$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?
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