The Monthly EQ
What Is The Monthly EQ?
The college experience can be very disorienting, as students inevitably find themselves in situations which challenge deeply held assumptions about themselves and the world. Many of these situations will have a specifically moral dimension: a student may have to consider how to balance loyalty to a friend with a duty to report a violation of school policy, whether reporting a cheating episode makes one a “rat,” whether work obligations should take precedence over school obligations, and so on.
The Monthly EQ provides students with an opportunity to address such issues and their ethical implications. The aim is to have students reflect on a situation in which they may find themselves at some point during their college career, and to explain how they think the problem is best resolved. Every month, a new case scenario is posted on the Institute’s website; responses are judged by members of the Institute’s Internal Advisory Board. Winning submissions will be identified within two weeks of the closing date, and the author will receive a gift card in the amount of $50.00.
Danielle is a sophomore in college who is addicted to Instagram. She regularly posts multiple photos a day showing her followers what she is up to. Danielle views Instagram as a way to stay connected with her friends. While many of these Instagram photos are of nature scenes or delicious-looking baked goods, she also posts a lot of selfies. One day Danielle posts a photo of herself by the pool in her new string bikini. Another day, she takes a picture of herself in a sexy nightgown getting ready for bed.
These photos start to attract a lot of attention from her college peers. On her way to class one day she hears two guys she has never met talking about her as she walks by. She even sees one of her peers looking at one of her Instagram selfies on his phone in class.
Danielle’s best friend, Andrea, confronts her about posting these photos. She claims that showing this kind of photo on social media is not only dangerous but also can make guys think of Danielle as a skank. Danielle says she is simply expressing herself through these selfies, and that if people don’t want to see these photos, then they can stop following her on Instagram.
Is Andrea right to be worried about Danielle? If guys take Danielle’s photos the wrong way, is that her responsibility? What if a man posted a photo of himself shirtless or in a bathing suit? Would that be a problem? If so, why is there a difference in the way we view photos put up by men and women?
(With thanks to the Markkula Center for Ethics)
The Winning Entry:
(Submitted by Vincent Charchidi '19)
When addressing an issue of social responsibility it becomes necessary to emphasize a widely accepted but little followed principle known as the principle of universality. It is, also, important that we take time to analyze the social conditions in which individuals find themselves when dealing with moral dilemmas. Danielle is in a situation that can only be evaluated with the use of these methods.
Although it may be the case that Danielle is autonomous in the sense that she has the right to do what she pleases with her body, it doesn’t follow that her decision to express herself in such a manner is the result of morally acceptable background norms that led her to make that decision. Furthermore, it similarly does not follow that Danielle is fully aware of what it means to be an autonomous individual and so, given the background conditions, she cannot be expected to be able to realize her own autonomy.
Let’s take a moment and examine a corollary example. A man posts a shirtless photo of himself to Instagram and the reaction is either negligible or positive. Nobody thinks of criticizing this as the act of a promiscuous or trashy individual. If we want to have a serious discussion about why this is the case we have to work off of the basis that we ought to adhere to the principle of universality, a principle which states that the standards we apply to others we ought to apply to ourselves as well.
Utilizing this principle we quickly find that the standards being applied to Danielle, the woman, are not the standards being applied to the man. This alone is enough to dismiss any claims supporting the notion that the two sexes are treated in accordance with the same standards. However, and this is a point worth emphasizing, the mere fact that the prevailing standards being applied to men are not the same as those being applied to women is not enough to say, rationally, which standard (if either of them) we ought to adopt for everyday life. Such a decision requires serious consideration operating independently of dominant social norms.
Danielle’s friend Andrea puts forward a criticism worth listening to: Danielle should not have posted the photos of herself because it is dangerous to do so and it may lead guys to think of her as a skank. There seems to be two in ways in which Danielle’s actions could be dangerous. One, they ensured that suggestive photos of herself were put onto the internet for an indefinite length of time, possibly as long as it exists. Two, the act of publicly spreading suggestive photos of herself actually distorts Danielle’s view of her own individual self and her relation to the world.
