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The Big Q

A dialogue on the big questions college students face. Like The Big Q now on Facebook to stay updated on the latest post and winners.

  •  Caught in the Middle

    Monday, Feb. 4, 2013

    The best student comment on "Caught in the Middle" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be recieved by midnight, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates. 
    Ben and Tyler have been best friends since day one of college. Now seniors, they’re still inseparable, despite many ups and downs over the years.

     Lately, though, Ben’s been noticing that something’s a bit off with Tyler. He’s been spending a lot of time with this girl Lucy, and less time with his actual girlfriend, Kendra. Ben asked if something was going on between them, but Tyler insisted that he and Lucy just have a lot of classes together and work together on homework, sometimes late at night. Ben knows how much Tyler loves Kendra, and trusts that his friend is telling him the truth. Later, though, Kendra confides in him that she thinks Tyler is cheating on her. He waves away her concern, telling her that Tyler loves her and wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.
    However, this shady behavior continues for a few weeks, and Ben is starting to have doubts about his friend’s honesty. These doubts are unfortunately confirmed when, at a party, he sees Tyler flirting with Lucy. Kendra is spending the evening in the library, so Ben realizes that Tyler is taking this opportunity to have a little fling. He watches from across the room as Tyler leads Lucy to his bedroom, shutting the door.
    Ben feels a strange mixture of emotions: confusion, betrayal, anger, and still an irrational sense of protectiveness over Tyler’s integrity. “Tyler’s just drunk,” he tells himself. “Everybody makes a mistake every once in a while.” Still, he feels hurt that Tyler lied about being attracted to Lucy, and angry that he would cheat on Kendra. Even though Tyler is his best friend, he still considers Kendra a close friend, too.
    What should Ben do? Should he go home and pretend he didn’t see anything? Should he bang on the door and tell Tyler to knock it off? Should he tell Kendra what he saw, so that she doesn’t get hurt? If he does that, where does that leave his friendship with Tyler?

     **DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

  •  Sister, Can You Spare a Dime?

    Friday, Jan. 4, 2013

    The best college student comment on "Sister, Can You Spare a Dime?" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.

    Jack is a fixture of the neighborhood right outside the gates of a large, urban university. Homeless for the past 13 years, Jack carries all of his belongings in a shopping cart, to which he also hitches his faithful dog, Rufus. Every day, Jack takes up a position outside the fast food joint across the street from the campus, where he solicits passersby for change. Most nights, he sleeps in a nearby parking lot, but when it gets really cold, he has been known to sneak into the campus library and labs to keep warm. A veteran of the Gulf War, Jack obviously has his demons, and he can sometimes be seen drowning them in a bottle of wine half-concealed in a brown paper bag.

    As a freshman at the university, Mandy encounters Jack in the second week she is on campus, when she goes off campus with fellow members of the water polo team for a late night snack. When she sees his cardboard sign— "Homeless Vet. Please Help"— Mandy throws a few quarters into the paper cup he holds out.

    "Don't give him money," Jocelyn, a junior teammate warns her. "He'll just spend it on alcohol."

    "If everybody would stop giving these freeloaders a handout, they would go hang out somewhere else," adds Ella. "They're scary."

    "Oh, Jack's harmless," Meg, a senior, chimes in. "I give him something when I can."

    "You just do that to salve your conscience," Jordan says. "Giving money to individual panhandlers doesn't do anything about the root causes of poverty in this country. You should join Students Act Against Homelessness if you really want to make a difference."

    Do you think students have a responsibility to help the homeless? If so, should they give money to anyone who asks? Should they buy food for the panhandlers instead? Should they not give to individuals but make donations to charities instead? What can students do about the root causes of homelessness?

    Useful Resources

    Photo Credit:>


  •  Happy Holidays from the Big Q

    Friday, Dec. 21, 2012

     We at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics wish you a joyous holiday and all the best in the new year.  Back in 2012.

  •  It Would Be an Honor

    Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
    Do Honor Codes work?

    This post is not a part of our bi-weekly Big Q contest, which will return in January. However, with finals coming up, please comment on this relevant and controversial topic! Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.


    Does your school have an Honor Code?

    If so, do you think that it really works?

    Why or why not? 


