In the Science of College: Navigating the First Year and Beyond, my colleagues and I discuss multiple aspects of university life, especially focusing on the often-unwritten rules. In my largest book co-author team yet, I joined together with other faculty, instructors, advisors, and student support staff to formulate an interdisciplinary guide to getting the most out of the college experience.
While we wrote this book before the COVID-19 crisis, its relevance is perhaps even greater in the midst of these unsettled times. In particular, I have been reflecting on Chapter 7: Becoming a Leader and Giving to Others.
College is a key time when many young people find their voice, learn how to express it among diverse groups of people, and engage more independently and fully in democratic and civil life. Engaging on college campuses is a key step toward broader citizenry participation, and it is typical for young people to explore a variety of possible identities during their time on campus that help them to shape who they will be, how they will identify, and which causes they will support for years to come.
What does all this have to do with COVID-19? Everything. Now, more than ever, we need talented young people to find their voices, to figure out creative ways to continue connecting, and to help shape the future in a post-pandemic culture. Technology is crucial in this future. But technology is only a tool, and it can be used for ill just as easily as for good.
Critics of technology have long highlighted the ways that people become even more socially and emotionally isolated in the midst of rising connectivity. I am not debunking this, as there has been important evidence to support this claim. Yet, human tools often swing both ways, and technology is also at the root of a great deal of good. These unsettled and physically distant times have underscored this by revealing the enormous potential for human creativity to emerge from even the darkest of historical moments.
It has been incredibly inspiring to see the way people have bonded together online to host live musical concerts, art exhibitions, storytelling, comedy, and regular Zoom family and work gatherings. Here in Indiana, our state and local officials have promulgated the hashtag #INThisTogether to highlight the ways that our state bond is more salient and important. To be honest, I had never seen our governor’s press conferences and could possibly not have picked him out in a crowd before this crisis.
For whatever reason, I have always paid more attention to local, national, and global politics than state-level politics. But that has changed now, perhaps forevermore. Alongside this increased attunement to state leaders, organizational leaders have had to be in nearly constant communication amidst rapidly evolving circumstances.
Students too are navigating a new normal, and among our burgeoning philanthropic leaders are some of the most inspiring people with whom I am privileged to meet and interact. The students in my Introduction to Philanthropic Studies course have been wonderful in the ways they have eloquently and gracefully migrated themselves to our new online format.
We had to lose the many organizational visits that they had spent weeks looking forward to, and which the organizational representatives had spent months planning with me. It was a tremendous loss. But in that loss, we found new hope in incorporating assignments that dealt with real-time issues surrounding COVID-19.
For example, I asked the students to share with each other in a class discussion forum their interpretation of an article that describes the ethical imperatives of organizational preparedness in the face of infectious diseases. Ironically, this report was published before the outbreak in the United States began to flare enough to attract major attention. However, the ethical framework proposed is highly relevant and applicable.
It happened to coincide in our class with a review of the fifth chapter of Payton and Moody’s famous book, entitled Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission. In this chapter, the authors more thoroughly describe a theme that runs throughout the entire book: the moral imagination.
Has there been a point in recent decades in which we could use more reflection on moral imagination, actions, and outcomes? It seemed the circumstances had presented us with a call to action, and the students rose to the occasion. In what follows, the student discussion responses are shared in order to connect the broader field of philanthropy to the ideas in formation among our future leaders.
The students each shared a recent news article, along with their interpretations of how both the ethical framework and chapter reading applied. As you walk through their responses, I invite you to be inspired with their incredible potential.
I also challenge you, in whatever walk of life you are in, to take this as a reminder why we need to continue to support our young people in navigating college, and emergence into leadership, citizenry, and participation in civil society. We need that now and for years to come.
The assignment asked students to reflect on Dr. Katharine Wright’s blog post about the ethical imperative of preparedness. Referencing the recently-released report entitled Research in global health emergencies: ethical issue, Wright summarizes ethical obligations that include three core ethical values: 1) helping reduce suffering; 2) considering questions of fairness; and 3) demonstrating respect for others as moral equals. Using Payton & Moody’s content on moral imagination, students identified many different ethical responses from a wide range of actors.
Some students identified individuals who are making a difference. Lauren Palmer cited NBA players who have demonstrated compassion and community by giving support to furloughed hourly employees, while Taliyah Guy referenced tech philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, who are helping to reduce suffering worldwide with their donations.
Emma Rota-Autry discussed corporations such as Morgan Stanley, Nike, and KEEN that have donated to a local nonprofit. Nike also donated shoes for workers and families. Quentin Folz echoed Rota-Autry’s comments about corporations, adding that the quick distribution of donations has reduced suffering for individuals and families.
Taylor Gadus specifically talked about the Chicago Bears football organization, and how they are assisting individuals in Chicago and in the entire state of Illinois. Gadus explained that the Bears organization respects others as moral equals by stating that “we’re all in this together.”
Nonprofits themselves are also increasing output to create impact. Grace Boehm cited the World Health Organization as a nonprofit that is reducing suffering and acting compassionately by providing funding for research and shipping supplies, such as protective masks, to countries around the world.
Referencing McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C., Collin Jester explained that the church reduces suffering by providing soap and food products to neighbors in need. Ayrias Garrett discussed the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which created a fund that different organizations could donate to in order to purchase hygiene products, groceries, and other items for people impacted by the pandemic.
Other students also referenced funds created by different entities to help collaboratively address the issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Diana Navarrete mentioned the COVID-19 Response Fund in San Antonio, Texas, which has provided donations to dozens of nonprofits. Jasmine Chavez also cited this fund as one that helps provide relief to people who have lost jobs. Navarrete explained that the fund reduces suffering, is fair to all parties involved, and demonstrates respect for others.
Tyana Flagg talked about the multitude of organizations in many different cities creating funds, noting that these funds provide more testing kits and other essential items, and help people who have lost jobs. Anna Ritchotte discussed the COVID-19 Relief Campaign, which was started by The Neediest Cases Fund in New York City. The fund identifies which individuals and families need the most support, and then donates to nonprofits serving those people. Alexis Ridenour referenced the Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund, which is working to relieve suffering, acting fairly to distribute funds as efficiently as possible, and treating others as moral equals.
Finally, some students identified foundations that they believed were acting ethically. Ashlyn Devine discussed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to fight COVID-19 around the world. The foundation is using its moral imagination to end suffering caused by COVID-19. According to Lucy Hauser, the Seattle Foundation quickly responded to the virus by providing financial relief, prioritizing residents at the most risk for receiving and/or transmitting the virus, and demonstrating compassion, respect, and mercy for those at-risk groups.
Across the country in Connecticut, the Hartford Foundation reduces suffering for individuals through its work with nonprofits, demonstrates respect and compassion for others, and helps communities stay as stable as possible, according to Myah Bales.
Through research and coursework, the students recognized that many actors are responding philanthropically, ethically, and with moral compassion to help people across the U.S. and around the world who are dealing with the challenges of the novel coronavirus.