Mudd Center Annual Report 2023

Page 1


Practicing an Ethics of Care



The 2022-23 program of Washington and Lee University’s Mudd Center for Ethics addressed the theme of Beneficence: Practicing an Ethics of Care. Beneficence means to do good - to practice kindness, generosity, and charity. It means actively promoting others’ well-being. Although most of us would readily acknowledge the importance of practicing care in these ways, in real life it can feel difficult to consistently feel compassion toward others and behave in ways that help them.

Recent years have produced inspiring examples of beneficence as well as alarming manifestations of polarization and harm. In these challenging times, how should we think about our responsibilities to care for people that we know and love as well as for others whom we don’t know, disagree with, or even feel harmed by? How can we care for others well? How does caring for ourselves fit into this picture?

The philosopher Karen Stohr launched the series by considering Kantian perspectives of beneficence and the values of love and respect . She addressed the importance of helping others on their terms, according to their goals and in line with their dignity. Next, clinical psychologist and neuroscientist Helen Weng discussed her research on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying compassion-based meditation and methods that have enhanced equity and inclusion in research on meditation. To conclude the fall program, business management professor Oscar Jerome Stewart illuminated how the norms of competitive individualism that are embedded in our educational structures may run counter to the value of beneficence and the practice of care.

In the winter term, Emory University philosophy professor John Lysaker framed friendship as an inspiration and vehicle for practicing an ethics of care, paying particular attention to the benefits of friendships that bridge differences between us. Seema Gajwani, of the Office of the Attorney General for Washington, D.C., discussed the promise of restorative justice as an alternative to adversarial approaches to juvenile crime. Our own Professor Lynn Chin described her research on belongingness, and Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer at Harvard School of Education and Kennedy School of Government and director of the Making Caring Common Program, addressed the current elevation of achievement and happiness-oriented values over caring and community in child-raising.

In addition to our traditional public lectures, this year the Mudd Center’s program included an interactive series of events, called CareLabs, that deepened and personalized our exploration of care. CareLabs were produced in partnership with departments and programs all over campus. Among others, CareLabs included a student meditation workshop, a discussion about embodiment of self-care, and a community exhibition honoring the care we give and receive with companion animals.

Caring well for others may be the central duty and desire of our lives, and also the most challenging. I hope this program gave members of our community space to contemplate this responsibility from multiple perspectives and set intentions for carrying it out with purpose and sensitivity.

The Mudd Center’s 2023-24 program will interrogate processes that shape our lives in broad and often unrecognized ways. Please join us to consider the Ethics of Design.

Mudd Center Fellows Program

Faculty and staff members in the Mudd Center Fellows program brought perspectives from across the university this year. Participants received a reading packet with selections from each distinguished contributor to the Beneficence program as well as thought-provoking materials related to the issues of beneficence and care. Fellows attended public lectures, CareLab events and discussions throughout the year.

In a 2023 program assessment survey, Fellows noted several meaningful motivations and rewards for participating:


“Interest in increasing my exposure to ethics research and practice through discussion with colleagues across the university, deepening my understanding of research in ethics, engaging in thoughtful conversations with staff and faculty across departments and functions, taking space to reflect on how ethics can be addressed in my own courses.”

“The incredible depth and breadth with which the group is able to explore various lenses to pressing ethical issues of our time.”

“Meeting people from across the university and having deeper conversations with them, and intellectually engaging with others outside of my own research areas and classwork.”

“I was interested in the topics, interested in thinking/learning about areas other than my own and interested in meeting folks who work in different areas other than my own.”

“Mudd Fellows discussion are some of the most interesting and thoughtful conversations we have together as faculty (outside the classroom) on a regular basis. They keep this place alive.”

“Desire to be a lifelong student!”

“The discussions with colleagues. I thought it was a great opportunity to hear a variety of viewpoints and to connect with others on campus.”


“The theme this year — beneficence and the ethics of care — is something near to my heart. I am trying to explore what it means to have ethics of care at the center of my management, teaching, and research philosophies.”


Jumana Al-Ahmad: visiting assistant professor of Arabic

Brian Alexander: assistant professor of politics

Jeffrey Barry: associate professor and library technology developer

Amy Bersett: senior director of Development

Matthew Boaz: visiting director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic and professor of practice

Nathan Bowden: visiting professor of business administration

Emma Brobeck: visiting assistant professor of classics

James Broda: assistant professor of mathematics

Ronda Bryant: associate dean of students

Mark Coddington: associate professor of journalism

Katherine Dau: assistant director of Annual Giving

Jenefer Davies: professor of dance and theater

Nathan Dean: assistant professor of law, justice, and society

Tim Diette: executive director of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty and professor of economics

Isra El-Beshir: director of Museums

Fran Elrod: associate director of the Shepherd Program

Robert Forsberg: visitor services and operations manager of Museums

Donald Gaylord: research archaeologist and instructor

Keri Gould: externship program director and professor of practice

Helen I’Anson: John T. Perry Jr. Professor of Biology

Murtaza Kapasi: admissions counselor

Chawne Kimber: dean of the College and professor of mathematics

Julie Knudson: director of Academic Technologies

Fred LaRiviere: associate dean of the College and associate professor of chemistry