    For further reading on this topic, check out these articles: 

    Academic Dishonesty: Honor Codes and Other Contextual Influences


    Empirical Support for Academic Honor Codes


    Do University Honor Codes Work?


    A Framework for Ethical Decision Making 




    Photo by CollegeDegrees360 available under a Creative Commons License on Flickr. 


  •  Boys Will Be Boys

    Monday, Nov. 12, 2012

     The best college student comment on "Boys Will Be Boys" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, November 25th. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.


    Julia and Ricky have been dating for about a year now, and are completely committed to one another. All of their friends feel that they have a strong relationship with a solid foundation.
    Despite this, however, Julia has been noticing a pattern that concerns her. Ricky regularly watches pornography, which she really doesn’t like. After ignoring it for a while, Julia mentions that it bothers her, and makes her feel like Ricky is cheating on her.
    Ricky apologizes, but explains that it’s solely for “release,” and means absolutely nothing beyond that. Julia feels that pornography objectifies women in a way that undermines their relationship, and her self-esteem also suffers a hit when she thinks about the images that go across her boyfriend’s screen. Her best friend tells her not to worry because “boys will be boys,” and Julia reluctantly acknowledges that she knows that many college guys do this. She thinks that she may be blowing things out of proportion, but she can’t shake the feeling of betrayal.
    Is Julia overreacting, or should Ricky change his habits to honor the relationship? Do the moral implications change whether or not Ricky and Julia are sexually active?
    Photo by fb available under a Creative Commons License on Flickr. 

  •  Members Only

    Monday, Oct. 29, 2012
    A building in Hastings, providing student housing and offices.
    The best college student comment on "Members Only" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, November 18th. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.
    Jared is a college student who grounds his identity in his faith. From a young age, Jared found that his Christian beliefs helped him make sense of the world, and most of his friends feel the same way. For his undergraduate studies, Jared went to a Christian school, but decided to pursue law at Hastings, part of the University of California system.
    Immediately, Jared found a home with the Christian Legal Society. All the members of the group held his same beliefs, and used those beliefs to inform their understanding of law throughout their studies. However, one of Jared’s friends, Molly, was a part of the LGBTQ club, Hastings Outlaw, and found out that students who were part of the LGBTQ community were not welcome to vote or hold leadership positions in the CLS.
    Molly was outraged, saying that this policy was unfair discrimination that went against Hasting’s policy that “student organizations allow students to participate regardless of the student’s status or beliefs.” Besides, Hastings was a public university, and since student clubs received funding from the university, allowing the CLS to exclude members of the LGBTQ community would be like the state imposing the religious standards of one group on another. It would be state-sanctioned discrimination.
    Jared tried to explain to Molly that he personally did not have a problem with the Hastings Outlaw or anyone in it, but the faith he has fiercely believed in all his life has explicitly laid out in the Bible that “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” is sinful, and that includes "sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman" as well as homosexual relationships. For the CLS to ignore this important aspect of their belief system, Jared said, would not honor what the CLS was trying to represent. Forcing the CLS to accept leadership from those who believed differently would be infringing upon the members’ freedom of religion.
    Molly said that she understood where he was coming from, but it shouldn’t matter because students should be allowed to explore different beliefs in college and feel safe from discrimination in doing so. Hastings College of Law agreed, and refused funding of the CLS unless they changed their membership policy.
    Do you think that Molly and Hastings Outlaw are right? Should anyone be able to apply for any leadership position in a club, regardless of whether or not their personal philosophy aligns with it? Or, do you think Jared is right? Can he and the CLS be justified in excluding students who don’t share the CLS’s beliefs from leadership roles so that they can maintain the integrity of the group and fully exercise their freedom of speech, association, and religion?
    This case study is based on the Supreme Court case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.
    Photo by cbcastro available under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.
  •  Rock the Vote

    Monday, Oct. 15, 2012
    The best college student comment on "Rock the Vote" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, October 28th. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.
    Maggie is voting for the first time this year. She has made a particular effort to educate herself about the important issues in her state's race for the U.S. senate.

