As a kid, I was always taught to do the right thing and stand up for what I believe in. I was told my friends and peers would back me up, and that often standing up would create the positive change I was looking for. What they don’t tell you is that the negative repercussions will also have a serious impact.
In high school, I can think of 2 distinctive times when I was faced with an ethical dilemma, and I acted on it. The first was an attempt to remove a corrupt, power-hungry teacher from the position he was in, or at least influence him in a way to create a level playing field for my classmates. I attempted talking to him as well as the principal, but in the end my efforts were fruitless. He stayed in power, and I was essentially alienated on top of having to work that much harder to ensure my grade came out the way I wanted it to. I was disappointed by the school system that I had previously held up, at least regards to the fact that I could make positive change within it.
A year or two passed, and the second opportunity arose. I was sitting in my AP Calculus class as my peers and I anxiously received the results of our first test. For most of us, they were worse than expected. For 2 kids in particular, though, they were talking up their successes gloatingly and disrespectfully. I was curious- not because they had gotten relatively better grades than everyone (the vast majority of the class was notably smart)-but because they were so eager to share their successes. The two students weren’t necessarily known for their humility, but their insistence on letting the class know they did so well was disconcerting. After talking to them, I came to find out that they had stolen the answers to the test and cheated during the exam. I didn’t think their above-average grades combined with their haughty attitudes were something that should go unnoticed, so I let the teacher know.
The social repercussions were potentially predictable, yet still devastating, at least to me personally. I began to be harassed during class, shunned outside of class, and was deserted by many of my so-called close friends. I was confused. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t expecting to remain in contact with many high school peers after graduation anyway, but I still didn’t quite understand. Why, after being told my whole life to stand up for what I believe in, was I getting such a negative response for what I had done?
Soon enough though, high school was over and such seemingly trivial things were in the past. I was going to CU, and I was going to be able to reset relationships, and I wouldn’t have to worry about ridiculous ethical issues involved with standing up for my personal education.
Recently, I am finding I was wrong.
Last week in my computing class, I was working on my lab early while another class was working on theirs. The lab was quite difficult, and there were many negative responses to the results of it. Instead of being told to turn their lab in, though, their TA instructed them that they would be given 2 extra days and a help sheet. “How interesting”, I thought. I was glad to know that our instructors backed us up if we were struggling. I proceeded to attend my lab and, like the previous lab, proceeded to become frustrated and unhappy with my lab results. But my TA instructed our lab to turn it in, as is. I was once again confused. I had to be at a meeting soon thereafter, so I didn’t hesitate; I simply turned in my code and left.
I was thought throughout the next few days that it wasn’t right that a particular set of students got 48 more hours than the rest of us to finish the same lab. All of us are paying exorbitant amounts of money to essentially compete against our peers, and such a blatant leg-up is clearly unfair. I proceeded to send the professor an email in which I explained that it was unethical for certain students to have an advantage, and that the lab should be dropped or the rest of the students were given extra time. The response I received summed to “CU doesn’t drop labs, they are not run that way”, but a few days later received an email that the entire class was given a few extra days to finish the lab. I was pleased with the result, but still concerned. I realized, what if I hadn’t said anything? What if I had not been to my lab early, or if I had simply decided to not speak up? How many blatantly unethical scenarios have disadvantaged a large group of students without them even knowing?
I am faced with another issue. I am going to follow through with it, speak to the teacher, and hopefully insight a positive change within a different class of mine. But the question still remains- when does it end? How much can I help? I have been re-confused recently because I can only impact the instances that I see and decide to impact. I thought that because I was paying extreme amounts of money to attend these classes, the teachers would all be top-notch and ethical decisions would not have to be dealt with. Unfortunately, I am faced with a blatantly different reality.
I am constantly questioning how much wrong goes on, and why. Why do certain people not speak up? Why do these seemingly easily preventable ethical issues occur in the first place? And should I act if such negative consequences are a possibility? I suppose I will carry on doing what I think is right, but if it pays off…only time will tell.