Howard Pickett: director of the Shepherd Program and associate professor of poverty and human capability studies

Wendy Rains: office manager of University Library

Stephanie Sandberg: assistant professor of theater

Heather Scherschel: associate director of Career and Professional Development

Jill Sundie: associate professor of business administration

Chrissy van Assendelft: ITS business analyst

Dirk van Assendelft: IT systems architect

K.T. Vaughan: Hal F. and Barbra Buckner Higginbotham University Librarian

Zach Wen: visiting assistant professor of Chinese


Stohr is Ryan Family Chair Professor of Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar with the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. Her research focuses on the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant and on contemporary moral philosophy. She is particularly interested on thinking about the gap that separates moral ideals from moral action.


Good and Bad Helping: Moral Challenges with Beneficence

Karen Stohr lay the groundwork for our series with an explanation of how it can be difficult to get beneficence right and why this should matter to us. She started off with a basic dilemma. We all believe in helping others, but helping does not always lead to good results. Sometimes we do not know how to help those in need. At other times we find ourselves on the receiving end of unwanted help. According to Stohr, that is because doing good deeds, beneficence, is not the same as having good intentions, or benevolence. Both good intentions and deeds are needed to be beneficent, to help in the right way, but they can come apart. Think for example of someone who gives to charity with the intention of feeling good about themselves. Though the results are beneficial to people in need, the attention is on the giver and not on the recipient. Or think of wanting to help a friend in need but having no knowledge of their needs. Though well intended, that does not lead to beneficence.

We should thus want an account of beneficence to help us figure out which people to help, what they need, how often, and when they need it. Stohr recommends we think of beneficence as “an appropriate response to value.” That means helping others while being conscientious of their choices and values. Following Immanuel Kant, Stohr argued that, as rational beings, we are free to make decisions that reflect our values. This makes us and our decisions worthy of respect from others. Regardless of what anyone thinks of our preferences, we are deserving of their recognition that we can set our own path. Kant called this unconditional value.

In this way, responding appropriately to others’ values and decisions means combining what Kant called duties of respect and of love. The former asks of us not to interfere in

others’ decisions, while the latter demands we actively support others in achieving their goals. Beneficence depends on how successful we are at combining these opposite poles. If we fail, Stohr noted, we can turn caring and compassion into intrusion and paternalism.

We engage in an appropriate response to others’ values when we help (love) them achieve what they need or want in accordance with their values (respect). This is another way of saying that beneficence requires we come to know and respect boundaries. Help becomes beneficial when good intentions and deeds consider the capacities of others to make their own choices and live their own lives. It means setting ourselves aside in order to support others in reaching their aims.

Ultimately, long term beneficence requires maintaining what Stohr called “moral equality.” Because of our status as rational beings, all people are equally deserving of respect and value. When offering or receiving aid, we thus want to avoid anything that resembles selfsatisfaction, contempt, or self-loathing. These are all forms of inequality, where someone feels more or less than. Stohr underscored that we want to maintain a sense of reciprocity, too, in which everyone at some point gives and receives. That should help us all feel like we are full participants in the moral community and reduce the chances of falling into the pitfalls of contempt or self-loathing.

Stohr concluded her talk by returning to the beginning. Beneficence is difficult because it is built on the tension between respect and love. But it remains extremely important to us, for it is one of the ways we tell each other that, regardless of status or condition, we are all equal in dignity.


Intersectional Neuroscience: Bringing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the Neuroscience of Meditation

Helen Weng reviewed research demonstrating the potential of meditation practices to cultivate empathy and encourage caring behavior towards others. She also critiqued qualities of inclusive research designs that can best inform our understanding of these processes.

Weng’s research addresses how the practice of compassion-based meditation can lead to changes in our behavior towards others. She noted that for this question to be correctly investigated, it is necessary to question the status quo methods of data analysis in neuroscience research. Specifically, emphasis is typically placed on averaging indicators of brain and behavior change across all participants in a study. With this approach, it is assumed that results can be generalized to the most people possible. However, some processes, such as meditation, must be investigated using a more sensitive, personcentered framework that acknowledges individual differences in how minds, bodies and brains work.

To underscore this point, Weng described a recent study investigating the effects of compassion-based meditation training on brain functioning and behavior. When exposed to stimuli showing sounds and images of suffering, individuals who had been through meditation training showed significantly higher levels of activity in brain regions associated with compassion, compared to individuals without training. Similarly, in a game in which research

participants were given the option of redistributing resources to other people known to be in disadvantaged economic positions, those with meditation training chose to give from their own resources more often than those who had not participated in the training.

Weng emphasized that investigating neural plasticity, or the brain’s ability to change based on experience, requires analyses of individual differences in brain functioning. That is, even though meditation-based brain changes were detected at the individual level in her research, the evidence of such changes would vanish if she performed an averaging of all brain scans, which is the typical way to conduct such analyses. This averaging approach hinges on the assumption that all brains work in the same way even though they do not. What Weng called “brain diversity” is thus not about increasing samples to generalize better. It is, rather, about accepting that brains may respond to meditation differently.

