaiming Fox News’s “facts”, the journalism students were exercising their rights of speech and press. They decided, in this case, that rights and fairness were of higher importance than the authority of Fox News as a national TV network, and used these reasoning skills to defend their stance.

It’s important not to believe the false rumors you see in the media, and just as important to stand up for the truth when it those rumors arise. Have you ever had false rumors spread about you or your hometown? What would you do if a news station featured Harrisonburg, VA or JMU in a bad light? As future “educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives,” it is important for us to stay educated about current events and to enlighten ourselves when the “facts” are questionable.


Read more about the Vermont high school students and Fox News here:

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Predicting the Future of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, results in memory loss and brain deterioration. It is projected that in 40 years, those affected by the disease will more than double in number, from 3.6 million to around 9.1 million people. Costs for caring for people with Alzheimer’s will be 5 times greater, at $1.5 trillion a year. Researchers have created a blood test that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s years before its symptoms appear. This test has caused a large dilemma amongst doctors and patients.

Currently, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but the tests could help physicians evaluate how well medicines work at slowing its progression. Those diagnosed prematurely, however, will have to live with the knowledge that they will eventually develop Alzheimer’s years before its onset. This could result in depression or suicide. Desperate patients could lose money by spending it on false cures. These false treatments may even hurt their health.

With a test that can predict Alzheimer’s a decade ahead of time with 100% accuracy, it makes one stop and think. Which is better: knowing the inevitable or just waiting until it comes? Preparing for the future, or just letting it happen?

Ethical dilemmas are complicated, and there is never an easy solution. For some, ignorance is bliss. It is good to enjoy life and not live in constant fear of what will happen next. For others, knowledge is power. Who knows what medications, treatments, or cures will be available in the future? Perhaps detecting Alzheimer’s early on can allow it to be treated before its symptoms ever show. Or perhaps not – there may be no cure, but the knowledge of it remains.

Share your personal story about a friend or family member with Alzheimer’s in the comments below; would you want to know if you were going to have Alzheimer’s someday?

Read this story’s source here:

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The Unprofessional Doctor and the 8 Key Questions

Amir Al-Dabagh, former M.D. from Case Western Reserve University, has been brought to court on two occasions and received two different rulings: one in favor and one against him. The case: whether or not to let Amir keep his medical degree.

Amir’s grades were high, but his behavior outside the classroom was described as “unprofessional”, causing the university to declare him unfit to receive a medical degree. Some of this unprofessional behavior included sexually harassing women at the school dance, jumping out of a taxi to avoid paying, and getting into a car accident while intoxicated. He was consistently late to class, and even asked his instructor to lie on the attendance record for him. Amir also received negative evaluations from patients and their families during his medical training. Amir denies the harassment accusation and had an excuse for every other allegation.

The first judge ruled in favor of Amir. The judgment said his conduct did not affect his academic work or knowledge of medical subjects. He had earned high grades and completed the requirements necessary for his degree. The court believed that character judgments, especially those it deemed unrelated to medical practice, should not be relevant in deciding who gets a degree. Therefore, the university was required by the court to grant a medical degree to Amir.

The case, however, was appealed. The second judge ruled in favor of Case Western Reserve University and revoked Amir’s medical degree. The court stated that professionalism and academic performance go hand-in-hand – learning to be professional is part of a medical student’s education. When put together to form a track record, the isolated events of misjudgment showed a pattern of poor decisions.

When ruling on a case like this, it is important to examine all aspects of the situation using the 8 Key Questions. In Amir’s case, should his character be as much of a priority as fairness (for completing his doctoral program) or rights (right to a degree based on payment and passing grades)?

In higher education, particularly in a medical doctorate program, there is a code of conduct that every student is expected to follow. Students are expected to follow this code while in school and to continue exemplifying professional behavior after graduation. How much should outside behavior weigh in on the decision to award a degree? Does the code of conduct apply outside the classroom? Let us know what you think.

Read more about this story here:

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Moral Distress by Erica Lewis

Moral distress; or, the unpleasant feeling that results from us knowing the right thing to do in an ethical situation and failing to do so.

This state of discomfort can easily manifest itself through emotional and physical symptoms. Individuals experiencing moral distress may feel paralyzed—unable to reason when faced with future ethical dilemmas. Moral distress can be disguised as emotional exhaustion. However, the experience is distinct from emotional exhaustion because the distress is a result of our ethical value systems being compromised.

Many health and human service professionals, dealing with issues such as end-of-life care and quality of care, have been known to experience moral distress in their careers—in fact, the occurrence of moral distress has been most widely documented in these professionals. Moral distress has been experienced by those in business, military, and educational settings.

What keeps us from acting after we make moral decisions? An array of personal, environmental, and practical constraints. A timid person who works on the lower rungs of a corrupt and rigid hierarchical system, for example, may very well feel disempowered to act. If that person has to make decisions quickly or lacks resources (such as a supportive group of coworkers), it’s highly unlikely that she will be able to act—even if she recognizes an ethical solution to a moral dilemma.

