Experts in science, business and media gathered with students for three days at Prindle to discuss ethical dilemmas within each field at the Undergraduate Ethics Symposium.
The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics hosted seven DePauw students and 18 students from universities across the country to debate and discuss students’ submitted work on the intersections of the theme “The Intersecting Worlds of Researchers, Executives and Journalists.” This past Thursday through Saturday marked the 10th annual symposium.
Andy Cullison, director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics, introduced the symposium as “a rare opportunity for young minds to come and grapple with ethical issues of this time.”
Senior Travis Wegren described the symposium as a more intimate DePauw Ubben Lecture. “The symposium is like an Ubben Lecture, but with four highly accomplished professionals,” Wegren said. “And, combined with the chance to ask them literally anything about their work in an informal setting.”
Each year Prindle opens up the symposium for undergraduates to submit any work, whether it is a paper, short story, series of poems, play, or film that ties to the year’s current theme in some form. The theme changes annually based off the country’s current and prevalent topics.
Cullison said that each year he and the Prindle staff search for the theme based off of students’ and colleagues’ input. “We start out with asking what things people are talking about, listening to our [Prindle] interns and what they are talking about, and then take it to our faculty advisory board,” Cullison said.
This year Prindle wanted to integrate the DePauw fellowship programs into the broader theme of the year. “We wanted to bring in a theme that spoke to the different fellows programs to provide more ethics programming for them,” Cullison said.
This year the symposium received over 70 applications from undergraduates across the country. The accepted submissions are grouped together by similar topics, and the students meet together for multiple workshops throughout the symposium to engage in academic collaboration with other students and their professional mentors.
Prindle brings on three to four professionals relevant to the year’s theme, in which each guest leads a lecture on their specific industry or discipline and acts as a mentor for students.
Because it was the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Prindle Institute and the 10th anniversary of the UES, the guest speakers were named the “Bob Bottom’s Lectures” in honor of former DePauw President Bob Bottoms because he was the first director of the Prindle Institute and of the first UES.
2017’s UES began on Thursday with keynote speaker Anna Sale. She is the host and managing editor of National Public Radio’s (NPR) podcast “Death, Sex, and Money.” Cullison was drawn to Sale and her podcast as he believes it is prevalent to all ethical problems. “‘Death, Sex, and Money’ is kind of the root of most moral problems. Whether it’s in science, business, research or really anywhere,” Cullison said.
Sale spoke to DePauw students, faculty and alumni about how to build community and trust in sharing difficult life stories. She shared her experiences as a political journalist and her transition from politics to “Death, Sex, and Money,” as well as her experience interviewing people for her podcast.
Senior Marie Schloneger loved Sale’s lecture because it made her think creatively in terms of stories from journalists and media conglomerates. “As a journalist and reporter, Sale's point that the personal story is always enough really resonated with me,” Schloneger said. “Too often the media tries to exaggerate or try to find the most outlandish story when really someone's personal story can say so much.”
On Friday, students began their workshops with their guest mentors and listened to two of the keynote speakers.
Sophomore Tilly Marlatt was a member in the media-based workshop group led by Sale, where Marlatt discussed her video about sexual assault investigations on college campuses.
“I created a video looking at who should investigate sexual assault and should it be strictly handled by law enforcement, strictly by the university, or a mixture of the two,” Marlatt said. “Once I started exploring and learning about the theme [of the symposium], I thought the video I made would be a perfect fit.”
After two seminar sessions where students workshopped their submissions, Dr. Jennifer E. Miller, Ph.D. introduced students to the ethics and public trust around science research.
Miller is an assistant professor at New York University's School of Medicine, as well as the founding President of Bioethics International, a New York charity that aims at overseeing and promoting best practices for medical research, development, and marketing.
Miller spoke on her company’s role, that she describes as a pharmaceutical watchdog, during her keynote lecture on the pharmaceutical industry.