Weng concluded her talk by reminding us of the importance of embracing diversity in research on meditation. There are countless ways of practicing meditation and all kinds of individual differences that interact to affect its impact on our brains and behavior. Weng highlighted the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California as an example of an organization embracing scientific methods that are person-centered and committed to diversity in science.


Helen Weng is a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist who serves as a Research Associate at the University of California San Francisco’s Osher Center for Integrative Health. Her work explores the benefits of meditation and contemplative neuroscience within an inclusive and communityoriented framework.


The Hidden Curricula of Competitive Individualism and its Roots in Business Education

Professor Stewart’s lecture drew our attention to norms of competitive individualism and how they may work against beneficence and care in higher education. He emphasized how these values are manifested in business school culture and pedagogy, specifically, and presented strategies for realigning them with principles of equity and cooperation.

From the start, Stewart’s presentation called into question the accepted view that competitive individualism should be front and center in business education. At times explicitly but often through administrative decisions, students in business are told that individual academic achievement and constant measuring of their performance against other students is an essential part of a good education. According to Stewart, business schools can tend to engineer situations of intense competition through their punitive grading philosophy and their individualized view of wellbeing and success.

Stewart highlighted the extent to which these schools have been shaped by practices of maximization of utility from the business world. For instance, their commitment to inclusion, equity, and diversity, is sometimes read through a lens of maximizing utility for schools themselves or for individual students. Stewart called this leveraging inclusivity and diversity for profit.

Furthermore, focusing so much on achievement leads students to overvalue extrinsic rewards such as grades, awards, and grants. That said, Stewart noted that blame for this should not be placed on students. Rather, it is the practices and curricula of business schools that are in need of reform. As he put it, the issue is with “the foundation

of traditional business school education… that they [students] should primarily pursue their own individual advancement on the ladder of wealth accumulation while saying very little about how students may have a place to contribute to society…”

Stewart noted that using data for admissions and grading to measure individualized achievement encourages students to think of the world as divided into haves and have nots, those that possess natural ability and showcase effort and those that do not. It gives students the false impression that hierarchies and rankings accurately reflect ability and effort.

How should business schools confront this problem? Stewart argued that our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion should be paired with a general orientation towards reparatory justice. That entails being mindful of how and why certain practices and curricula that appear inclusive may still lead to unfair and unwanted results. Stewart called this having a “liberatory consciousness,” meaning becoming more aware of the hidden ways organizational practices may contribute to perpetuate injustices or undesirable outcomes. In terms of pedagogy, Stewart suggested we turn to innovative teaching techniques such as ungrading, art as a learning tool, and decolonial pedagogy, as ways to reorient students away from individual achievement.

At the heart of Stewart’s presentation was encouragement to think of a more collaborative approach to business education centered on student wellbeing and social justice. Focusing, as Plato once said, “not only on living but on living well.”

Oscar Jerome Stewart is an Assistant Professor of Management at the College of Charleston. His work focuses on reforming curricula and organization in business schools with the aim of fomenting a healthier and more just corporate environment.

John Lysaker is the William R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. His work spans humanistic themes such as forgiveness and trust as well as philosophical psychology and poetry, and music. His interdisciplinary scholarship interrogates phenomena like the good life, the nature and social function of art, and the nature of the self and its fate in schizophrenia.


Become What You Are Not: Friendship as Spectacle

John Lysaker’s lecture addressed the nature of friendship as a mechanism for moral growth that does not rely on rules or conventions. Friendships are curious types of relationships, he argued. They are neither fully voluntary nor wholly involuntary. For instance, we do not control our friends or dictate to them like we do to children. We freely enter into friendships of our own accord; we are free to join or leave them. This means that in friendships we have to find our way without traditional moral scripts.

To Lysaker, it is the absence of scripts and rules that gives friendships their potential to inspire personal growth. Aspiration becomes fundamental to any friendship. Friends help us understand new aspects of ourselves and show us what it means to live in different ways. Experimentation and practice geared towards becoming our better selves is part and parcel of friendship. Lysaker argued that friendships are spectacles, both as magnifying glasses to help us inspect and understand our lives, and as unexpected vantage points to project new possibilities and directions.

Lysaker explained that friendship requires attraction or philia. Unlike eros, which translates to sensual love, philia involves the kind of affection for another person that makes life enjoyable and difficulties easier to bear. For this reason, friendships prove to be transformative for people. They tend to generate the kinds of goods that make us better people at the end of the day, such as

companionship, recognition, material and emotional care, and proactive benevolence.

Importantly, friendships also encourage us to see others in their unique singularity. Whereas traditional ethics conventions and rules render each of us the same, such that any one person’s pain or rights should be valued equally, friends treat each other in their specificity. As Lysaker noted, we should “love others as themselves, not as ourselves,” for each friend is ultimately irreplaceable.


In fact, according to Lysaker, we may want to reconsider the idea of the best friend. He underscored that friends meet each other at oblique angles, meaning that we are unlikely to ever fully identify with any of our friends. No friend shares our enthusiasm for everything. Indeed, the best friend may actually limit how we envision friendship and thus frustrate personal growth. Best friendships based on sameness, on believing, liking, and enjoying the same things, are for Lysaker in danger of becoming a form of narcissistic love. We should rather aim for personal growth through the specific educational value each of our friends brings in their singularity.

