2014 Rotary Ethics Symposium – Ethical Decision-Making in Action!

–submitted by Kathryne McGowan; photo credit to John Bonsett-Veal, Pete Christianson and Valerie Johnson

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From left: Dora Zuniga, John Bonsett-Veal, Karen Christianson & Rob Stroud

We did it again!  The Rotary Framework for Ethical Decision-Making has been shared and used by over 200 high school students from 19 schools in Dane County.  The 14th annual Rotary Ethics Symposium occurred on Friday, February 14, 2014.  After a year of planning, numerous committee meetings and intensive work on the curriculum and facilitation process, over 60 Rotarians and Rotaract volunteers led discussions on ethical dilemmas, hearing from the students about what they would do if they were part of the scenario and why.

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As the students gathered, there was the typical chatter about their morning, their friends, a homework assignment and occasionally a “Do you know what this is?” or “Do you know what is going to happen today?”  These inquiries were generally met with shoulder shrugs, or an “I don’t know.” The mood of the room was anticipatory, a little nervousness and maybe some expectation that this would be boring.

DSC_0033 (2)After a brief welcome by our chair Robyn Kitson (pictured at left), the opening session began.  A lone voice recited a poem, then a second voice, a third and a multitude of voices. A simple, yet powerful poem, should the protagonist take the life of someone who has attempted to harm him and others?  This began the discussions of the day.  Our keynote performers, First Wave Hip Hop Theater, sculpted their presentation to highlight ethical situations from violence, to use of language, to our impressions of others.  The “wow” of their thought-provoking performance was just the beginning of a day of exploring new ideas.  This was not going to be a boring day.

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First Wave (pictured above) introduced the ROTARY Framework for Ethical Decision-Making:

R = Recognize an ethical issue
O = Obtain information about the situation and others’ interests and perceptions
T = Test alternative actions from various perspectives
A = Act consistently with your best judgment
R = Reflect on your decision after acting
Y = Yield to your ethical judgments

The students went to sessions where the ROTARY framework was put to the test with two very different ethical dilemmas: the implications of keeping a promise to a friend who is being bullied via social networking; and, the implications of public policy for the homeless.  The students showed us that we should be very hopeful for our future.  The students readily embraced the framework and in many cases, naturally used the framework to approach the ethical dilemma.

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At the final sessions the students worked with others from their school to identify an ethical issue within their school, and to develop a plan of how to approach the problem. The students chose big issues — bullying, diversity, inappropriate use of social media were some of the topics. We are looking forward to hearing back from the students about the outcomes of applying the framework in their school with their chosen special projects implemented post event.

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The day concluded with an interactive lunch attended by many Rotarians that allowed the student to share their impressions from the day. Gone was the nervousness, fear of boredom and anticipation of the morning, replaced with confidence and understanding.  Student after student discussed their belief that they have found a way to keep the discussion going and continue as leaders in their school.

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Photo 1: Al Ripp & Jamie Weissburg; Photo 2: Kathryne McGowan & Nelson Cummings; Photo 3: Cheryl Wittke, Paul Karch, Mike Wenzel & Barb Siehr

This signature event of the Rotary Club of Madison continues to grow and develop the future thought leaders of our community.  If you had the opportunity to participate, this year we welcome your comments and if you’ve not yet participated in this event we encourage you to sign up for the Ethics Symposium Committee for 2014-15 and join us next year.

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(The Rotary Ethics Symposium is generously underwritten by Madison Rotary Foundation.)

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