The problem that each of these interpretations face is one stemming from the argument regarding the background social conditions Danielle finds herself in. Although the danger argument is compelling, it fails to acknowledge the fact that Danielle is acting within a set of established social norms directed towards people such as herself. These are norms which encourage, implicitly and explicitly, public, sexually suggestive behavioral traits under the guise of self-expression. There is, of course, nothing conceivably wrong with self-expression, but what Danielle has engaged in is not self-expression. It’s self-contradiction. A contradiction in the sense that Danielle is attempting to express her own individuality within the context of a collectivist set of social ideas.
Below are some of the past Monthly EQs and the selected "winning" answers to them. Please refer to them for an idea of how to answer the current EQ, and also see how other Rosemont Students approached difficult ethical situations.
You have not been doing as well in your History course as you had hoped. You decide the best course of action is to speak with your professor so you drop by her office. As you approach the door you hear her ask her assistant to make copies of a surprise pop quiz she plans to give during the next class. Getting a good grade on the quiz might be just the boost your grade needs, but you have already forgotten most of the material. If you re-read the chapter to prepare for the exam, are you cheating? Can you tell your friend who is also in the course about the quiz?
No, you are not quite cheating if you re-read the chapter to prepare for the exam. It was a coincidence, you did not see the questions she will ask nor did you deliberately spy on her to acquire this information. However, it does leave me with an unfair advantage for this quiz. Thus, I would still meet with the History professor and admit that I just overheard something about a pop quiz as I was approaching her office. It would be my hope that she would decide I have an unfair advantage and email the rest of the class (making it a PLANNED quiz) or cancel the pop quiz for this week, and perhaps plan it on a later date. Clearly, it would also be unfair for me to pass the information to my friend (because it would give both of us an unfair advantage then).
Janaki Khatri ‘14
You work in the bookstore with a guy named Jack. At the end of the night you have the task of restocking the merchandise while he counts out the cash register and makes the deposit. One night while you are stocking the shelves, you notice that after Jack makes the deposit, he reaches into the petty cash box and takes out three twenty dollar bills. He looks up and notices you watching him and tells you, “Don’t worry, I do this every Thursday night. I take a little money so I can go out with my friends. We get paid tomorrow and on Monday, I’ll slip the money back in. I do it all the time, the manager doesn’t even know.” On Monday afternoon you go into the cash box and sure enough, all the money is there, but you still have a nagging feeling that what he’s doing is wrong.
Is Jack stealing? Will you inform your manager?
The Winning Entry:
There is no honor among thieves. While Jack may not be stealing as conventionally understood, this act is still considered to be stealing. Anytime another person's property or money is taken without permission or legal right, it is considered a theft. Even after he returns the money, it does not absolve him of the embezzlement he committed. A morally good act never cancels out a morally bad act.
Centuries ago, Plato and Aristotle promoted virtue ethics, a theory that continues to be important in today's society. In professional and personal life, people ought to strive to act in accordance with virtues that improve or maintain their good character. Not telling the manager about Jack's transgressions would be unethical and diminish my character. Jack's actions cannot even be justified by necessity. If he really needed money to go out, he could always save some money from the paycheck he receives every Monday to use later that week.
The consequences of keeping quiet should also be considered. If the manager ever discovered Jack was "borrowing" money, not only would I get in trouble for not reporting him, I would also be seen as untrustworthy. Therefore, it would be in my best interest to inform the manager. If a person is given the responsibility of handling someone else's money, he or she should do so in the most respectable manner. As tempting as it might be to secretly take no-interest loans from the storeowner, it is an unethical act, and my not speaking up would be equally unethical.
Scott’s family never expected to be able to send their son to college because they simply could not afford it. They were thrilled when he received a full ride scholarship to play basketball at a big university, giving him an opportunity they never imagined he’d receive.
As wonderful as this, Scott has a problem. You see, between his course load, practice schedules and games, Scott does not have time to get a job and earn extra money. His scholarship only covers the cost of his tuition; it does not provide him with money to afford social outings with his friends or flights home to visit his family.