Ultimately, Lysaker invited us to see past the false choice of altruism or egoism by thinking of friendship as a “bloom of sociality” that benefits our common and individual life.


Restorative vs. Adversarial Justice: A New Paradigm for Addressing Crime and Conflict

Seema Gajwani addressed the intersection of beneficence and justice. She described how a program of restorative justice, which is fundamentally rooted in empathy, trust, and radical transformation, can help heal communities affected by crime. In contrast to our adversarial justice system, which relies heavily on retribution, Gajwani framed restorative justice as a mechanism for “strengthening the moral brain and changing the world.”

She illustrated the differences in these two approaches by recounting the story of two high school students who, after being involved in an altercation, participated in a restorative justice session. This exercise facilitated an honest apology from the student accused of assault. It encouraged the students and their parents to hear each other’s side of the story and consider mutual forgiveness. In the course of the session, it also became clear that the incident had been provoked by weeks of bullying, which challenges the view of crime in which there are always victims on one side and criminals on the other. Gajwani noted that had these students appeared before a judge, they would have not spoken to one another, let alone accepted some degree of responsibility or had a chance to tell their own version of the story. That is because for an adversarial criminal justice system what ultimately matters is righting a wrong through sentencing and punishment.

But Gajwani noted that this is not really what victims want. Studies show that victims of crime seek for their voices to be heard, for some form of explanation of the crime to be given, for steps to be taken for mending the harm, and for assurances that such acts will not happen again. That is “a lot to ask for a justice system whose recidivism is 60 percent or higher,” Gajwani remarked.

Here is where the restorative justice approach can help. According to Gajwani, studies show that recidivism is lower for restorative than adversarial justice, with results becoming even better when we consider serious violent crimes involving adults. So how does restorative justice prevent further crime if it does not rely on the threat of punishment? Gajwani argued that our court system is premised on shame, mistrust, and a zero-sum view of winners and losers, what she called “a battle between lawyers in the theater of court.” This results in shaming convicted individuals into eventually thinking that they must be bad people and that bad people naturally engage in crime. Restorative justice avoids shaming altogether and focuses instead on mutual understanding of the effects of actions on others through face-to-face conversations, which facilitates responsibility and redemption.

Seema Gajwani is the Special Counsel for Juvenile Justice Reform and the Chief of the Restorative Justice Section in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Her career has addressed criminal justice reform from many angles, including as a criminal defense attorney and a leader in the Public Welfare Foundation. In her current position, she has launched the first restorative justice program housed within a prosecutor’s office.


Belonging in the Bubble: How to Traverse the Indifferences that Divide Us

Lynn Chin addressed her hometown crowd with a lecture focusing on the importance of college practices and policies in fomenting a community of belonging. She described her teaching and scholarship on belongingness and presented data from W&L students regarding how it is manifested here.

Chin began her talk by asking us to consider fit at W&L. Though often thought of as a bubble, Chin argued that W&L is really a collection of bubbles. According to her, fitting in on campus involves not just belonging to a bubble but also being aware of how different social groups stand in relation to one another. Some of these groups, Chin noted, such as sororities and fraternities, are so influential that they greatly affect the standards for what fitting in looks like. Beyond this, university policies can also play a decisive role in cultivating a view of “normal” student life by supporting specific traditions, organizations and activities. As Chin put it, universities craft “college pathways” for student belonging.

In 2015 and again in 2021, Chin collected data on student belonging through in-person interviews. Asked what the mold of a W&L student is, answers pointed to “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” (WASP), “preppy” and “southerner.” In her conversations with students, Chin also discovered that feeling “comfortable” and “not thinking about belonging” were features shared by students that seem to fit in. “These standards come with high pressures and can be very difficult to deal with” for students not embodying the W&L mold, she noted.

Considering Greek life on campus, Chin highlighted that 81 percent of white students participate in the Greek system. This number is much lower, around 30 to 50 percent, for students of color. This pattern also tracks along the income axis, with higher-income students signing up for Greek life more often than students receiving financial aid. According to Chin, such data paints a picture of the “W&L college pathway” as involving whiteness, wealth and Greek life activities. She remarked, however, that “assimilation into the dominant path is not the only answer for creating a sense of belonging or ownership of space.”

How may W&L go about creating more spaces of belonging? For Chin, it starts with acknowledging others’ emotions and then grappling with the structural sources of alienation.

“Emotions ground how real and lived experiences are,” she remarked. Ultimately, however, the problem as she sees it is apathy. Chin’s research shows that students who do not feel alienated on campus seem not only unaware of but also uninterested in the ubiquity of alienation on campus. Acknowledging and validating others’ emotions is a way to start fomenting a community of care and empathy. In addition, university policies could actively encourage a more plural view of “college pathways” to belonging. Fitting in is as important to university success as it is a basic human need. Chin underscored that relationships, respect and recognition are the foundation of a community of care and beneficence.

