By Judith Kelliher
Originally published by the Daily Hampshire Gazette
AMHERST— A new program offered this fall at Hampshire College will introduce students from all disciplines academic courses and other educational opportunities that specifically focus on ethics and what it means to do good in the world.
The Ethics and the Common Good Program, initially called the Leadership and Ethical Engagement Project, will have a director to oversee its operation, a three-year visiting professor who will teach new courses on applied ethics, and the establishment of paid student internships, faculty research and a speaker series on ethics-related issues.
The program “feels like the right thing at the right time in the right place” and will pair well with the liberal arts college’s motto of “To know is not enough,” said Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash at a recent on-campus event related to the program. He described Hampshire students as independent-minded, empathetic, enterprising and dedicated to solving problems.
“From the beginning, Hampshire students have lived that (motto). They have been actively involved in issues they cared about from the day we opened our doors 45 years ago,” he said. “As students learn and examine issues as part of our curriculum they are challenged to put their ideas into action and to contribute to justice and positive change.”
The courses and internships that will be offered through the program will give students opportunities to explore new ideas and expand chances to connect them with “leading thinkers and doers and organizations that model how to operate ethically toward the common good,” Lash said.
The Ethics and the Common Good Program is funded by a five-year grant of $2.085 million through SHIFT, a private family foundation based in Massachusetts, Florida and Maine, that is dedicated to advancing the culture of the common good.
Laurie Schecter, a trustee with SHIFT, said the support resulted from Hampshire College being “based in creative thinking and social justice.” Her sister, Julie Schecter, is also a SHIFT trustee and graduated from Hampshire in 1974 with a degree in juvenile law.
“SHIFT’s mission is to expand the concepts of common good and common wealth,” Laurie Schecter said. “We are challenged with how to generate passion for the common good and ethical decision making among our students, while giving them the skills to carry this commitment into their future.”
Director starts in May
Starting in May, Javiera Benavente, a local cultural organizer and program manager and a former director of a cultural center at Hampshire College, will serve as the new director of the program.
Benavente most recently served as the network coordinator of Pioneer Valley Grows, a collaborative network dedicated to a healthy and equitable food system in the Valley. In the early 2000s, Benavente worked as the Lebrón-Wiggins-Pran Cultural Center director at Hampshire College.
“Javiera brings with her a wealth of experience as a cultural organizer and program manager so she will be well suited to make great connections all across campus,” said Eva Reuschmann, Hampshire College vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty. “We are very happy that she agreed to take the job.”
As director, Benavente will coordinate the program, which includes initiating the planning of lecture series, workshops and other events as well as overseeing the process for soliciting and distributing the research and internship grants for students.
“She will ensure the program as a whole meets the goals of encouraging and supporting ethical deliberation and action and supporting the mission of the program,” Reuschmann said.
The committee searching for a visiting professor has narrowed the field to three candidates, with the hiring expected in April, Reuschmann said.
Beginnings in 2013
The development of the Ethics and the Common Good Program began in fall 2013 when a committee of about 20 faculty, staff, trustees from SHIFT and Hampshire student Wesley Evans collaborated to define the goals. A smaller advisory committee met last summer to develop the details of the program.
Evans, 21, said his first priority was to bring his internal experience as a student to the program development process and to provide critical insight into how his academic experience could tie into the new program.
“It was important to create a strong student engagement and to bring a brighter institutional picture of how we can be involved in this process,” said Evans, who is in his third year at Hampshire. “As a student, I have a fantastic opportunity to be involved in a lot of different areas and see these connections and how we unite them in powerful and interesting ways.”
The program stemmed from the notion that Hampshire College is a leadership institution and that the college should support future leaders with “ethical frameworks to see the world,” Evans said.
The courses and internships will better help students express an understanding that “leadership and ethics are central to the mission of doing,” he said.
“One of my core values in life has always been try to leave something better than you found it. What attracted and inspired me about this program was the notion we can help everyone recognize the value of leaving something better than we found it and improving the common good,” Evans said.
For Evans, the common good deals with what makes up a community and how that can be preserved.
“Whether that is an actual space like a quad or an emotional space like a community event, it’s all about how we can help make them the best they can be,” Evans said.
Expand existing opportunities
The goal of the program is to expand on educational opportunities already offered at Hampshire and to teach students and others involved what it means to “take ethical action and foster the common good,” Reuschmann said.
From pursuing scientific research to creating art to engaging in political action and more, students need to consider the immediate and long-term consequences of those actions, she said.
“We go beyond individualism and individualistic thinking to thinking about the greater good and public good. Students should really consider carefully the reasons and values that propel their actions,” Reuschmann said. “This program will provide a greater focus on this and a greater preparation of students.”
While Hampshire College leaves it up to faculty to determine the specific courses to teach, Reuschmann said she could envision that the Ethics and the Common Good classes might include applying ethical theories to specific issues such as the death penalty, free speech, euthanasia, biomedical ethics and environmental ethics.
While internship opportunities have not yet been worked out, they could include students working with agencies and organizations that are addressing issues involving housing rights, literacy and college access, Reuschmann said.
“Our students are already working in some of those areas but this program will provide a greater focus. We would be preparing them better for these internships by having them think about the ethical issues in advance,” she said. “When they return from the internship there would be period of reflection.”