Students Debate Morals at Andover Ethics Society Meeting

Andover Ethics Society hosted its first official meeting of the school year this past Saturday. The meeting, welcomed over 40 new members to the club on encouraged discussions on topics such as euthanasia, the Sanctuary policy and parental censorship of children’s media. This year’s club features newly elected Presidents, Nikita Singareddy ’13, as well as a new board including Ben Romero ’12, Rachel Wittenberg ’13, Maia Hirschler ’13, Mia Dwyer ’12, Evan Kudlinski ’13 and Erin Wong ’13. Andover Ethics Society is a club designed to raise student awareness of current ethical issues occuring at Phillips Academy and the greater national and global communities. Singareddy said, “I really wanted to bring the club back after its temporary hiatus with a bang, and I wanted to really teach people what ethics [are] and get people involved in discussion about it.” Li said, “Whenever there’s a decision being made, there’s ethics involved. I really think that something like Ethics society is fundamental to an academic experience.” During Saturday’s meeting, the students discussed a hypothetical situation involving a train barreling towards innocent people. In the scenario, two people were tied to the main train track, and one was tied to a sidetrack. The students were presented with the option of redirecting the train towards the sidetrack, thus killing one person, or doing nothing and killing two people. The hypothetical situation divided the group into two moral groups: utilitarians and deontologists. Utilitarianism promotes the idea that actions are ethical if they benefit the greater good.These students argued that because switching the train’s path onto the sidetrack only resulted in one death, it was the ethically correct decision. The deontologists contended that because the train was fated to move on the main track and the two people were supposed to die, pulling the lever would mak e the students personally responsible for the death of the one person. The group then split up into pairs for ethics “speed dating.” The students spent short amounts of time discussing various ethical issues. They debated the Sanctuary policy, which, when invoked, protects a student from disciplinary action if the health of the student has been jeopardized in some way. “We’re really trying to make [meetings] fun. We’re trying to make them into something engaging. At our first meeting, we did the speed dating exercise and then the train exercise because we wanted people to figure out what ethics is all about and how it can be fun if [approached] in certain ways,” said Singareddy. Students at the meeting also discussed parental control of a child’s time online. Some said that parents should control their children’s exposure to violent or sexually provocative material. Others said parents should not limit their exposure but rather teach them to respond accordingly. The students then brought up the topic of having a religious president as opposed to an atheist president and whether the government should be completely secular. Katherine Vega ’14, who attended the club meeting on Saturday, said, “I think that Andover Ethics Society is valuable to the community because it forces students to think about the tougher questions in life.” Andover Ethics Society and JusticeNow are also collaborating to bring Timothy McCarthy, Director of the Human Right and Social Movement Program at Harvard University, to campus to talk to students and faculty about post-modern slavery. This forum will also be open to the public. In the future, Li and Singareddy hope to discuss court cases that address specific ethical controversies, specifically the Troy Davis case. Li said that the power of the media, bioethics and biotechnology may also be further topics of discussion. “We can always talk about things at meetings, but then, when you go out into the real world, you need to also apply what you learn,” said Li. “We’re going to take it one step at a time and hope that [Andover Ethics Society] will become something great,” he continued.