Lynn Chin is Associate Professor of Sociology at W&L. Her research explores what it means to belong in groups. In particular, she is interested in the practices, policies, and structures of belonging in universities. She teaches a Spring Term course called “Belonging in College.”


Raising Caring, Justice-Minded Children in a Morally Troubled Time RICHARD

Richard Weissbourd concluded the Mudd Center’s 2022-23 program with a virtual lecture addressing the challenges of raising justice-minded children in an educational environment that tends to prize and reward individual performance.

Weissbourd shared survey data from students and parents that pointed to a crisis of care in education. For example, when asked what their parents and teachers valued most in them, students consistently ranked achievement and happiness well above caring for others. About 50 percent of students said their parents want them to succeed above all else, while 30 percent said their parents want them to be happy, and only 20 percent said their parents valued care the most. This contrasts with what parents themselves noted, however. Parents said they prioritize care over success in their children, though they also noted that they suspected other parents did not value care more than achievement. To Weissbourd, the data shows that children are interpreting messages from parents and educators that performance and success comes first.

How do we explain this? Weissbourd pointed to a number of quiet signals that students are picking up. He highlighted that parents and teachers are failing at communicating to students that service to others is as important as focusing on their own achievement. They are not being told to believe in something larger than themselves, Weissbourd noted. Another failure is what he called “mood

policing.” Though it is important to get children to articulate their feelings, excessive attention to their inner life leads children to be preoccupied with their own feelings rather than with other students or their communities. This is exacerbated by parents and educators praising students excessively, which Weissbourd thinks reflects their preoccupation with success.

The ultimate reason for the failures to prioritize care and moral values is the performance character. Schools have been increasingly pivoting to a focus on skills such as social and emotional learning capabilities and values like grit. Useful as they may be, Weissbourd argued that skills are nonmoral; they do not necessarily serve the greater good. When schools and parents turn their attention away from underscoring the importance of moral character, they are left with curricula that overemphasize performance and success as measures of social and individual well-being.

For schools and families to counter these tendencies, they need to communicate the importance of community from the earliest point of development. Practicing care for others in schools and classrooms should become a daily concern of parents and teachers. Weissbourd noted that caring is a muscle that needs to be exercised, and children should be taught to expand their circle of concern so as to include people that do look or think like them.

Richard Weissbourd is Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Education and Kennedy School of Government. He is also the Director of the Making Caring Common Program. His work focuses on moral development in children as well as on initiatives that advocate for prioritizing justice and moral values in education.


We Kin: Lessons of Care from the Garden

ROSS GAY | AUG. 25, 2022

Ross Gay is a poet, essayist, and professor of English at Indiana University. He is the author of two collections of essays, “The Book of Delights” (2019), a New York Times bestseller, and “Inciting Joy” (2022). He has written four critically-acclaimed books of poetry.

In a webinar co-hosted by the Mudd Center and the Harte Center for Teaching and Learning, Gay read from his new book, “Inciting Joy.” He explored the care that is manifested in and grows from the practice of gardening: the dividing and gifting of a stand of peonies, the sharing of shallot seeds (because you really only need just a few!), and the propagation of produce and flowers and seeds and starts that become the stories of our gardens and connections between us.

“Among gardeners, I have noticed, there is a near constant (if subtle) chatter, asking what you need, asking for help, asking do you have any, asking could you use this,” he writes. Gay ponders this gardener’s disposition toward mutual aid and concludes, “I suspect, whether we know it or not, we’re just emulating the garden, which is a repository of sharing.”


Compassion and Connection

Across Species: The Psychology of

Human-Animal Relationships


Megan Mueller is associate professor of human-animal interaction at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine & Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. She is a developmental scientist whose research assesses the dynamic relationships between people and animals in families and communities.

Mueller discussed how we conceptualize our relationships with animals and the implications of these notions on our care toward them. Although social bonds with animals have been an enduring aspect of human history, we have very different perceptions of, emotional attachment with, and behavior toward companion animals versus those living in the wild or as part of the agriculture or research industries.

Just as in human in-group versus out-group processes, we associate some animals with trust, empathy, and connection, while feeling distrustful or disinvested in others. Mueller noted that research on human-animal interactions has steadily and dramatically increased during the past 30 years. This research has pointed to multiple mechanisms through which companion animals can contribute to individual and community health. Mueller noted ethical questions which should be considered with respect to human-animal relationships, such as: What is our obligation to animals that live inside and outside of our homes?

Mueller’s CareLab lecture complemented the CareLab Pet Project and the W&L Museums’ Museum Menagerie exhibition at the Watson Galleries.

Conflict & Care: A Dramaturgy of Harm and Hope

KYLE BASS | FEB. 14, 2023

Kyle Bass is a playwright and assistant professor of theater at Colgate University. His work portrays complex individual characters in specific historical contexts that capture how the past still resonates with us today.