    The issues Maggie cares most about—along with the majority of her peers—are jobs, healthcare, and education funding. She realizes that the dismal job market is looming just beyond graduation, that the current healthcare system is flawed, and education funding is lower than ever before. She has found a candidate that she fully supports and that advocates policies and changes that she feels she can trust. However, there is just one problem—she does not agree with the candidate’s permissive stance on abortion.
    Her friends tell her that her moral qualms about the abortion issue are vastly outnumbered by the positive qualities that her favorite candidate has to offer; however, she is having trouble accepting a candidate who directly contradicts her passionately held, pro-life position.
    Should Maggie vote for the candidate she thinks is less qualified to lead in this capacity, but who agrees with her stance on abortion and will legalize the morality she believes should guide U.S. policy? Or should she vote for the candidate she agrees with on every other issue, and also risk perpetuating a belief that she finds morally reprehensible? 
    Photo by mrmannnn available under a Creative Commons license on Google Images.


  •  The Pre-game

    Monday, Oct. 1, 2012

    The best college student comment on "The Pre-game" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. The video should allow you to choose whose story you will follow.  If you have trouble with this feature, you can view the video on YouTube.

    Entries must be received by midnight, Oct. 14. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.

    For this contest, watch this interactive video which allows you to choose what two college students, Ari and Daniel, will do on a night out.  Click on the prompts to make your selection.  At the end, comment here and tell us about a time you faced a decision like Ari's and Daniel's.

  •  Claustrophobic

    Monday, Sep. 17, 2012
    Derek's roommate, Joey, is extremely clingy.
    The best college student comment on "Claustrophobic" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, September 30. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.
    Derek is beginning his freshman year in college. Wanting to expand his social horizons, he had signed up for a random roommate assignment when it came time to register for housing. Now, several months after making that decision, he felt a little nervous as he moved the first boxes into his room. However, his roommate, Joey, had arrived before him, and he was quickly relieved to discover that Joey seemed “normal.”
    The two guys got dinner together the first night, and got to know each other a bit. Joey seemed friendly and didn’t have any obvious hygiene issues, so Derek felt like it was a good match! He had heard lots of roommate “horror stories,” and was thankful that he would not be added to that list.
    After the first couple weeks of classes, Derek signed up for the student government and quickly found a group of friends through that organization. Joey, however, was less proactive—he seemed to limit his free time to surfing the Internet, and began to make comments about feeling lonely and homesick. Derek felt bad for the guy, so he invited Joey to hang out in his new friend group as an opportunity to socialize and meet more people.
    As Joey began to tag along more and more, Derek started to realize that their personalities didn’t exactly mesh. Little things that Joey would do or say would rub Derek the wrong way, and he could tell that others in the group shared that sentiment. It began to be an obligation to invite Joey along to things, and nobody felt that they could completely be themselves with Joey around. Derek felt responsible for creating this tricky dynamic, and felt that he had to do something about it.
    Torn between being a good friend and feeling claustrophobic, Derek was faced with a tough decision. Should he stick it out for the rest of the year for Joey’s sake? Or, should he be honest and tell Joey that sometimes he wants a little space to hang out with his friends by himself?
    Photo by maverick253 available under a Creative Commons license on Google Images.
  •  Rushing Into Things

    Tuesday, Sep. 4, 2012

     The best college student comment on "Rushing Into Things" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Entries must be received by midnight, September 16. Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.

    Katie is a freshman, and she has loved the first few weeks of college. However, she feels that she could benefit from a close-knit group of friends; and, unlike many of her peers, she doesn’t feel like she has connected strongly with anyone in her dorm or the few clubs she’s joined.
    Katie’s older sister is in a sorority at another school, and tells Katie that she should rush for a more built-in community. Beyond gaining friendships, her sister cites leadership opportunities, volunteer work, and a full social calendar on a long list of benefits of “going Greek.”
    Despite the fact that her sister seems happy with her decision to rush, Katie isn’t so sure. While hazing is banned at her university, she knows all too well that it happens. Recently she heard that one sorority on her campus makes its pledges drink an entire bottle of champagne by themselves after pledging, and she’s heard of even more hazing horror stories from friends at other colleges. Despite the awful things that hazing rituals consist of, though, she’s also heard members say that the hazing process often brings the people in those groups much closer together.
    Katie longs for a group of girls that will love and accept her in the name of sisterhood, and wouldn’t mind the activities and other benefits that come with it. She knows that, like her sister’s chapter, not all sororities haze. But should she take the risk that she may be forced to do something she doesn’t want to do, even something potentially dangerous, for the sake of making friends? And is she willing to inflict that upon someone else?