Wegren found Miller’s lecture fascinating because of increasing public trust in pharmaceuticals. “Dr. Miller explained the complexities surrounding prescription drug pricing and that high prices are not necessarily the result of price gouging,” Wegren said. “Hearing her approach was a rare opportunity to understand how an ethical assessment is developed.”
Miller led the student workshops on the ethics behind healthcare. Schloneger was a member of Miller’s seminar workshop where she examined the ethics behind pharmaceutical advertising in the U.S..
Senior Taylor Ingram was also a member of the science-based workshops, where she wrote about healthcare communication between healthcare providers and African American patients.
“My professor encouraged me to apply to UES but my interest in ethics was sparked after the research that I had done for my paper and my senior seminar,” Ingram said. “My paper focused the extent to which race and power play into the patient-provider relationship.”
Cullison said that there is an interesting connection between ethics and science reporting. “There’s pressure on scientists to make their findings seem grander than they might be, there’s pressure on journalists to water down what the science actually says and that might lead to misinformation to the public,” Cullison said. “And James Hamblin is a good example of that.”
Senior editor at The Atlantic, Dr. James Hamblin ended Friday’s day of events with his keynote lecture on the ethics of science reporting. Cullison brought him to the symposium because he felt that Hamblin represents the intersectionality of science, business and media.
Wegren was a part of Hamblin’s workshop, where he brought his paper on the power dynamics of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba before the Cuban revolution in 1959. Wegren said their workshops would start with the specific paper topics, but would then expand past what the students brought to symposium.
“The student papers there served only as a conversation catalyst and it was really cool to experience how our conversations evolved to cover unexpected territory,” Wegren said. “At one point, we got on the subject of healthcare policy and how it relates to Dr. Ben Carson’s role as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.”
The symposium concluded on Saturday morning with workshops and the final keynote speaker, Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, Helen Phillips. Cullison said that Phillips represents the creative approach to ethical dilemmas.
“We always try to have a creative arts person. It’s very important to the Institute that we recognize the importance of the creative side of grappling with a moral problem,” said Cullison. “Her [Phillips] book ‘The Beautiful Bureaucrat’ is an incredibly great, dark, magical, ethical commentary on bureaucratic business life.”
Senior Leah Williams was a member of Phillips’ workshop--centering around ethical issues in fiction writing and storytelling--where she brought her short story to the discussion.
“I’m a writing major, so I submitted a short story about marriage, alcoholism, familial relationships, and control,” Williams said. “UES seemed like a cool opportunity to spend a concentrated amount of time just talking about ethical issues and learning about both my own work and the work others are doing.”
Submissions for the UES tripled since last year, but Prindle and its attendees hope more students get involved each year. Wegren and Schloneger said that more students outside of philosophy should submit papers because the UES can apply to anyone.
“Projects can cover a broad range of ethical issues, so students should not feel discouraged into thinking that UES is strictly for philosophy,” Wegren said.
Schloneger went on to describe the approachability of UES as it pertains to all students.
“I think UES is something any student can benefit from,” Schloneger said. “No matter the major, ethics are involved.”
Schloneger thought the symposium was an accessible way for students to engage with other students and professionals while still being close to campus.
“It was nice to just get away from campus and listen to amazing speakers and intellectuals from across the country,” Schloneger said. “After my ‘Communication Ethics’ course, I wanted to learn more about the role ethics has in shaping our every thought and action.”
Cullison believes the symposium is a time for students, faculty, and outside professionals to take a weekend to unplug and take time to truly engage in critical thinking.
“I think it’s important to slow down and all agree to put the phones away, get out of our element, get out of our own area and just sit down and grappled with these things,” Cullison said. “The actual coming together and setting aside the distractions of the 21st century is important.”
Cullison believes that the essence of the Undergraduate Ethics Symposium is focusing on student’s independent critical thinking during these conversations. “Getting students in a room grappling with these things, doing their own thinking,” Cullison said. “The students have worked hard on some kind of work, and the act of having that work be put in front of other peers so that you can be forced to think critically about something you have produced, I think that is important too.”