Letter from the Director
A university has the unique potential for shaping how students see the world and define their role in it. We at the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility believe that considering and deliberately affecting this dimension of the higher education experience is both appropriate and necessary.
Many universities are reluctant to address moral issues with students. They reason that morality is an inherently personal issue and that classroom activity should be restricted to discipline-specific subject matter. Such thinking, however, discounts the fundamental impact of higher education: extensive research confirms that universities inescapably influence students’ values and ethical development.
Students arriving on campus seeking individual advancement should find themselves immersed in a community where academic skills are only one part of a deeper process of developing commitments to the common good. A University of Alabama education should help students develop not only career skills but also a willingness—and even a desire—to take responsibility for the larger community.
At the heart of ethical and socially responsible citizenship is a moral obligation to understand that every individual’s life has dignity and worth, and that every individual’s health, education, and potential is worth fighting for. We focus on three critical ingredients in cultivating a socially responsible ethic in the UA educational experience.
*Moral reasoning and a commitment to respecting other perspectives when forming judgments. Ethical citizenship requires a well-developed capacity for thoughtful moral discourse. Constant exposure to a polarized media, the persistence of stereotypes, and increasingly homogeneous social interactions seriously undermine the potential for developing such discourse during the college years. Striving to foster both open-mindedness and conviction, CESR has developed initiatives such as Moral Forum which requires students to consider the social and ethical consequences of debate and argumentation.
*Curriculum-based community service experiences. Research indicates that when service experiences are integrated into an academic curriculum with structured time for students to think, talk, and write about their service, the experiences improve students’ critical thinking, self-efficacy, and social responsibility. Service learning courses such as Poverty, Faith and Justice in America center on deepening ties between the students and the service recipients.
*Creation and sharing of vivid personal narratives. Ethical citizenship requires a strong sense of empathy and compassion. Developing such qualities requires the ability to imagine what others see, feel, and experience. A central focus of CESR is the development of courses such as Documenting Justice, a year-long documentary filmmaking and critical journalism course.