Meanwhile, the university itself is making millions of dollars off of the ticket sales, concessions, and memorabilia that Scott’s athletic talents have helped stimulate. Given that he is the team’s star shooting guard and the reason the team is putting up such high numbers this season, the value of his scholarship is probably just a mere fraction of the value that he generates among the school’s rabid fan base. His friends have told him that the school should be paying him a salary because without players, the school has no team. Is it fair that Scott is not receiving some form of monetary compensation on top of his scholarship? Is he being cheated by the school or is it a fair arrangement?
The ethical question that Scott's scenario raises - should he be receiving some sort
of compensation given his abilities as a student athlete - is indeed a complicated
one. The college's basketball team would not be as successful as it is now, or even
exist for that matter, without the star athletes that are currently on the team. When
coupled with the fact that the college makes an extremely large profit because of
the games, it only seems fair that members of the team, especially Scott, should receive
some sort of compensation. However, Scott receives a full scholarship from his college
because of his abilities, which in a way is a form of compensation. This raises the
question of whether this scholarship is enough, especially when compared to the amount
raised by the games.
I can see both sides of this scenario, but after examining the pros and cons of each, I am leaning towards the decision that it is a fair arrangement. A successful institution of higher education aims to teach the student not only in the classroom, but also in extracurricular activities, like athletics. Thus, I would argue that the basketball team is an important component within the "big picture" of the college, and contributes to the learning outcomes and success of students on the team. With this understanding, I think that the basketball team and athletic department, regardless of however successful it may be, is all part of the "package" that a student gets when applying to the institution. If the athletic department has the right goals in mind, then the student athletes obtain all the compensation that they need; i.e. the primary goal should not be collecting titles, trophies, and ribbons, but learning the valuable life-skills that come from working as a team, competing fairly, and knowing how to both win and lose. Therefore, it is clear than the college compensates its students with its intrinsic value so that the students are prepared to improve their lives once they leave.
In addition, it is important to remember that it is not professional athletics - it is an extracurricular activity. Yes, the college makes a lot of money because of the games, but that money is then used to purchase the resources and infrastructure to improve the quality of education at the college for the students, including the student athletes. Plus, student athletes getting paid raises some other problems: how would the college determine what to pay the student athletes? If the student athletes can get paid because of abilities, then why can't the math students get paid because of theirs? In the end, I believe Scott's scholarship is a fair arrangement in terms of compensation. The free education he receives is more valuable than any monetary value. Moreover, he would never have been able to attend the college without the scholarship, so to me it is not right of him to ask for more. It may seem unfair, especially because he cannot go out with friends and fly home, but there are ways around that - hang out on campus and Skype his family.
MICHAEL CUOMO, '13 - HISTORY MAJOR
Sophia is a wonderful girl and a hardworking student. Her parents immigrated to the United States almost 17 years ago, just shortly after her birth, by illegally crossing the border into the country. While she has often heard stories about her native country, she considers the United States her homeland as she has never known anything else.
As Sophia prepares to attend college she finds herself in search of loans, grants and scholarships to pay for her education. According to her guidance counselor Ms. Murphy there are many scholarships that a student like Sophia qualifies for and as a result, going to college should be no problem. She shares the good news with her friend Maria who wants to be happy for her but cannot help but feel a little resentment. Maria also arrived in America as a young girl but is a United States citizen because she was adopted by her American stepfather. She is a good student who has maintained a decent average but she is not the exemplary student that Sophia is. Still, she does not think it’s fair that someone who is in the country illegally should be eligible for more financial aid than someone whose family has taken the time to go through the proper channels.
Should Sophia be able to access a generous amount of financial aid if she is in the country illegally? Is Maria right? Should Sophia be penalized because of her parents’ actions?
Although Sophia is technically not an American citizen, she was a newborn when her family illegally immigrated to the U.S. As a baby, Sophia had no part in making the decision to immigrate. Therefore, Sophia should not be penalized for her parents' decisions. Although it is understandable that Maria feels this way, the scholarships are academically based. Although neither Sophia nor Maria had control over whether she immigrated to the U.S., legally or illegally, both girls have an opportunity to excel academically. Although Maria feels cheated, Sophia has worked hard to qualify for these academic scholarships and it would be unfair for Sophia if she were penalized due to a decision made by her parents that was out of her control.
