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HOT SEAT: Morality and Ethics

by Brianna Jackson '16

"Fail. Don't cheat," says Augusta "Gussie" Gronquist, SGA President, "Because in failing, there is a massive lesson to be learned."

Decisions are an inevitable part of life: each day, we make dozens of decisions, some that seem inconsequential but others that can have major impacts on our lives. Is there always a single, perfectly correct answer to the problems we face? Certainly not, and this is especially the case with decisions concerning one's personal morality and ethics. As Dean Walters, mediator of the Hot Seat and Dean of Religious Life, mentioned in her introduction, "Ethical dilemmas plunge us into grey areas." To make the best decision, we must immerse ourselves in all aspects of these grey areas to uncover that particular hue of grey we value above all others.

To highlight the problems Smith students in particular face, the panel focused on three anonymous, student-submitted situations. In the first instance, a student caught their friend's significant other in a compromising situation with another person and was wondering if they should report the infidelity to their friend. Dean Mahoney, panelist and Dean of the College, remarked, "Holding on to information is difficult." Many Smithies can think of a time in their lives when they were burdened with a secret that they were just bursting to tell. However, in the end, this difficult struggle to stay quiet avoids misinterpreting a situation and causing further problems. In opposition to this point of view, Gussie Gronquist, SGA president, felt that she would definitely feel obligated to tell her friend about what she saw. If she kept this secret, Gussie felt that she would be violating her friend's trust. What kinds of friend would she be if she did not communicate important problems with those who trusted her? In this discourse, proponents of both sides of the issue spoke their mind to help the questioning students make an informed decision.

Is cheating permissible? In the second scenario, a student wondered whether she should continue her relationship with her boyfriend after she found out he was taking online classes for international students at his school. The Smithie already confronted him about how his cheating made her uncomfortable, but he said that he felt no remorse and planned to continue cheating.

Some panelists said that she could stay in the relationship if she wasn't bothered by the cheating, but Mary Harrington, a professor in the Neuroscience department, said that if she was in that situation, she would end the relationship. If he is okay with this form of cheating, how could she expect her boyfriend to be faithful in their relationship? She also discussed a very serious form of cheating in scientific research when some neuroscientists make generalizations in their papers and ignore parts of their results that do not support their point. While it may seem trivial, this could have monumental consequences in further research when these fraudulent papers turn out not to be so conclusive. On a similar vein, the conversation broadened to discuss how to combat the pressure to cheat in academic circumstances.

Adorable grey dog Dean Walters listens on as the debate grows from "the bedroom to the boardroom."

In times of profound desperation, cheating can seem like the most rational option. At Smith, we students take great pride in our work, but we may be tempted to compromise our morals and cheat in order to avoid a bad test grade tarnishing our GPA. An excellent strategy Gussie Gronquist uses to avoid this misstep is to analyze the deleterious effects of cheating and question if the punishment for getting caught is truly worth a good grade. "Fail, don't cheat," Gussie said, "because in failing there is a massive lesson to be learned."

When the NSA surveillance scandal was leaked, many people began to worry about their personal security, and Smithies were certainly not an exception to this. One student wanted to know how much the government should know our personal lives. I expected the panelists to want to defend our right to privacy, but I was surprised when Mary Harrington said that she wants the government to know even more about us, down to our most intimate thoughts. Professor Harrington looks forward to a world where people's thoughts can be scanned and their innermost desires will light up on a screen, thereby psychologically observing people's desires even before they manifest themselves in behavior. Daniel Kramer of the Theater Department too found this topic interesting, saying, "It's a great question to see if privacy is even ethical." Should we be able to hide our innermost feelings, or should they all be sent out into the public?

This discussion of morality truly did range "from the bedroom to the boardroom" in the words of Dean Walters, and everyone in attendance profited from this exchange of ideas about the controversial topic of ethics. Smithies in attendance soaked up the advice of their peers and faculty, but ultimately, it is up to them to choose a side in difficult issues of morality.