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The Big Q: Markkula Center Creates Forum for Students to Tackle the Big Ethical Questions of Campus

Monday, Apr. 18, 2011

A roommate puts up a poster protesting gay marriage, knowing his roommate favors it. A student hosts a party mocking Asian stereotypes. Two students start to have conflict around their "friends with benefits" arrangement.

College is where students deal with some of life's most tricky ethical situations, and often they are guided only by their own values and those of whoever happens to be on hand when the issues emerge.

Now, a new blog hosted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is hoping to become a hub where students can discuss such everyday—but often complicated—ethical issues among themselves, with occasional input by professionals who spend their lives thinking about such matters.

Started last month, the blog is an extension and expansion of the Ethics ChalkTalk, a whiteboard that has been the site of ethics debates at Benson Memorial Center since 2003.

The cases are also tied to campus events: The sometimes toxic combination of sex and alcohol was the subject of a student-led panel discussion during Campus Safety Week, for instance. The theme party case was posted as part of the lead-up to a major diversity leadership conference SCU is hosting April 30.

The questions that are posed at the blog ( are designed to be answered and debated largely by students.

"In our experience, people make better decisions when they've given some thought to what they will do before they're actually faced with a difficult situation," said Miriam Schulman, the Center's communications director who led the site's creation. "We're hoping that The Big Q can alert students to questions they may have to confront and provide them with some resources for handling those situations."

Parents, student-life professionals, and members of the Ethics Center staff will weigh in as well.

For instance, in a recent question posed about two students engaged in a "friends with benefits" arrangement, ethics professor David DeCosse notes that the concept is akin to an Aristotlean concept called "friendships of mutual use or mutual pleasure." He says that category of friendship falls far short of the Aristotle's definition of "the highest form of friendship," those who truly want only what's in their friends' best interest—not their own.

The questions are shared on the Ethics Center's Facebook page, and students are invited to join a $500 video contest and weekly polls on ethics topics.
Future topics that will be posed by The Big Q include Adderall usage; parental intervention in grades; and dangerous drinking situations.

Read more about the Big Q.

April 20, 2011

Tags: ethics, Markkula

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