Guest Post: Should Some Animals Have Some Rights Under the Law?: Using the 8 Key Questions to Decide

This guest post was written by Dr. Jennifer Byrne, associate professor at James Madison University.

The issue of granting animals rights under the law has been particularly salient world-wide in the past few years. For example, Spain has granted personhood rights to apes, meaning that they cannot be used in entertainment or confined to captivity beyond those that already have homes in zoos. India has granted similar personhood rights to dolphins. Now, the United States is in the spotlight of this debate. Steven Wise, scholar of animal rights at Harvard Law School, contends that some animals, especially primates, meet the criteria for legal personhood. This means that these apes and other select animals, including dolphins, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, parrots and elephants, would be awarded legal protections and be free from what Wise characterizes as “serious infringements upon their bodily integrity and liberty” (2000). Though Wise has written extensively on this subject, in December 2013, he took the first steps of legal action and filed three petitions in New York State Courts on behalf of captive chimpanzees as President of the Nonhuman Rights Project. The Nonhuman Rights Project is a unique organization in that it is the only group that is fighting for legal rights for non-human species. Wise argues that complex and intelligent animals share the same abilities and emotions that humans do, such as living in complex societies, possessing and transmitting a shared culture, the ability to communicate, the ability to solve complicated problems, and the ability to love and feel loss (such as the mourning of loved ones). Therefore, they are entitled to rights under the law, should not be treated as property, and do not exist for human entertainment or consumption.

The case, which will appear in the NY State Supreme Court on May 27th, 2015 at 10:30 AM, involves two chimps, Hercules and Leo, who are research chimpanzees at Stony Brook University. Wise and his colleagues will argue the case using a common law writ of habeas corpus, which allows a petitioner to challenge their detention as unlawful. If granted, then Hercules and Leo will be freed from biomedical experimentation at the research lab and sent to a sanctuary called Save the Chimps in Ft. Pierce, Florida, that has frequently served as a retirement home to chimpanzees that were used for medical research. The writ of habeas corpus has been used in the past to give human beings, such as slaves, rights that were denied to them under the law when they were classified as property. Under the law, chimpanzees and other animals are currently considered property or “things,” which means that they lack any rights, but Wise’s team wants to change the common law status of some nonhuman animals to personhood. However, critics of Wise argue that it is inherently unfair to give rights to only certain groups of animals just because they are intelligent. Though Wise’s approach would arguably disrupt the species “barrier,” his argument confers moral value based on the basis of mental complexity rather than sentience alone, excluding most species from these legal protections.

Additional criticisms of the animal rights movement more broadly, such as those levied by British philosopher Roger Scruton, who argues that rights imply responsibilities (2000). Scruton contends that animals are unable to enter a social contract, and cannot have duties; thus, rights are something unique to the human species. Aristotle argued that animals lack the ability to reason and consequently humans were at the top of the natural order (Linzey and Clark 2004; Sorabji 1995). Another body of criticism comes from a utilitarian or rational approach to animal rights, which means that we must consider the consequences of our actions as it pertains to the welfare of animals, but also of the benefits for humans. Though the animal welfare approach takes animal suffering into account, the utilitarian nature of this approach means that potential benefits to humans may outweigh any adverse effects that actions have on animals (Regan 2004). For example, one may argue that the discomfort, or even pain, experienced by animals in laboratory test settings may be justified as vital to find cures for painful or terminal diseases for humans. Finally, there is the question of whether it is ethical to be concerned with the rights of animals as long as there is human suffering in the world. Noted primatologist and activist Jane Goodall has acknowledged that, “Anyone who tries to improve the lives of animals invariably comes in for criticism from those who believe those efforts are misplaced in a world of suffering humanity” (2000; 217).

In looking at the 8 Key Questions, one can easily see how the issue of rights applies. Do nonhuman animals have any rights under the law? This refers to rights in the legal sense, but we can also ask whether nonhuman animals have any innate or inherent rights, such as those thought to be granted to people by a deity or deities. Humans are also thought to have a basic right to dignity, but does this apply to any nonhuman animals, or perhaps to all of them? When we talk about issues of fairness, we must question whether it is just for us to grant legal rights to some animals and not others based on human ideas of intelligence, attractiveness, and feasibility. Granting rights to some nonhuman animals, such as Hercules and Leo, will involve questions of liberty, as granting a writ of habeas corpus will grant them a degree of liberty, to be free from captivity. Finally, we must also ask ourselves whether humans have any responsibilities to nonhuman animals, and if so, what? Can you think of other ways that the 8 Key Questions apply to this particular case? Which of the 8 Key Questions would you apply to come to a decision on the case?

For more information, visit the Nonhuman Rights Project’s website.