Hannah Callaghan, '14
Patrick works in the student health clinic which has a very strict confidentiality
policy. One day he sees a girl that he knows come into the clinic and she says that
she is there to receive the results of her STD test. He can tell by her reaction upon
leaving that she has indeed been positively diagnosed and finds himself worried as
this girl has recently started dating a good friend of his, Brian.
Over the next few weeks Brian continues to date this girl and never says anything about her having an STD, leading Patrick to believe that she has not disclosed this information to him. When Brian mentions that he is starting to develop serious feelings for her, Patrick decides it’s time to confront her about whether or not she’s disclosed her diagnosis. She tells him that she has not done so and is afraid of doing so for fear that Brian will no longer be interested. She also goes on to say that while she has an STD she is not HIV positive so she is not breaking any laws by keeping the information to herself. Patrick is not sure about how to handle the situation. He feels guilty about keeping something so important from a good friend like Brian but disclosing the information could not only get him fired but open the clinic to a potential lawsuit for breach of confidentiality.
What is the best way for Patrick to handle this situation?
Patrick is in a very tough predicament. Although he would like to inform Brian of
this girl's situation, he must abide by the confidentiality rules that have been set
forth by the clinic. Even though Patrick has already approached the girl about the
situation, I believe that it would be best for his friend, Brian, if he confronted
the girl again. Patrick could tell the girl that if she truly has feelings for Brian
that she should reveal to him her situation so that he can be fully aware. He should
also emphasize to her that if Brian does love her, he will not let her STD push him
away, but rather remain by her side in support. He should also share with her that
relationships do not flourish when they start with a lie. Patrick should then also
offer to stand by her side and be her shoulder to lean on as she tells Brian. After
she talks to Brian, Patrick can be sure to share with Brian how difficult it was for
her and how much courage it took for her to disclose this information so that Brian
can truly see how much this girl cares for him.
If Patrick does confront this girl and cannot encourage her to share with Brian her situation, then Patrick can approach Brian without mention of her STD. Unfortunately, Patrick can never inform Brian of the girl's condition. Instead, Patrick could tell Brian that he is does not think that this girl is a good match for him. By doing so, he could suggest to Brian that he end the relationship before it gets too serious and suggest that he date other people. He could also introduce him to some other girls who he feels Brian might like as well. This way, Patrick is not breaching confidentiality and is keeping both the girl's and his friend, Brian's, best interest in mind.
Brittney Shupp, '15
Duncan is a psychology student at a local university. During the first semester of
his junior year he takes a course called Theories and Theorists where he is required
to write a paper summarizing the work of a famous theorist that they studied that
The following semester, Duncan takes a class called Research Methods where another professor assigns him a similar project. It just so happens that one of the theorists they are allowed to research was the subject of Duncan’s paper the previous semester. He decides that there is absolutely no need to write a new paper when he can just simply write a new introductory paragraph, change the cover sheet and use the same paper for this course. Duncan is thrilled to realize that he has been spared weeks of research and writing.
When he mentions his plan to his roommate Kevin, he is met with apprehension. Kevin points out the university has a pretty strict policy against plagiarism and that if caught, Duncan could find himself in serious trouble. Duncan laughs this off and tells his roommate that he is not in any danger because he is only resubmitting his own paper, not passing someone else’s work off as his own. Kevin tells Duncan that what he is doing is “self-plagiarizing” and it’s no different than stealing someone else’s work.
Does Kevin have a point? Is it wrong to use the same paper for more than one course if the content is applicable to both? Would you agree that Duncan is self-plagiarizing?
Kevin makes a very valid point when telling Duncan what he is doing is self-plagiarizing. While Duncan may not think it is plagiarism because it is his own work and not theft of someone else’s, he has already submitted and received a grade for the essay which he wants to resubmit with a few tweaks. I would agree with Kevin that Duncan is self-plagiarizing. Kevin should offer Duncan this solution: rewrite the essay using some of the same sources and examples in his writing as in the previous paper.
Melissa March, ‘17