Lecture series abstracts

The racialized imagination and the practice of medicine

Patrick T. Smith, Theological Ethics and Bioethics, Duke University Divinity School

Health care in the United States, being a microcosm of the broader society in which it developed, possesses a mixed legacy. Along with advances that have helped many people, unfortunately, there remains a sordid legacy concerning racial prejudices, biases, and the perpetuation of health and health care disparities. And this, in many instances despite the best of intentions. How are health care professionals to understand the conceptual issues surrounding medical racism and racial justice? This talk describes the idea of a racialized imagination and how it continues to work itself out in the practice of medicine. It identifies categories and philosophical resources to help frame these issues to help ethically reimagine the work of health care.

Patrick T. Smith is associate research professor of theological ethics and bioethics and a senior fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. Smith was named a 2016-17 Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology and was the recipient of the 2019 Paul Ramsey Award for Excellence in Bioethics. Along with his work at the Divinity school, he is the director of bioethics for the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine and associate professor in population health sciences, Department of Health Sciences, Duke University Medical School. He has served as a member of the board of directors for the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities. His current research and writing are in the areas of moral philosophy, bioethics, theological ethics, end-of-life care, and the religious social ethics of Martin Luther King Jr. 

empathy for the dead

Ashley Atkins, Philosophy, Western Michigan University

There is a long tradition in philosophical discussions of grief of distinguishing between those aspects of grief that reflect our concern for the dead and those that reflect our concern for ourselves. The Stoics turned this into an art, exploiting this distinction in arguments designed to convince those in grief that their grief doesn’t, in fact, reflect their concern for the welfare of the dead. The distinction has been revived in more recent philosophical discussions, which are dominated by “agent-centered” views –  according to which the loss to be grieved is a loss from the perspective of the bereaved – and “object-centered” views – according to which it is an objective loss of life that is to be grieved.

Atkins argues that this longstanding distinction is an artificial one with respect to many core aspects of grief. She proposes that these are better captured by the assumption that much of what we would call grief should be understood as a kind of empathy for the dead, involving boundary-crossing experiences that confound any clear demarcation between self and other. Our empathy with the dead lies behind otherwise puzzling aspects of grief, from our anxieties concerning the cold and dark of the grave to the experience of seeing one’s own death with the eyes of the dead.

Ashley Atkins received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. She is an assistant professor in Western Michigan University’s Department of Philosophy. This fall she will be teaching an undergraduate course on the topic of grief and a graduate course that explores philosophical engagements with tragedy in art in life. She is currently working on a book of philosophical essays on grief.

A Conversation about Ethics and Carceral Higher Education

Rebecca Ginsburg, Education Justice Project, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with Dale Brown, Prison Education Outreach Program, Western Michigan University

Despite the proven benefits of higher education for incarcerated people, existing college-in-prison programs serve only a small fraction of those individuals who want and need it.  Though the U.S. Congress recently reversed the ban on Pell Grants for people who are incarcerated, much work needs to be done to ensure that future programs (whether funded through student Pell Grants or otherwise) are providers of equitable, humanizing, quality higher education. Luckily, a number of well-established programs (such as the University of Illinois’ Education Justice Project) have long led the way toward these ends and have garnered insights that can help all of us process the benefits of carceral higher education.

This conversation will address various issues related to college-in-prison programming, including Ginsburg’s involvement with the Education Justice Project, the prioritization of humanization as a guiding principle, some commonly misunderstood aspects of higher education for justice-involved people, the role that universities (can) play in establishing and maintaining programs, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the educational experience of students and teachers, and more.

Rebecca Ginsburg is a co-founder and current director of the Education Justice Project (EJP), a unit of the University of Illinois. EJP is a comprehensive college-in-prison program that supports critical awareness of incarceration and re-entry, with special focus on the responsibility of institutions of higher education to engage systems-involved individuals during and after incarceration. Ginsburg received her bachelor’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, and a Ph.D. in architectural history from the University of California at Berkeley. It was while she was a graduate student at Berkeley that she first became involved in prison education. Her most recent book is an edited collection called Critical Perspectives on Teaching in Prison (Routledge 2019). She is currently working on a prison abolition reader (Lynne Rienner 2022).

Dale Brown is a Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Studies program and an M.A. student in the Educational Foundations program at Western Michigan University, where he is also a research assistant in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Studies and a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy. He received a bachelor’s degree in management from Northwood University, a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Central Michigan University, and a master’s degree in philosophy from Western Michigan University. Brown is the founder and director of the WMU Prison Education Outreach Program and teaches philosophy at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan.

A Conversation about Ethics and Political Rhetoric

Peter Loge, Project on Ethics in Political Communication, The George Washington University, with Sandra L. Borden, Center for the Study of Ethics in Society, Western Michigan University

In our highly polarized society, political rhetoric has become pervasive and aggressive, often deceptive and sometimes harmful. Recent examples include elected officials spreading Q-Anon and other conspiracy theories and dismissing the proven effectiveness of masks and vaccines in the fight against COVID. President Biden’s framing of the Afghanistan withdrawal has come in for criticism because of its inconsistencies with reporting on the ground. Most controversially, former President Trump’s provocative comments leading up to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have been characterized as "incitement of insurrection."

It is not just politicians -- and their speechwriters and allies -- who make questionable decisions about political communication. Before officials even win office, there are ethical decisions to be made about advocacy and campaigning. For example, is it ethical to use personalized data to hit voters with micro-targeted political ads? What if these ads use appeals to fear or spread misinformation? And what about tech platforms and media organizations that host political rhetoric? Should they circulate op-eds and posts that contradict democratic principles or glamorize violence? This conversation will address these ethical issues related to political rhetoric, Loge’s work with the Project on Ethics in Political Communication, and more.

Peter Loge is the associate director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, the director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication, and a strategic consultant. He has spent more than 25 years working in politics and strategic communication. His experience includes serving in senior staff positions in the U.S. House and Senate and at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the end of the Obama Administration. Loge has been featured in national and international media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, Fox News, Sinclair and Al Jazeera. His 2018 edited volume, Political Communication Ethics: Theory and Practice, is the first book to bring together perspectives on political communication ethics from leading scholars and practitioners.

Sandra L. Borden is a professor in the School of Communication at Western Michigan University, where she also directs the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society and coaches the Ethics Bowl team. Her specialties are media and communication ethics. Her books are the award-winning Journalism as Practice: MacIntyre, Virtue Ethics and the Press (2007, Ashgate; 2009, Routledge); Ethics and Entertainment: Essays on Media Culture and Media Morality (co-edited with Howard Good, 2010, McFarland), Making Hard Choices in Journalism Ethics (with David Boeyink, 2010, Routledge), Ethics and Error in Medicine (co-edited with Fritz Allhoff, 2019, Routledge), and The Routledge Companion to Media and Poverty (2022).