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Honoring Our Fellow Dukes

Death is always a difficult subject to adequately address in writing. There are countless ways to think about it—as just another step in the journey of life, as an opportunity to reflect, as a chance to celebrate the life of a loved one. What makes this difficult is there no way to fully address death and its repercussions on those left behind without leaving something out. Grief is constantly evolving, ever shifting; an individual’s experience with loss is always changing, and everyone goes through it in radically different ways. If you amplify that at an institutional level, adequate engagement could very well be impossible.

The James Madison University community has been undergoing a bereavement process of its own in the past month, struggling to find that adequate level of engagement. Sophomore Marisa Curlen died on April 17, and her passing triggered an outpouring of sorrow and remembrance from her classmates. The Breeze covered the incident, the university released a public statement in response to her demise, and numerous other tributes took place all over campus. Mourning for Marisa has been a shared experience for Madison which, in turn, makes both her life and death very public.

In contrast, the grieving process for Jonny Novgrod has been very different. Jonny, a returning student in the Adult Degree Program, died on April 29 just as spring semester classes were concluding and final exams were starting. His friends and colleagues on campus knew of his demise, but little public attention has been focused on the circumstances of his life and death, further compounding a challenging loss for JMU.

These students, while very different from one another, are alike in that they left Madison too soon. Marisa had more philanthropic projects to undertake with her sisters in Alpha Phi. Jonny had more service opportunities to pursue with the Department of Psychology. Their friends and families should have had more time with them. They both should have had the chance to discover what their JMU education could do to change their lives and the lives of others.

Instead of tackling the philosophical or religious implications of death or the issues of media ethics that are present in this situation, I would instead encourage everyone to focus on three of the Eight Key Questions: Responsibilities (What duties and obligations apply?), Empathy (How would I respond if I cared deeply about those involved?), and Character (What actions will help me become my ideal self?). Capitalize on these questions (and the others as needed) as you navigate the remainder of the semester. Completing final exams and managing the turmoil of commencement can be hard enough, but it becomes even more so when you are reminded that two members of your campus community aren’t with you on this journey. We must strive to honor them by using the tools we have at our disposal (like the 8KQ) to take care of one another, make good decisions, and foster a sense of unity with our fellow Dukes.

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All’s Fair in Higher Education and Textbook Royalties?

Recently featured in an article by Francisco Almenara-Dumur in The Breeze, a student poll was conducted about whether professors textbooks they’ve written. The question in focus is fairness, which also happens to be one of the Eight Key Questions. Professors get a portion of the profit when the textbooks they’ve authored are sold. Is it fair to require their students to buy the book and then make money from it?

Some professors argue that their textbooks are tailored to the subjects they teach, claiming it’s the practicality, not the profitability, that justifies it. The American Association of University Professors sees this as justification as well: “Professors should assign readings that best meet the instructional goals of their courses, and they may well conclude that what they themselves have written on a subject best realizes that purpose” (qtd. in Almenara-Dumur).

The student poll resulted in mixed feelings and opinions. For eight of the twenty surveyed, they felt there was a conflict of interest. Students were more likely to say there was a conflict of interest if they did not like the textbooks. One student also complained that she was required to buy a textbook written by her professor and it was then never used in class.

Nine of the twenty students felt there wasn’t a conflict of interest, while three believed it could go either way. There are also differing opinions amongst faculty at JMU. Professor Daniel Flage was quoted as an advocate in The Breeze article, saying, “If I assign a book by professor X, he gets the royalties. If it’s me then I get the check. Someone is going to get the profits, why not let it be me?”

Professor Michael Seth, also quoted in The Breeze, argued the opposite: “If you’re collecting royalties, you’re profiting from the students.”

Are professors justified in assigning their own written works, or is it unfair because they profit from it? Let us know in the comments below.

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It’s Complicated Facilitation

The Atlantic hurricane season typically starts in June and runs until November, but the Madison Collaborative already has hurricanes on the brain. Specifically, we’re thinking about Hurricane Sharon, the fictional storm that serves as the catalyst for the story in It’s Complicated, the 75-minute long workshop that introduces first year and transfer students to the Eight Key Questions, James Madison University’s framework for teaching ethical reasoning skills. This program takes place during Orientation week at locations all across campus with dozens of faculty and staff members facilitating the experience for JMU’s newest Dukes; in fact, these facilitators are the people who make the entire educational intervention possible. While the Madison Collaborative and Orientation teams organize the event, the volunteer facilitators are the ones who bring it to life.

With that in mind, the MC would like to call upon the JMU community to help us in expanding It’s Complicated this summer. We’re hoping to get more facilitators involved than ever before, and that can’t happen without your help. We want to get EVERYONE on campus involved in this endeavor! You can sign up to become a facilitator using this short Qualtrics form and learn more about the program on the MC’s website. Whether you’re faculty or staff, full time or adjunct, you can serve JMU through this program.

