Ethical Discipline?

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August 9, 2019  –

This week was really emotional…really, really hard. My internship site holds a week-long social justice retreat for high school students. It took place from August 5-8th, in Wirtz, Virginia. Additionally, we are not allowed to use technology for the entire day. The phone fairy picks up our phones at 7am and returns them at about 12am. It is my last night and I am using this reflection to debrief and analyze this year’s experience.

 

At this retreat, we educate the students about various identities which include: race, gender, sexual orientation, religious identity, ability status, class, and body image. We teach the students about the Cycle of Prejudice and task them with analyzing how they may perpetuate the cycle, and how they can be leaders in their schools and communities to fight it.

 

There was a particularly hard situation that came up at the retreat that has been tough. Briefly, a transgender student was present at camp this year. VCIC took the necessary steps to ensure the students comfort. The student wanted to live in living spaces with other young men, therefore VCIC Co-Directors arranged that. One of the nights, the boys were in their cabins talking about relationships. Karson, our trans student, identifies as bisexual and they continued their conversation and one of the other male students said, “If you hit on me, I will kill you.”. We have a non-tolerance policy for violent behavior or language, and if you engage in such behavior you are sent home.

 

For me, the way this situation played out…it brought up many ethical concerns for me. Essentially the student who made the threat was sent home but so was Karson. Karson was sent home first because they were also concerned for his safety. He punched a wall following the statement, which to me seemed like something that was justifiable after being offended by the hurtful comment. In a society that erases trans folks, this brought up concerns for me. Granted, I believe this was a very hard decision for the co-chairs to make but the end result was no tasteful. The kid who made the offensive comment to Karson, was able to say goodbye to the entire group and gave an apology, which was then glorified by the group. He didn’t state what he did and why he was going home, he merely stated that he had used his words in a hurtful way. On the other hand, Karson left in the middle of the night and was not able to say goodbye to the friends he had made at camp. He was erased and by the looks of it, it seemed punitive.

 

I find myself thinking about utilitarianism where the strong principle states that a moral action is one that maximizes utility, or happiness, for the greatest number of people. When the co-directors made this decision, I struggled to figure out who was benefiting from this decision and it wasn’t Karson. As an LGBTQ person, this situation hurts me, especially due to the fact that I was working so closely with Karson at camp this week in my Culture and Belief Group.

 

My overarching question/wonder: Are ethical practices and your feelings toward them contingent on your closeness/relatability to the situation? Had the co-directors thought about the long term affects this would have for Karson? When they decided to send both students home, did they think about how that would be received by other?

 

All in all, I wonder if VCIC had thought about the procedure around discipline as it related to possible problems at camp. Additionally, I wonder if they base it on any ethical theory. We have our staff debrief soon and their has already been a lot of conversation about how they handled this situation.

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