Everybody Does It! Ethics & Everyday Choices
By Susan K. Mead, Assistant Director for Training, Staffing and Academic Support, East Carolina University
Its okay, everybody does it. I can hear her voice clearly, as if she were standing in front of me, looking me straight in the eye. She is my former supervisor, Carol Bassuener, one of my most respected and cherished mentors in our field. And she loved to talk ethics!
I remember the first time I heard those five words. August 1994. Our East Area staff training session had just started, and we were sprawled out on the floor of the Nature Center at our annual Camp Retreat. Carol had a presence that few could match. When she walked into a room, people took notice, sat up straighter, and looked interested! And so, Ethics was introduced and discussed frankly no sugar coating, no fluff. Carol wouldnt allow it, and we loved her for it. She walked her talk and expected her staff to do the same. No matter how many times I heard her begin and end her annual training session saying, Its okay, everybody does it I felt a chill down my spine, goose bumps on my skin and a lump in my throat. Her words moved me every time.
Role modeling ethical behavior is no easy task. It is an awesome responsibility, no matter your age or years of experience on the job. As you know or will soon find out, RAs are tested by their staff peers, residents, supervisors, friends and family. My gut instinct tells me (and Id like to think that my gut instinct is right 90% of the time) that if I surveyed Residence Life professionals around the globe, three fourths of them would rank ethical behavior as one of the top 5 characteristics that they look for when hiring and training staff.
Ethics vs. Values
Ethics we hear it, and we read about it. Yet, I think we should talk it about more often! So, what does ethics really mean and why should we care? As staff members, we are expected to be ethical role models, on and off the job. Ethics is simply defined as, The rules or standards governing the conduct of the members of a profession and/or Any set of moral principles or values (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition). Simple? Not! I find it easier to break down the definition and select a key word values. Often, ethics and values can be mistaken as the same thing. A value is defined as, A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition). We uphold values based on our experiences and influences, which cause us to act accordingly. Below is a breakdown to help make sense of the difference between ethics and values:
Test Your Ethics: Shape Up or Ship Out! A Group Exercise To Try With Your Staff Team (1)
Five years ago, I presented a program on Ethics with my colleague and friend, Catrina Davis, and we had a blast putting together a program that would rock the boat and challenge RAs to be ethical role models. In our program, Shape Up or Ship Out! we asked RAs to rank order the following 7 statements from least offensive (1) to most offensive (7):
Then we asked them to rank order the following ethical issues from least offensive (1) to most offensive (10) as an RA on the job:
Tips for Making Ethical Decisions
I can assure you that the discussion that followed the program was enlightening and heated! But it reminded us that values and ethical role modeling mean different things to different people. As our personal values can affect the way we perform our jobs, we must understand that we are to help foster a living and learning environment that is welcoming, inclusive and just. How, you ask? If youve taken a look at your residence life staff manual lately, youll find countless policies and procedures to help you perform your job to the best of your ability. By understanding and following the policies and procedures that have been established for all residents and students, youll be on the right track in regards to ethical decision-making and positive role modeling.
In addition to reading your manual, if you are making or struggling with a decision, simply ask yourself these three questions taken from The Power of Ethical Management (Blanchard and Peale, 1988).
If you are not happy with the answers to these questions, then youre probably not making a good ethical decision for yourself.
When I need an ethical reality check, I always ask myself:
As my supervisor, Carol, shared with us every year at Camp, Every dilemma can be solved if we take time to reflect, seek guidance and put things into perspective. Ethical role modeling is an everyday choice. So, try it everybody does it!
About the Author
Susan Mead is enjoying her sixth year living and working in North Carolina. An Illinois native, Susan received her B.A. in English from Rockford College in '92, then moved to the wintry tundra of Wisconsin where she received her M.S.E. in College Student Personnel from UW-La Crosse in 1994. Susan currently serves as Assistant Director for Training, Staffing and Academic Initiatives for University Housing Services at East Carolina University.
(1) *The Shape Up or Ship Out program developed by Susan Mead and Catrina Davis was adapted from the 1998 SEAHO presentation by Jackie Carr, Judy Haas, and Tierza Watts Appalachian State University Department of Housing and Residence Life, Boone, NC.