There is a lack of clear evidence to guide prevention and treatment of moral distress.  However, recommendations based on anecdotal evidence can be offered. The most important way to prevent moral distress is to design an environment aimed at encouraging moral decision making and empowering decision makers to act. In these environments, typical constraints that oftentimes lead to moral distress should be removed.

But if designing a specialized environment seems impractical, individuals can work on ethical decision making skills by using an inquiry based framework, reflecting on past experiences, surrounding themselves with positive role models, role-playing, and maintaining their well-being.

The James Madison University 8 Key Questions framework is one tool that can be used to guide moral reasoning. Being able to recognize an ethical dilemma and follow an established reasoning process allows for purposeful decision making when faced with right and wrong—ethical decision making can be nurtured with practice. Reflection before action helps eliminate retrospective regret and thoughtless action.

Meditative life practices, such as journaling, can also help us identify and solidify our moral values. Reflective practices allow us to recall, and grow from, prior experiences. Positive friends and mentors may also serve as supports to enhance resiliency during difficult times and prompt us to take moral action. If a difficult conversation is part of the ethical solution, then role playing can help build confidence and fluency. Finally, overall well-being is important. Fatigue in particular can be a barrier to stepping up in difficult circumstances.

We can also help prevent moral distress in those around us. Support is important both during and after experiencing a moral dilemma. Having someone present in the situation can make a big difference. We can offer to stand with someone during their difficult time, role play conversations in advance, and ask for help using the appropriate chain of support.

Please feel free to contact Dr. Erica Lewis to learn more about moral distress:

Epstein, E.G., & Delgado, S. (2010). Understanding and addressing moral distress. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 15(3). doi: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol15No03Man01

Hamric, A.B. (2012). Empirical research on moral distress: issues, challenges and opportunities. HEC Forum, 24: 39-49.

James Madison University. (n.d.). The Madison collaborative: Ethical reasoning in action. Retrieved from

Lewis, E.L., Baernholdt, M.B., Hamric, A.B. (2013). Nurses’ experience of medical errors: an integrative literature review. Journal of Nursing Care Quality, 28(2), 153-161. doi: 10.1097/NCQ. 0b013e31827e05d1.

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Speak up, Dukes!

Representatives from the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices, the Counseling Center, and the University Health Center came together last Friday and spoke to a crowd of about 30 people at a Faculty Flashpoint panel focused on JMU’s sexual assault prevention efforts. The event, sponsored by the Madison Collaborative and organized by the Center for Faculty Innovation, gave students, faculty, and staff members the chance to use the Eight Key Questions as a common framework to discuss what our community can do to fight against the social conditions that contribute to sexual misconduct. I was one of the folks in the audience and I left the Flashpoint feeling inspired; being in a room of fellow Dukes, all united behind a common good, was energizing even in the face of a rather daunting issue.


The discussion was both impassioned and informative—Josh Bacon, Tricia Crocker, and Liz Howley shared details about the services already being offered by their respective offices in addition to sharing their ideas for what our university can work on in the future. They pointed out that the most important thing that members of the JMU community can do to fight this problem is to speak up and speak out. I, like so many others, often feel like I have no power to bring about real change, but all of the panelists encouraged the audience to remember that our voices are one of the best and strongest resources that we have in this battle.


Dukes, we all need to find our voices when it comes to sexual assault prevention. We must find ways to speak out against the violence and the cultural norms that allow this kind of behavior to continue. Whether we join a campus group or submit a dart to The Breeze, everyone needs to keep this conversation going. All of us need to be able to talk about this issue in order to bring about any kind of large scale change to our campus culture. The Madison Collaborative wants us to utilize ethical reasoning in our “personal, professional, and civic lives.” What better place to start than with lending our voices to this cause?

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Flashpoint: Sexual Assault Prevention Efforts at JMU

Sexual assault prevention flashpoint poster

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New Year, New MC Activities

The Madison Collaborative is happy to bring you new events in the new year!

If you need foundational information to help you better understand the Eight Key Questions, the MC will be offering two Core Introduction Workshops, one on February 6 and one on February 19. Please click on the links above for more details about how you can sign up for either workshop.

The MC’s Coffee and Conversation program will also be making a return this semester. If you’ve already started incorporating the 8KQ into your work or if you’re just considering using the framework in some way, this is a great opportunity to share your ideas and to learn more from your colleagues. The discussion series will kick off on January 30 with Dr. Erica Lewis hosting. The next session will be led by Susan Ferguson on February 26. We’ll also be offering additional C&C events in the spring. Check out either link to learn more about that particular C&C meeting, and please consider joining us for robust coffee and discussion.

If you’re interested in using case studies to teach ethical reasoning skills to your students, Dr. Lewis will be leading a workshop on Ethical Reasoning Case Study Design and Pedagogy on January 29. Follow the link to learn more.

To learn more about all of the Madison Collaborative’s upcoming events, please go to our website for more information.

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