Reflection on Global Ethics Day

Last Wednesday, October 17th, Ethical Reasoning in Action helped JMU celebrate Global Ethics Day for the first time. Global Ethics Day is an event developed by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs where participants around the world hold fruitful discussions on ethics and encourages people to critically evaluate many questionable practices. Each university, business, or organization that participates in the event can tailor the discussions as they see fit, so long as it pertains to ethics in some way. We chose to focus our conversation on the question “What does an ethical campus look like?” Students, faculty, and staff were all prompted to think of various traits or characteristics that would be found on an ethical campus. Guided by the Character question from the 8 Key Questions, we essentially asked participants to think about what the ideal university campus values or what sort of qualities would be found at the ideal university.

We started off our day by using our social media accounts to highlight many groups around JMU who use the 8 Key Questions in their work. The Carnegie Council encouraged all participants to use #globalethicsday2018 to show the rest of the world what was going on throughout the day. We used this hashtag to not only highlight what activities we were putting on, but also to bring global attention to our efforts and mission. Among the groups identified through our posts were: the Ethical Reasoning Educators, Orientation, the Health Policy Summit, MYMOM, the Dux Leadership Center, JMU School of Nursing, JMU Ethics Bowl team, JMU IBECC team, and Kara Kavanagh from the College of Education. Thankfully, the groups we identified are only the tip of the iceberg. Ethical reasoning is prevalent throughout our campus already and many groups engage in discussions of this kind or share the same values embedded in the 8 Key Questions that weren’t explicitly mentioned on our pages. The social media campaign was successful at not only informing the JMU community about the ubiquity of ethical reasoning on campus, but it was also successful in showing other universities and organizations about our specific mission. The 8 Key Questions are an ethical reasoning framework unlike anything else we’ve come across. Global Ethics Day served as a great way to publicize this unique strategy. Our social media efforts were certainly successful in doing that by showing our framework to groups at universities and businesses around the country. Not only did we extend our message out to the public, but we also learned about a variety of groups around the country who practice somewhat similar activities as we do here at JMU. For instance, we learned about Georgetown University’s Ethics Lab, which is a facility at the university that works to develop creative projects for students to think about innovative solutions to ethical problems. Overall, the social media efforts during the day served as a learning tool for ourselves and the other participants of Global Ethics Day.

The first in person event we planned for the day was a video project that took place on the Commons. Aided by the Ethical Reasoning Educators and other Engagement Fellows, students were asked to respond to the question “What does an ethical campus look like?” We worked with JMU Marketing to compile a video of the responses where the students would should their answer on a white board. Students lined the Commons to take part in this video and stayed around to speak with one another about the topic. Often the answers revolved around common themes such as diversity, honesty, friendliness, and inclusivity. The 8 Key Questions served as inspiration for many who were struggling to put their thoughts into words. Unsurprisingly, many voiced some of the values embedded in the questions without directly referencing the questions at all. By and large, JMU students care about ethics. They believe that JMU is a fairly ethical campus, but many see ways that it can improve. Fostering conversations such as this one and prompting students to question their own set of values will inevitably lead to better moral reasoning around campus.

Finally, we ended the day with a discussion led by Dr. Tim Miller, Vice President of Student Affairs. Tim Miller spoke on his own experience with ethics in positions he held here at JMU and in the workforce many years ago. He began by asking students who helped shape their own moral compass and then shared with everyone an enlightening story about his father. While Dr. Miller’s mother was still pregnant with him, his father worked as an accountant for a large firm in Atlanta. Mr. Miller, Tim Miller’s father, noticed unethical practices occurring at his firm and spoke out against them. Mr. Miller ended up losing his job because of it and was forced to quickly find work in order to support his growing family. Dr. Miller also shared an experience that he had when he was working for JMU immediately after graduating from the university. He told about how he had to report an incident of hazing within the fraternity that he used to be a member of, which eventually led to serious actions being taken against that fraternity. Dr. Miller lost many friends because of his actions, but noted how he does not regret reporting their behavior. After speaking about his own personal experiences with ethics, Dr. Miller began to discuss how those experiences have shaped his values and then went on to discuss the values of JMU. When he finished his speech, Dr. Miller and I prompted the participants to think about what sort of values a university ought to have. Everyone broke into groups of about 5 to 10 people and spoke amongst themselves to determine which three values a university should embody. Though the discussion was not tailored around the 8 Key Questions as much as we would have hoped, the conversations still proved useful for those in attendance. Many voiced that a university should, among many things, uphold integrity, encourage accountability among students, and develop an equal playing field for all on campus. Dr. Miller’s discussion was a fascinating type of facilitation that was a bit unorthodox. Rather than focusing primarily on a case study, this session served almost as a brainstorming exercise where participants probed one another on what values we ought to take seriously and how we should go about actualizing them. For us here at Ethical Reasoning in Action, this discussion may serve as a stepping stone forward in how we think about developing ethical reasoning workshops. At bottom, ethical reasoning centers on one’s ability to ask an array of questions and uncover information that serves to better inform one’s decision. We recognize the pedagogical benefits that come from a case study, but if there are other ways to generate thoughtful questions then we would love to explore those avenues.

Having publicized our strategy and mission, learned about other similar programs around the country, and fostered meaningful discussions on ethics, Global Ethics Day was a successful endeavor for Ethical Reasoning in Action and the broader JMU community. Though Global Ethics Day only comes once a year, the conversations we had and questions we asked should continue to be regularly brought up. I hope that Global Ethics Day serves as an annual reminder to all that there is still much more ground to cover for each of us in the development of our own moral decision making. But I also hope that it continues to serve as a reminder that ethical reasoning is a skill that can be developed over time by exposing one’s self to challenging moral questions. By encouraging debates on ethical dilemmas and prompting people to ask better questions, we can individually develop our own moral reasoning skills through this collective effort.  Global Ethics Day serves as one of many ways that we can continue to nurture the character of JMU and develop enlightened citizens.

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