One of the major objectives of the Madison Plan, JMU’s strategic plan for 2014-2020 is to become “the national model for the engaged university.” As part of the Engaged Learning component of the plan, the Madison Collaborative is situated to play a big role in helping JMU achieve this goal. Not only do we help students to become more thoughtful and engaged in their critical thinking and ethical reasoning skills, but we’re also helping faculty and staff members become more engaged with their campus community. For all of us who might think of ourselves as committed stewards of higher education, that’s a pretty exciting prospect.

If you’ve thought about facilitating It’s Complicated in the past but just haven’t gotten around to it yet, this is your year. This is your chance to connect to a major educational undertaking here on campus. Hurricane season is almost here, and the only way JMU students will be able to weather Hurricane Sharon is with your help. Become an It’s Complicated facilitator.

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From College to Career

Graduation leads to one of the biggest turning points in life: becoming an adult in the “real world.” The days of classes and homework are over. Now it’s time to enter the workforce. An article on lists eight critical issues facing recent college grads…

  1. Time-Related Factors: After having a flexible schedule that changes each semester, it’s hard to get used to working from 9 to 5 everyday (or sometimes even longer than that!). Free time and vacations are limited and punctuality is important. Using time wisely to get all your work done is most important of all. Getting your first full-time job comes with a lot of What are your job responsibilities and how will you prioritize them? How will you balance those priorities with ones outside of work?


  1. Professionalism in the Workplace: In college, you can go to class in sweatpants, or just skip class altogether because you’re sleeping in. But at work, unprofessional behavior can get you fired from your job. It is important to evaluate your character as a newly employed professional; which behaviors from your college life reflect the employee you want to be? Which behaviors will you change?


  1. A Job or True Calling?: Your first job may not be your dream job, but it’s a step in the right direction. Many college graduates change jobs or even career paths after their first year in the post-graduate world. You might not have found the perfect fit yet, but if you put yourself out there and play the job field, you’ll have a better idea of the outcomes you want. Think about what you want to get out of a job—what professional outcomes will give you the most satisfaction?


  1. College Has Not Prepared You for Everything: You may have aced your classes and gotten a degree, but many graduates complain that they were not prepared for the challenges of transitioning from college to career. Don’t worry, though – there are people and services out there that can help answer the questions you have. Meeting with a career professional or Career & Academic Planning here at JMU can be beneficial, too. There is usually an authority figure at work who you can go to with questions. And don’t forget the Internet – you have access to websites and experts from all over the world that can help you with those job conflicts and independent living problems.


  1. Finding Employment Probably Won’t Be Easy: Getting one job offer, let alone multiple offers, takes a lot of persistence, persuasion, time and effort. With more and more applicants holding college degrees, it is sometimes hard to make yourself stand out from the crowd. A big advantage that can land you a job is networking. Talk with family and friends, alumni, professors, and see if they know of any potential job openings that they can recommend you for. In terms of fairness, some candidates’ impressive credentials can give them the upperhand, but you can level the playing field by putting your name out there through networking, recommendations and interviews. These are ways to highlight the skills and abilities that don’t necessarily translate on paper.


  1. Don’t Be So Full of Yourself: It’s good to be proud of your GPA and the volunteer work you did in college, but chances are employers won’t be won over just by credentials. Instead, show employers how you can contribute to the company or workplace. Getting a degree doesn’t necessarily give you the right to any job you choose. It is the employer who has the right to decide whether or not he wants to hire you. Even if you feel you’d be perfect for the job, you’ve got to earn it. Employers want you to expound on the knowledge you’ve obtained and explain how it applies to the job. Chances of earning a job will be that much higher when you put effort into an application and emphasize your contribution to the workplace.


  1. College Grads Get Entry-Level Jobs: Because of the tough job market, available openings for recent graduates are often entry-level jobs. They’re jobs with long hours, low pay, and hard work. It may not be your ideal list of job openings, but you need to be conducting your job search with realistic expectations. Employers often see to it that all employees start at a lower level in order to develop empathy to better understand the business. As you move up the ranks and are faced with making more managerial decisions, remember your experience as an entry-level worker to better relate to the perspective of your co-workers/employees.


  1. Be Prepared for Salary Negotiations and Job Offers: Getting multiple job offers can take off a lot of pressure, but then you’re faced with the difficult decision of choosing which one is right for you. Have a clear sense of what compensation you expect when going in to negotiate a salary. You have the liberty to decide which job to take and what salary you will agree to, so it’s important to make a list of your must-haves. It’s also important to consider what freedoms may be limited by certain job choices: Will the job require you to travel? Or will it require you to permanently move to another location? Your employer may even enforce a dress code in line with the company’s image. These and other freedoms may be controlled, depending on the company.


No matter how many of these challenges you face after graduation, know that you’ve been well-prepared for them. Don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned, the values you’ve found, and person you’ve become at JMU. No matter where life takes you, you’ll always be a Duke.

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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. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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