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Spring 2003

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Remember those all-night bull sessions in college? It was that kind of impassioned debate—about good and evil, art and war—that inspired a provocative forum for the Skidmore community in February. Organized by Honors Forum and the Periclean honor society, the three-night event called “Shades of Gray” drew a hallful of students and faculty eager to “analyze, question, and debate the standards that define our communal ethos and the consequent gray areas that attend our lives,” as the flyer put it.
     The series kicked off by airing an episode of HBO’s Sopranos, the popular mobster drama that explores cultural and ethical issues. In the episode screened, Tony Soprano’s Catholic-school son is caught sneaking sacramental wine into gym class; he wants to give the kid a good smack, but his psychiatrist urges treatment for attention-deficit disorder. For Justin Rogers-Cooper ’03, Honors Forum president and event co-organizer, the story raised a crucial question: “In a Prozac-Paxol culture, what is our responsibility?”

     “It was the students’ interest in the idea of responsibility that got this event going,” says Philip Boshoff, an English professor who directs Honors Forum. For the second session, he pitched headlines highlighting the ethical issues in news stories about power, sexism, racism, loyalty, and money. The third night, a panel of faculty, administrators, and students zeroed in on ethical tangles at Skidmore, such as academic cheating and binge drinking.
     “Some students feel that others don’t take responsibility for drug use, date rape, and vandalism,” notes Boshoff. Indeed, one student reported that “people often know who set off residence-hall fire alarms but don’t want to rat them out.” When someone suggested that students who smash things out of displaced rage might need counseling more than punishment, panelist Timothy Burns, who teaches government, strongly disagreed. “If we go that way, what’s lost is a sense of honor,” he argued. “It may sound harsh, but moral responsibility is at the center of human dignity.”

     That was just the kind of crossfire that event organizers wanted; for an encore, they planned a one-night “Shades of Gray II” for early April. —BAM

 


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