Peer Leaders Explore Ethics

The Peer Leadership program brings together a group of 23 juniors and seniors who participate in training sessions and community outreach projects throughout the year to develop their leadership skills, while also preparing and teaching Life Skills classes to the 9th grade once a cycle. In a recent training session, the Peer Leaders focused on the topic of ethics. They explored several “The Ethicist” columns from The New York Times, as well as the classic trolley dilemma, as a springboard for a lively discussion about how to define one’s ethical principles and lead by example within and beyond the Upper School. 

Two Peer Leaders share their reflections on the experience below, along with links to several of the scenarios from “The Ethicist” that the group discussed:

Charlotte Cooper ’16:

Peer Leadership brings a diverse group of RCDS students together. Each member brings his or her unique view on ethics, among other topics. In a recent training session, we began the work of "drawing our ethical line," as stated by a peer. For example, the following situation was given to the Peer Leaders last night:

A train is about to fatally hit five people standing on the tracks below. You are standing atop a bridge. A stranger is standing next to you. If you push that stranger over the bridge and to their death, the five construction workers will live. What would you do?

In this particular situation, to some, perhaps it is easy to look logically at the situation and decide that saving five lives is worth losing one. However, what if that stranger was, instead, your mother, or your best friend, or your school acquaintance? What then? That is how we begin to figure out where our "ethical lines" are.

As a Peer Leader, we talk with the freshmen about ethics in the Life Skills classes that we teach. We encourage the freshmen to begin thinking about their own personal ethics. But how can we do this if we have given little thought to where we draw our own "ethical lines?" The work of defining our own values and ethics will continue throughout our lives. But if we begin to set up our own ethical foundations now, we can help our freshmen do similarly.

Madeleine Pierpont ’16:

I really enjoyed the discussion of ethics because it is refreshing to have dynamic and engaging conversations with my peers over something other than academics. Discussing ethics made me think about how one individual’s actions can have such a strong impact on the lives of a whole body of people. It made me question what responsibilities I have to myself, and what responsibilities I have to others, and how those two often coalesce. To what extent am I my brother’s keeper? How can I promote my own wellbeing while at the same time promote the wellbeing of my larger community? 

Ethics shape who we are and who we choose to be. As Peer Leaders, it is important that we try to understand our own ethics and continually think about them so that we can have the most positive presence possible in the RCDS community.


Scenarios from “The Ethicist:”

Is Everyone Out to Steal My Umbrella?

Puzzle Taker

Standing Room Only

Can I Change My Name to Avoid Discrimination?

Can I Lie to My Father About Being Gay So He Will Pay for My College Education?

The Ethics of Soup