Students plan for first undergraduate ethics symposium


Lehigh University will hold its first-ever Undergraduate Ethics Symposium on April 18, with the goal of encouraging students to contemplate ethical issues as a campus community.

The event will be held in STEPS 101 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. However, Professor Robin S. Dillon, the faculty organizer of the event, said students are welcome to stay all day.

“The purpose of the symposium is to bring together students from all three of the undergraduate colleges in all of the disciplines, ideally, to talk about ethical issues from the perspective of their discipline or their life as a Lehigh student,” Dillon said.

To participate in the event, students must upload a 300- to 400-word summary of a project to the symposium’s website, and submissions will be accepted until Friday. Students who are accepted to be presenters will be informed via email by April 3.

Projects may include papers, presentations, posters and any other mediums that examine ethical issues, both in students’ fields of study at Lehigh and in today’s society.

Cash prizes will be awarded to the best presentations given at the seminar. Three winners, one from each college — the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business and Economics and the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Sciences — will be awarded a $200 prize.

Additionally, one grand prize winner will be presented for the best overall presentation and will receive $350.

The ethics symposium was formed last fall when a Lehigh alumnus, who wishes to remain anonymous, donated a sum of money designated for ethics education. From this, Dillon and Donald E. Hall, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, thought of the idea to hold the symposium.

Two Lehigh students, Brandyn Bok, ’15, and Candice Travis, ’14, chaired a student committee and organized the event. Both Bok and Travis are philosophy majors and held the positions of president and vice president, respectively, of Phi Sigma Tau, the internationally recognized philosophy honors society.

The founders of this symposium stressed its interdisciplinary nature.

“The alumnus who donated the money wanted us to use that money towards developing the teaching and the practice of ethics on campus,” Travis said. “By on campus, he meant not just the College of Arts and Sciences but all of the colleges, and to bring ethics to all of the fields at Lehigh.”

Ethics has proven to be an integral facet of Lehigh’s curriculum. Dillion emphasized the number of courses that focus on this subject, extending beyond the College of Arts and Sciences. For example, she cited a number of business ethics courses offered.  Moreover, the theme of ethics is implicit in the English department, with many of its classes centered on social justice.

The organizers said they hope this event will create a spark for students to begin to discuss ethical issues beyond the classroom setting.

In an effort to make this ambition a reality, the team posted ethical questions on its Twitter page (@LuEthics) for students to consider. One sample question, posted on March 19, said “U of Oklahoma —What should happen when free speech becomes racially offensive and defamatory?”

“Basically, what I’ve been doing is trying to publicize the event,” said Olivia Adams, ’18, a member of the planning committee. “We have been putting up a lot of fliers with barcodes that you can scan.  We are trying to get more submissions then we have right now.”

According to the organizers, the overall purpose of this symposium is to make students think about how ethics impacts every aspect of life.

“I don’t think there is anything more important than ethical questions,” Dillon said. “I think they are dimensions of the most important questions for a human being. How should I live? What should I major in? Who should I marry? Should I take this job or not? And so on.”

Both Dillon and Travis encouraged all students to register, even if they do not want to submit a project and participate in the symposium. Spectators are welcome, they said, and free lunch and coffee will be provided to all attendees.

No student should be worried much about whether or not their project will be accepted, Dillon said, as she anticipates nearly all of the submissions will be welcomed to participate.

Due to the abundance of topics that span ethics conversations, the symposium will be broken up into several sessions. For example, if several submissions come from students taking bioethics, a group could be formed to focus on this issue, whereas, students who submit projects pertaining to current ethical debates in the news might be put into another session.

“We encourage you to submit anything that is relevant to yourself or your work here at Lehigh — anything that you think is worth sharing to the Lehigh community,” Travis said.

For additional information about the symposium and to register for the event, visit or follow the @LuEthics page to see daily ethical questions.

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