A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to Greencastle, Indiana, to attend the 11 Annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium at the Prindle Institute for Ethics. DePauw University. The Ethics Symposium occurs annually and was established when the Prindle Institute first opened in 2007 with the goal of fostering thoughtful inquiry into the most pressing ethical concerns of our time. The theme of this year’s conference was “representing disability”. There were 28 students and 3 keynote speakers in attendance – hailing from schools and organizations across the United States and Canada. On the first night, we heard from James Emmett – the owner and CEO of a disability inclusion consulting firm – on “Moving Disability Inclusion from Charity to Business Imperative”.
Most of the Symposium’s activities occurred on the second day with the remaining two keynote speeches and the paper workshops. The paper workshops were held in two sessions, morning and afternoon, and were led by the keynote speakers and a visiting scholar at DePauw. My group consisted of seven students, and was led by Kevin Timpe – a professor of philosophy at Calvin College and president of a non-profit advocacy group for children with disabilities. The only requirement for submitted papers was that they were focused on an ethical issue, and thus not all of the papers examined in my group were related to the theme of representing disability. The workshops were very well structured, however, with each student presenting the work of another, and then posing a discussion question to the author and the rest of the group. The discussions were fruitful and challenging, covering diverse and crucial issues such as: the individual’s responsibility to protect the environment; the clause of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that exempts religious organizations; the representation of people with HIV/AIDs in the media; and the rights of Muslim women to choose whether or not to wear the hijab.
The paper that I submitted focused on the ethics of plural marriage (most often thought of as polygamy) and fostered a rich discussion about what qualifies as informed consent, which flowed nicely into our conversation about wearing the hijab. I wrote my paper in preparation for an in-class debate on the same topic in Prof. Delmas’ Social and Political Philosophy class in the fall, and submitted it to the Symposium after receiving an e-mail from our philosophy department encouraging students to submit their papers. It was very rewarding to have my paper accepted into the Symposium, and my experience there was even better. I gained a new perspective on many important ethical issues from the paper workshops and keynote speeches; learned about McTaggart’s theory of time and other philosophical arguments from my discussions with the other students; enjoyed spending time in the beautiful nature park that surrounds the Prindle Institute; and forged strong connections with students from across the continent. All in all, it was a fantastic experience that has reinforced my drive to pursue philosophy in an academic setting.