Following a screening of his play, “Citizen James,” Bass gave a playwright’s talk linking his work with an ethics of care. Through “Citizen James,” a one-man play, Bass portrayed the entrenched racism in the United States on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. He painted a compelling portrait of the young James Baldwin as he grappled in 1948 with a country that did not embrace him as a black, aspiring intellectual. Bass dramatized what he imagined must have been Baldwin’s inner struggle as he decided to leave the U.S. for France, feeling deeply rejected by his own country. Though a retelling of past events, “Citizen James” is also a lens to better understand the barriers that remain today in building a lasting, caring and inclusive country.

This CareLab event was co-hosted by the Mudd Center, the Department of Theater, Dance, and Film Studies, and the Office of Inclusion and Engagement.


How Can We

Embody Self-Care?

Lessons from the Body

Positivity Movement


Céline Leboeuf is associate professor of philosophy at Florida International University. Her work addresses what it is like to be embodied in a social world and focuses on gendered and racialized experiences.

Leboeuf’s talk, produced in partnership with the Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, discussed self-care as a framework to practice body positivity. Leboeuf argued that care through body positivity goes beyond broadening beauty standards and encouraging self-acceptance. Though it is true that beauty comes in many forms, it is just as important to keep in mind that our bodies are more than objects of beauty.

Leboeuf underscored that we are our bodies, after all, and thus all bodies are worthy of care and respect no matter what. In addition, as free and curious individuals, we express more through our bodies than beauty norms. We also feel, desire, and do, all thanks to having a body. Ultimately, Leboeuf remarked, only a pluralistic approach to embodiment focused on access to feeling, ability, and beauty, among others, is flexible enough to help us care for ourselves in our own way.


Fostering Care in Rockbridge County Schools: A Dinner Discussion for K-12 Educators and W&L Students


In order to consider Richard Weissbourd’s Making Caring Common Project in a local context, Rockbridge County K-12 educators were invited to join a post-lecture dinner discussion with W&L Education Studies students. The discussion was moderated by W&L faculty members Haley Sigler and Eric Moffa. Local elementary and middle school administrators, guidance counselors, and teachers discussed the ways that their students are encouraged to care for everyone in the building and envisioned new ways this might be prioritized in the future.


The Mudd Center Student Ethics Society was launched in 2022-23 for students who are passionate about discussing some of the most pressing ethical issues of our time. Mentored by professors Omar Quiñonez (Mudd Center postdoctoral fellow) and Fernando Zapata (DeLaney postdoctoral fellow in philosophy), Ethics Society members received a packet of readings, attended the Mudd Center’s public lectures, joined luncheon discussions with distinguished speakers, and gathered to discuss conceptual and applied questions about beneficence and care from a variety of disciplinary and professional perspectives.


Ethics of Care Meditation Circle

In order to explore compassion-based meditation as way of cultivating care toward others, 15 W&L students participated in a six-week workshop called the Ethics of Care Meditation Circle. Launched by Dr. Helen Weng’s public lecture on the neuroscience of meditation, the circle met in the Elrod Commons Sacred Space for 75-minute sessions on Sunday evenings in the fall of 2022. Members participated in a full-day meditation retreat at the Irvine Estate at House Mountain Inn during reading days as well.

The Meditation Circle was led by Anthony DeMauro, Ph.D., associate director of the Dalai Lama Fellows

(DLF) in the University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center. The DLF is a global leadership program designed to help emerging social innovators cultivate capacities of emotional intelligence, resilience, and compassion that support and sustain the work of social change. In addition to this work, DeMauro delivers mindfulness – and compassion-based professional development programs to K-12 educators through Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) and co-facilitates mindfulness retreats for teenagers with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme).


Caring well for others can be challenging. How do we, and how should we, actually practice sensitive and responsive care? The CareLab Pet Project allowed the W&L community to share what we have learned about care from beloved companion animals.

Participants were invited to submit an image of their pet and respond, in a few words, to one of these prompts:

• What has your relationship with your pet taught you about caring well for yourself or others?

• How has your pet taught you to care for someone else on their terms?

Pet Project entries were exhibited at Leyburn Library and in online and social media formats. To see the full exhibition, scan the QR code below. Click on each pet’s image to read how each person-pet relationship has informed someone’s understanding or practice of care.

The Pet Project was produced in partnership with the University Museums and Library. It complemented Megan Mueller’s CareLab lecture, “Compassion and Connection Across Species: The Psychology of Human-Animal Relationships” and the Museum Menagerie exhibition at the Watson Galleries, a whimsical look at works of animalrelated artworks from W&L’s collection.


How has your pet taught you to car e for someone else on their ter ms?

Hamlet and Petunia have taught me the impor tance of patience. Much like humans, they prefer to do things at their own speed and in their specific way.

W We brought our baby home and immediately our dog, Brisket, had a new job. He came r unning when she cried, comes with me to get her from the crib, and lets her climb all over him without a bother The care is completely on her ter ms, and Brisket is happy to oblige

Har d-ear ned tr ust is possibly the most exquisite kind.

Mar ty has taught me that care is constant and evolving, and often there's no "easy way out".

O Ollie got me into college. My essay explained his daily lessons of persistence, selflessness, and kindness. Ollie prioritizes our needs without expecting anything in retur n. I sometimes feel as if he must feel betrayal when I leave for months at a time; however, he embraces me with cuddles, love, and enthusiasm with ever y retur n. He does not hold gr udges or hate, but generous love. I feel honored to be one of his humans.

