The Rock Ethics Institute

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Previous Faculty Fellows

by Rebecca Bennitt Sep 05, 2018

Gary John Adler, Jr.

Gary John Adler, Jr.

Assistant Professor, Sociology

Project: Producing Empathy and Making Distance Disappear: The Organizational Structure and Tactics of the “New Global Civic Engagement”

My fellowship research will analyze the rise of the “new global civic engagement” (NGCE), a phase of transnational civil society characterized by face-to-face, short-term interactions between U.S. residents and foreign citizens.

Sociologists have documented numerous organizational structures that Western publics developed in response to distant social problems over the past two centuries. These included large humanitarian organizations focused on aid, like the Red Cross, and social movements focused on political change, like the World Social Forum. By contrast, the NGCE is decentralized across social institutions like colleges and congregations; fosters pragmatic charitable and awareness-raising activities; and attempts to make distance “disappear” for ordinary Americans through travel or social media. Examples include alternative spring breaks, short-term mission trips, intensive study-abroad experiences, domestic tours by foreign speakers, and transnational social media interactions.

Millions of Americans each year can come into direct contact with foreign persons and their social problems. The cosmopolitan promise of such engagement has been broadly embraced by many U.S. social institutions. However, there are important ethical reasons to query the NGCE. First, short-term engagement is unlikely to build the thick understanding that many social theorists see lacking in a globalized world. Second, the ideals of the NGCE, such as participation and partnership, are difficult to realize or hold accountable. Third, this new way of engaging “the world” appears to encourage an approach to suffering that is personal and pragmatic, but not focused on the political dimensions of justice.

During the fellowship, I will develop a theoretical framework to understand the techniques that non-profit organizations use to produce empathy as part of the NGCE. Non-profit organizations in the U.S. tend to produce foreign-focused empathy using three tactics: information dissemination, face-to-face conversation, and simulation of the life conditions of others. Using the Rock’s inter-disciplinary resources, I will theorize how these strategies encounter distinct problems and produce different empathic outcomes.

This framework will guide a grant proposal for further empirical study of the variations and outcomes of these three tactics. When fully funded, that research will analyze how the characteristics of non-profit organizations (size, religious affiliation, longevity, etc.), their issue agendas (human rights, gender, development, education, environment, etc.), and their preferred action templates (fundraising, letter-writing, child-adoption, volunteerism, tutoring, etc.) shape their empathy tactical repertoires.

The results of this research have broad implications for understanding how Americans, especially young adults, understand and become committed, or not, to global social issues and attempts to address them.



Martin  T.  Pietrucha

Martin T Pietrutcha

Professor of Civil Engineering

Project:

The interaction of people with other people, places, products, services is fundamental to human existence. Maintaining personal and professional relationships, experiencing all this planet has to offer in terms of natural and human-made beauty, and availing ourselves of all of the activities associated with daily life are "endemic” to the human condition, both in the past and today. In the past, however, to engage in activities people had to move themselves or things to derive the benefits associated with activities. Since the advent of the signal fire, drum, and semaphore, the development of communication technologies have routinely and progressively outstripped humans’ ability to move in space (i.e., communications “move” faster than transport).

In an age of abundant resources and negligible external costs, on-demand animal-powered and fossil-based transport posed few ethical issues other than safety. Now, in an age of limited resources and potentially catastrophic externalities, movement, by almost any means, other than human-powered, risks geopolitical conflicts and environmental disasters on a scale previously unimagined. In an age when sophisticated information and communications technologies have the potential to supplant movement-based activity pursuit, shouldn’t we be considering the need, nature, and impact of every interaction?

This topic will be explored to determine the extent of the ethical dimensions of this issue. Communication, transport, and access weave a complicated moral texture. Whenever we move or have something of ours move, and, conversely, when we prevent someone from moving, or something of theirs from moving, we are making ethical choices. Dr. Pietrucha will review relevant literature and engage multiple ethical experts in discussions about these topics. A second dimension is determining what level of societal and individual behavioral change is possible in converting activities based on mobility into activities based on communication. Dr. Pietrucha will employ focus groups and online, opt-in survey techniques to probe the prospect of behavioral change.



Jeffrey M. Catchmark

Jeffrey M. Catchmark

Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Dr. Catchmark has developed a strong interest in ethical leadership and decision-making (ELDM) which continues to be a key issue in our society. ELDM is needed to address critical social and socio-technological problems ranging from climate change to global conflict. Our modern world brings new issues such as technological complexity, cultural diversity, and rapid change beyond our society’s ability to respond. Most importantly, unethical decision-making today in particular areas could have unprecedented long-term negative consequences for our civilization.

