From Job Hunting to Gender Pronouns, Donahue Center Event Poses the Tricky Questions

A half dozen students wearing face coverings gather around a table, which has flowers, pens and papers on it Image by Ed Brennen
Students gather around the "Ethics and Information Quality" station hosted by Assoc. Prof. of Accounting Karen Lin, right, during Ethics Fest at University Crossing.

By Ed Brennen

After months of online applications and interviews with multiple companies, you finally receive a job offer that you readily accept. But then you see a job post from another company that intrigues you. Do you go ahead and apply for the position, knowing that you’ve already committed to another organization?

That was only one of the ethical dilemmas that students were asked to consider at UMass Lowell’s first annual Ethics Fest, an event hosted recently by the Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility.

Designed to get students thinking about the many ways that ethics and social responsibility intersect with their everyday lives, the event featured 21 “engagement stations” run by a wide variety of campus centers, faculty researchers and student groups.

More than 250 students visited the various stations at University Crossing’s Moloney Hall. At the Philosophy Department’s station, for instance, Asst. Prof. Nicholas Evans and Postdoctoral Research Associate Blake Hereth asked students to consider the ethical implications of conducting biomedical research on soldiers, a topic they are currently researching.

A man in a face covering hands a small blue sticker to a student, who is holding open a small booklet Image by Ed Brennen
Disability Services Assoc. Director Brandon Drake gives a student a sticker for his Ethics Fest "passport" after visiting the "Exploring Universal Design" station at University Crossing.

At the Disability Services station, Assoc. Director Brandon Drake showed how the architectural principles of universal design can apply to many other fields, such as web application design.

And at a station run by Accounting Dept. Chair and Prof. Khondkar Karim, students learned about ESG (environmental, social and governance) disclosures and why they matter on an organization’s financial statements — something that Chancellor Jacquie Moloney touched on in her opening remarks.

“Companies across the country right now are being evaluated on how they measure up in corporate social responsibility. They have to report what they are doing about closing the income gap, making their companies more inclusive and solving the problem of climate change,” Moloney told students.

“As you graduate from this university, you will have a voice in your companies. You will help them figure out how to fulfill that corporate social responsibility mission,” she said. “By engaging in this event, you are preparing yourself to have an authoritative voice at the table.”

Four female students wearing face coverings read from papers they are holding while standing around a table Image by Ed Brennen
Students learn about the "Ethics of Holiday Gatherings in the COVID-19 Era" at an Ethics Fest station hosted by Campus Minister Imogene Stulken, right.

Kevin Conway, a senior marketing student from Lowell, expected the event to be business-centric but was impressed by the variety of topics covered — such as the ethics of holiday gatherings in the COVID-19 era (presented by Campus Minister Imogene Stulken).

“I thought it was really cool,” said Conway, who is taking Business Ethics this semester. “Ethics were already on my mind, as they should be, but I’m definitely glad they put this together for students.”

For junior business major Patricia Nippes de Oliveira, an international student from Brazil, the Office of Multicultural Affairs station on preferred gender pronouns was particularly enlightening — especially given that English is her second language.

“It’s very different in Portuguese, and this is something I try to learn,” said Nippes de Oliveira, whose concentration is in accounting. “I want to be respectful of others, so it really opened my mind to that.”

A woman wearing glasses gestures with her hands while speaking at a podium Image by Ed Brennen
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney speaks with students about the importance of ethics and social responsibility in their future careers.

Several faculty members brought their classes to the event, including Operations and Information Systems Prof. Edward Chen. His Business Information Systems course covers a chapter on ethical issues, and he discusses corporate scandals — such as Facebook’s role in political polarization and teenagers’ mental health — with his students.

“They all use social media, so they are aware how Facebook targets teenagers,” said Chen, who hoped students came away from Ethics Fest with a clearer picture of “how ethics play in the real world, so when they become a professional, they will practice ethics in their career.”

Of course, starting a career presents its own ethical dilemmas. At the Career and Co-op Center’s “Ethics and the Job Search” station, students learned about some of the gray areas they may encounter — such as applying for another job after accepting one (which is an ethical no-no).

“We tried to come up with questions related to preparing a résumé, networking and the interview process. Things like: When someone assumes you have more responsibility than you do, do you correct them?” said Career Services Director Kerry Willard Bray. “We’re trying to get students to think about all these areas where the decision you make has an effect. Is it right or wrong? Are you doing the best thing for yourself?”

A male student in glasses and a face covering holds a T-shirt and small booklet while posing for a photo Image by Ed Brennen
Senor business major Kevin Conway was one of the first students to redeem his Ethics Fest passport for a T-shirt.

In her opening remarks, Moloney thanked philanthropist Nancy Donahue for her support of the center, which is co-directed by Assoc. Prof. of Management Erica Steckler and Visiting Instructor Elissa Magnant.

At each station that students visited, they collected a stamp in their Ethics Fest “passports.” As students lined up outside Moloney Hall to redeem their passports for a free event T-shirt, Magnant spoke of a much bigger takeaway.

“Every time I talk about ethics with students, I just hope that someday they look back and there’s a little grain of, ‘Oh, that’s why we do the right thing.’”