W hat has your r elationship with your pet taught you about caring well for your self or other s?

Playing on someone else’s ter ms can make them happy but also you too So even when you think you don’t want to play with the toy bir d on the end of a piece of yar n, you both are happier because you did

Posey has taught me that you don't need to understand what someone is going through in order to be there for them and make them feel better. She is the most empathetic person I know, and she's a dog! (Also, that you'll never regret jumping in a lake!)

My pet has taught me to set standar ds for myself. More specifically, because I have to follow a routine for my pet, it means I also have to set a routine for myself. T his has helped me become more healthy mentally and physically.

Mudd Center Undergraduate Ethics Conference and Journal

MARCH 4, 2022

The virtual 2023 Mudd Undergraduate Ethics Conference was held on March 4, 2023. Hosted by Coeditors-in-Chief, Tyler Bernard and Ben Hess, the conference featured student papers, responses from members of the W&L Editorial Board, conference participant discussions, and a keynote lecture by Professor C. Thi Nguyen of the University of Utah.

Esther Ma (UCLA ’23) led with her paper entitled “From the Moral Legitimacy of the State to the Moral Legitimacy of Promising.” Dylan Santella (W&L ’25) followed with his paper, “Gender and the Face: Expanding upon the Butlerian Model of Ethics,” which set the stage for Marina Sidlow’s (New College of Florida ’23) paper entitled “The Non-Account of Gender Identity.” J.C. Ward (W&L ’23), Sydney Smith (W&L ’24) and Margaret Thompson (W&L ’24) served as respondents.

Nguyen was selected as keynote speaker due to his interest in how social structures and technology shape what we care about and how we think and behave. He writes about a range of topics related to epistemology, aesthetics and philosophy of games. He is particularly interested in how our

rationality and agency are influenced by designed social structures such as games, echo chambers and bureaucracies.

Nguyen is a prolific scholar with a voice in public philosophy. His recent book entitled “Games: Agency as Art” explores games as an art form that shapes different forms of agency. It won the American Philosophical Association’s 2021 Book Prize. Recent papers in epistemology include, among others, “Transparency is Surveillance,” “How Twitter Gamifies Communication,” and “Trust as an Unquestioning Attitude,” which earned Honorable Mention in the 2019 Marc Sanders Prize in Epistemology. More information about Professor Nguyen’s work, as well as article links, are available at

Nguyen’s keynote lecture was entitled “Hostile Epistemology,” and asked, “We are limited beings who don’t have enough time and energy to understand everything. We have to take risky shortcuts, and that leaves us vulnerable to exploitation. How can a hostile environment exploit our cognitive vulnerabilities?”

J.C. Ward ’23, Margaret Thompson ’24 (Associate Editor), Rebecca Nason ’25 (Copy Editor), Tyler Bernard ’23 (Co-Editor-in-Chief), Sydney Smith ’24, and Ben Hess ’24 (Co-Editor-in-Chief)

2023 Mudd Ethics Conference Schedule

Mudd Center Undergraduate Ethics Conference and Journal

Call For Papers:

Submission Deadline: December 20th, 2022

Conference Dates: March 4th and 5th, 2023

“From the Moral Legitimacy of the State to the Moral Legitimacy of Promising”

This conference, which is supported by Washington and Lee University’s Roger Mudd Center for Ethics, is the only open undergraduate conference in the country solely dedicated to the academic study of ethical issues.

Authors of accepted papers will have the opportunity to present their papers at the conference, and their papers will be published in the seventh edition of the Mudd Journal of Ethics.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions will be accepted from undergraduates from any university and from any discipline. Submissions should be sent to and contain two documents with the following content: Document 1:

Document 2: o Manuscript prepared for Blind Review: *Please remove any identifying information.

Manuscripts Must: o Make a Normative Ethical Claim o Include an Abstract not Exceeding 200 Words o Contain No More than 3000 Words o Contain Citation Information in Chicago Style with Endnotes *Manuscripts in other formats may be submitted and accepted on the condition that they be adjusted by the author to Chicago Style upon acceptance.

Questions? Email

“Gender and the Face: Expanding upon the Butlerian Model of Ethics”

Keynote Speaker: Professor C. Thi Nguyen presenting “Hostile Epistemology”


Professor C. Thi Nguyen

o Manuscript Title o Name of Author o Institutional Affiliation o Graduation Year o Mailing Address o Phone Number o Email Address
12:30-12:40 pm Introductions 12:40-1 pm Esther Ma, UCLA (’23)
1:00-1:20 pm Response (JC Ward, W&L) and Discussion 1:20-1:30 pm Break 1:30-1:50 pm Dylan Santella, W&L (’25)
1:50-2:10 pm Response (Sydney Smith, W&L) and Discussion 2:10-2:20 pm Break 2:20-2:40 pm Marina Sidlow,
of Florida (’23)
New College
2:40-3:00 pm Response (Margaret Thompson, W&L) and Discussion 3:00-3:10 pm Break 3:10-4:10 pm Keynote:
“The Non-Account of Gender Identity”
Epistemology” 4:10 pm Closing Remarks

