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Making Ethical Reflection Part of Undergrad Life

Collin Anthony
Collin Anthony, a Stanford alum, rejoined the Ethics Center this summer.
Sep 21 2018
Mike Peña
Collin Anthony has joined the Ethics Center as its new Associate Director for Undergraduate Outreach. In that role, Collin is developing programming initiatives for undergrads across Stanford with the aim to create opportunities for ethical reflection outside the traditional classroom setting.
He received his B.A. in philosophy from Stanford in 2006 and was an honors student in the Center’s Ethics in Society program — making him particularly qualified for the position. After Stanford, Collin went on to complete his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, where he focused on moral and political theory.
During his time at Penn, Collin served as a graduate mentor while living in undergraduate housing and developed strong relationships with undergraduates and organized numerous academic programs for their enrichment. In addition, he served as a lecturer at Penn, teaching courses in bioethics, global justice and the history of political thought.
With the new academic year now underway at Stanford, Collin shares some thoughts on his plans for the near future, his perspective on why engaging undergraduates is a priority, and his vision for success in this exciting new role at the Center.
Could you say a little bit more about what kind of ethical reflection you want students to engage in?
Collin: Students are encountering ethical problems, whether they realize it or not, everywhere: in the news, in their coursework, in discussions with their friends and family, and so on. These topics range from the local — should we rename our university buildings in the wake of past injustices? — to the global — what immigration policies should we adopt?
In addition, recent technological advancements have posed many new and complex moral problems that should be discussed before the technology pulls too far away from us. Overall, I want students to be able to critically engage and reflect upon these various problems in society as they will certainly shape our future.
Why is it important for that to occur outside the traditional classroom setting?
Collin: One of the things we have learned through the National Ethics Project is that students are interested in having open and honest conversations with leaders who aren’t afraid to share their personal stories of moral conflict. These kinds of discussions are more difficult to replicate in the classroom, because there, ethics is usually limited to exploring moral theories and hypothetical examples that can sometimes feel distant to students.
By creating a more intimate space for these discussions to occur, students may feel more comfortable opening up about ethical conflicts they encounter and may be more receptive to hearing the dilemmas of others.
How does your experience of having gone to Stanford, and especially the honors thesis you wrote for the Ethics Center as an undergraduate, inform how you will engage with students today?
Collin: One of the first questions I asked when I arrived back on campus this July was, “Do students still call themselves techies and fuzzies?” That divide never sat well with me when I was a student, as I thought the pursuit of knowledge should always be interdisciplinary. The Ethics in Society Program is a great example of how different disciplines can come together to generate novel solutions to complex problems.
However, as the campus continues to strengthen its ties with Silicon Valley, there is ever the greater need to reassert the importance of the humanities in solving problems. I hope to bring this perspective to students as I engage with them about ethics.
What are some examples of the types of programming you’d like to introduce in the months ahead?
Collin: I would like to begin with a bottom-up approach to creating ethical discussions with students where they already are: in the dorms, in their student groups, and so on. To this effect, I will plan on hosting guest speakers and mediating conversations with students about moral problems in these more intimate settings. We've also rolled out an ethics program grant for up to $1,000 in which any undergraduate or student group can apply for funding to host an event or program that encourages ethical reflection.
In addition, I would like to focus on supporting our new student group, the Stanford Practical Ethics Club (SPEC), and brainstorm some ways they can create larger and more expansive programs. I can’t give away any of those ideas yet here, but be on the lookout!
What are the biggest challenges you face in this role, and how can others help?
Collin: I think one of the biggest challenges is capturing the attention of an ambitious, busy undergraduate student at one of the most renowned institutions in the world. These students have many choices for how to spend their time on this campus, so it is definitely going to take some creativity to capture their attention and have them commit to attending an event.  
Thankfully, we have some great team members at the Center, and I have spent some time this summer building partnerships with other key groups on campus, such as the department of Residential Education. Most fortunately, we have an incredibly motivated student group that is deeply passionate about ethical engagement, so I will have some great support from the ground level to help achieve my goals.

"The Buzz" is the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society's media portal for ethics-related news on campus and beyond. We review events and speakers, and we feature initiatives that are of broad interest. A wide range of voices author the articles, including undergraduate students.