The roots of unethical behavior remain elusive due to the complex nature of human behavior. Many personal and social factors influence an individual’s decision-making process. With so many factors in play, effective solutions, especially those capable of realizing positive short-term change, are difficult to identify and implement. Consistent with the complexity of this situation, no one solution can be credibly imagined and real change in ELDM will likely arise from interventions on many venues from new research to education to new management practices to public engagement to policymaking.

As a Faculty Fellow of the Rock, Dr. Catchmark will work toward making measurable improvements in ELDM through efforts in ethics education, ELDM research, and ELDM policymaking. In the area of ethics education, through funding from the College of Engineering, a new ethics curriculum will be developed and integrated into the Biological Engineering (BE) undergraduate program. The objective is to provide a much deeper experience which coherently spans the 4 semesters of the BE students’ junior and senior years. Content areas may include the philosophy of ethics and perhaps epistemology with the goal of developing deeper analytical and critical thinking; moral and behavioral psychology as it shapes the perception and application of ethics; applied ethics, specifically relating to contextual questions relevant to the biological engineer; and experiences which allow students to apply what they have learned to real-world problems. ELDM research will focus on the application of behavioral psychology to the development of processes for ethical leadership and decision-making. Specifically, process leader models managing and driving decision making through a defined organizational and procedural methodology that addresses issues of voice, diversity, personality, moral disengagement, groupthink, and other factors will be explored. The goal is to create an ethical decision-making framework that can be broadly implemented in a variety of industrial, government and university settings via policy.



Rosemary Jolly

Rosemary Jolly

Professor, Weiss Chair of the Humanities in Literature and Human Rights

Project: "Bodymapping"

In terms of work as a Rock Fellow, Dr. Jolly is initiating her work on Bodymapping as a combined program of prevention and treatment of gender-based violence, including sexual assault and rape. Bodymapping is a technique in which victim-survivors answer a series of questions about themselves, their scars (physical and psychological), and their sources of resilience and strength. They do this by literally mapping areas of vulnerability and social support on a large map they draw of an outline of their bodies. The process involves up to 10 survivors, building their sense of their embodied sense of how they see their bodies and how they see the community interacting with them as victim-survivors. No one needs to do an artist to do this, and the materials we offer are basic: newsprint, collage, paint and the like. Body-mappers report increased self-esteem and self-knowledge in the wake of the Bodymapping experience, which can build solidarity across the cohort of survivors. Not only are the resulting maps often beautiful and always compelling. The maps we will garner from a Bodymapping initiative we shall undertake in collaboration with CAPS and the Center for Women Students, with the permission of their creators, will be used for facilitated discussions about the embodied suffering of survivors of sexual abuse and assault with a variety of campus groups, both male and female, from athletics teams to Greek life.



Sarah Clark Miller

Sarah Clark Miller

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Bioethics, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Project: "Ethics and Engineering"

I am serving as a consultant for the reapplication of a National Science Foundation Creating Cultures of Ethical STEM grant that I originally wrote and served as PI on for the 2015 application. I have advised the new PI on revisions to the grant that respond to the criticisms raised in the reviewers’ comments on last year’s grant. In addition, I am working with Xiaofeng (Denver) Tang, a postdoctoral scholar of the Rock Ethics Institute and Tom Litzinger, Director of the Leonard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering, on several conference paper submissions that stem from the ethics workshop that we designed last spring for Penn State University graduate students involved with the National Science Foundation’s Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST). We hope to present this research a multiple national-level conferences.

Project: "Ethics and Sexual Violence"

I am a member of the REACH (Research Engagement and Community Healing), a research team focused on gender-based violence. In this capacity, I work with Rosemary Jolly, Weiss Chair of the Humanities, who will be a faculty fellow of the Rock next year. REACH is currently developing an innovative body mapping project designed to aid sexual violence victim-survivors in their recovery after sexual assault. Along with efforts to get this program up and running, we are conducting primary work on grants that will support this and other REACH projects. To this end, I will be conducting research to identify and develop preliminary materials for grant applications to entities such as the National Institutes of Health. For example, I am currently exploring the relationship between biomarkers and populations experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from sexual violence to determine what a grant that employs the use of biomarkers can demonstrate regarding potential stress reduction through the body mapping project. We are also in the early stages of exploring grant possibilities related to extremism, masculinity, and sexual violence in youth populations. This research is being conducted in conjunction with Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair in Community, Leadership, and Youth Development and Professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences. REACH is also currently writing articles together. We are presently focusing on the importance of understanding campus sexual assault in the context of broader structural accounts of sexual assault. One aspect of my work on ethics and sexual violence as a Rock faculty fellow began last semester when I agreed to serve on the hiring committee for the Rock co-funded hire with the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department on sexual violence and ethics. My work on this committee has continued into the present semester.

Finally, I wrote “Can Plato Help Us Pick the Next President?” a contribution to the Rock’s Ask an Ethicist column on the topic of ethical leadership in contemporary democracy.