2022-2023 Events

Good and Bad Helping: Moral Challenges with Beneficence

Intersectional Neuroscience: Bringing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the Neuroscience of Meditation

Helen Weng Research Associate, Osher Center for Integrative Health, University of California, San Francisco Thursday September 22 2022 5 P M

Thursday, November 3, 2022


Oscar Jerome Stewart Assistant Professor of Management, College of Charleston MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES Livestream and video archive: Speaker profile:



January 30, 2023

MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES Livestream and video archive: Speaker profile:
Stackhouse Theater MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES Speaker profile: Livestream and video archive:
Stohr Ryan Family Professor of Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy Georgetown University Thursday, September 15, 2022
The Hidden Curriculum of Competitive Individualism and Its Roots in Business Education M Stackhouse Theater
Stackhouse Theater MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES Livestream and video archive: Speaker profile:
B Become Who You Aren’t: Friendship as Spectacle
R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy, Emory University

Seema Gajwani

Special Counsel for Juvenile Justice Reform and Chief, Restorative Justice Section Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia

Restorative vs. Adversarial Justice: A New Paradigm for Addressing Crime and Conflict

Thursday, February 9, 2023

5 P M University Chapel

Speaker profile:

Livestream and video archive:

MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS CARELAB EVENT in partnership with the Harte Center for Teaching and Learning

Belonging in the Bubble: How to Transverse the Indifferences that Divide Us Reflections on what caring as a community means at

Lynn Chin Associate Professor of Sociology, Washington and Lee University Thursday


Ross Gay Poet and Essayist; Professor of English, Indiana University at Bloomington Author of TheBookofDelights and the forthcoming IncitingJoy

W We Kin: Lessons of Care from the Garden

Thursday, August 25, 2022

3:30 4:30 P M Webinar ● Leyburn 119 Immediately followed by the Fall Academy Plenary Recept on

Register to attend this session at

Speaker profile:

MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS CARELAB EVENT in partnership with Museums at W&L and the University Library

Richard Weissbourd

Senior Lecturer, Harvard School of Education and Kennedy School of Government; Director of the Making Caring Common Program

Raising Caring, Justice-Minded Children in a Morally Troubled Time

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Virtual Lecture 5:30 P.M.

Register for the webinar at or scan the code below

MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS CARELAB EVENT in partnership with the Department of Theater, Dance, and Film Studies and the Office of Inclusion and Engagement

Megan Mueller Associate Professor of Human-Animal Interaction, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine & Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University

Compassion and Connection

Across Species: The Psychology of Human-Animal Relationships

Kyle Bass

Playwright, Assistant Professor of Theater, Colgate University, and Resident Playright, Syracuse Stage

Screening of Citizen James and Playwright's Talk Conflict & Care: A Dramaturgy of Harm and Hope

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

5 7:30 P M Stackhouse Theater

Speaker profile:

Céline Leboeuf


How Can We Embody Self-Care?

Lessons from the Body Positivity Movement

MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS CARELAB EVENT in partnership with the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program Speaker

March 2
5 P M Stackhouse Theater MUDD CENTER FOR ETHICS PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES Livestream and video archive: Speaker profile:
Wednesday, November 9, 2022 5 P M ● Northen Auditorium Immediately followed by a Museum Menagerie reception 6:15 P M ● Watson Galleries
Speaker profile: Learn more about the MuseumMenagerie exhibit
4 P M ● Hillel
Associate Professor of Philosophy,
International University Thursday, March 9, 2023

Behind the Scenes

In their second year as a team, Karla Murdock (director), Kate Saacke (administrative assistant) and Omar Quiñonez (postdoctoral fellow) worked like a well-oiled machine. In addition to mentoring the Undergraduate Journal and Conference editors and the Student Ethics Society, Omar taught a Mudd Center-affiliated course called Seminar in Ethics and Value Theory: Care and Concern in Philosophy.

Although we cannot imagine the Mudd Center without Omar, we are delighted that he has accepted a tenure-track position in the Department of Philosophy at College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts. This summer we will welcome a new postdoctoral fellow, Rachel Levit Ades, to the Mudd Center. Rachel has just completed a Ph.D. in philosophy at Arizona State University and she specializes in the philosophy of disability.


To design is to create, fashion, execute or construct something according to a plan. Designers craft products, systems, programs, policies, technologies, strategies and experiences. They analyze problems from a holistic perspective in order to make sense of underlying systems that create them and use ingenuity and design methodologies to address them. Design processes can use art and science to express a particular vision and optimize certain outcomes.

Effective design can be invisible to those that consume it even as it shapes our lives in powerful ways. This makes design a particularly compelling topic for ethical interrogation. In the Mudd Center’s Ethics of Design program, we will ask how design thinking might address modern ethical dilemmas that we collectively face. How should design solutions be informed or constrained by their potential environmental, cultural and social costs? What methodologies can allow designers to meaningfully assess the ethical contexts and implications of their work? In a technological world in which our intentional and unintentional design choices can have outsized effects, it is the right moment to contemplate ethical design.


Mudd Center for Ethics

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.