Ben Anderson is not afraid to go there. Since high school, he has confronted contentious social and political issues as a member of his speech and debate team back in Liberty, Missouri, competing internationally and ranking admirably at the state level. He graduates this year with a degree in philosophy and honors distinction for his thesis on racial preferences for sexual and romantic partners, which he wrote as part of the Ethics Center's Undergraduate Honors Program. We asked him about his experience with us:
Why did you decide to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society?
I wanted to write a senior thesis on a current real-world issue, and I thought that with my background in philosophy, a thesis in applied ethics would be the best way to explore a problem that interests me.
In a few sentences, give us a sense of what your honors thesis research was about.
I wrote my thesis about racial preferences for sexual and romantic partners. This issue is currently the subject of some controversy: some people think it is racist to have a racial preference, while others believe that people's preferences are personal, and not something they can or should resist. I considered the problem of racial preferences from the perspective of theories of wrongful discrimination, concluding that racial preferences can be harmful and demeaning in many circumstances, but that the most promising way to address them requires more than individual efforts.
How would you contrast the work you put into completing your thesis with the rest of your academic experiences at Stanford?
The main difference was that this work was far more self-motivated and self-guided. So if you cannot force yourself to work consistently, it tends to happen in fits and starts. This can be incredibly stressful. Also, the thesis is a larger and more complex project than most other undergraduate work at Stanford, so figuring out how it all fits together is a unique challenge as well.
What was the single most rewarding aspect of writing your honors thesis?
Being finished and knowing that I wrote this gargantuan thing that I am relatively happy with (even if it's not perfect). It's cool to have this concrete thing I've accomplished during my undergraduate career.
What are your plans for after graduation? Will your work in Ethics in Society inform any opportunities you pursue?
I will be pursuing a co-terminal masters degree in computer science. I doubt I will be working on things specifically related to my honors thesis. But if I ever got involved in a dating-app startup, it would definitely be relevant.