Berkeley Connect http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu You Belong Here Mon, 16 Mar 2020 20:52:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/cropped-Berkeley-Connect_logo_ONLY_512-32x32.jpg Berkeley Connect http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu 32 32 Keeping Berkeley Connect Students Healthy: COVID-19 Updates http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/keeping-berkeley-connect-students-healthy/ Wed, 11 Mar 2020 00:34:58 +0000 http://berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2901 Berkeley Connect is all about face-to-face human interaction. Right now we need to get creative in order to keep our sense of community going strong, while supporting efforts to limit coronavirus (COVID-19) risk on campus.

From March 10 through the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, Berkeley Connect small-group meetings and one-on-one mentoring sessions will be held via the Zoom video conferencing platform rather than in-person. Field trips and special events have been cancelled.

Berkeley Connect mentors are in regular communication with students with more details on how to connect. You can also contact the central office with any questions at berkeleyconnect@berkeley.edu.

More information about staying physically and mentally healthy can be found here on the University Health Services website.

Take care and be well!

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Big Give is coming! You can help Berkeley Connect win! http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/mark-your-calendars-big-give-is-coming-march-12th/ Tue, 03 Mar 2020 18:26:23 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2887

  • Has a Berkeley Connect mentor made a difference for you?
  • Have you made some new friends through Berkeley Connect?
  • Did Berkeley Connect open your eyes to new opportunities?
  • Has participating in Berkeley Connect made this big university feel a little smaller?
  • Would you like a way to show your appreciation and support?

YOU can help Berkeley Connect by entering quick and easy social media contests during Big Give, UC Berkeley’s annual fundraising blitz, on March 11-12, 2020. These contests are free to enter, and the programs that win get cash prizes and campus bragging rights. NO DONATION NECESSARY!

Easiest contests to enter:

  • Starting March 11 at 9pm (ends March 12, 9am): Post on Twitter or Instagram and fill in the blank: “I support #BerkeleyConnect for #CalBigGive because _________.” On Instagram, be sure to tag @UC Berkeley. Random post will be chosen to win cash prize for a program! The more entries we have, the more chances to win!
  • Starting March 12 at 12pm (ends 5pm): post on Twitter or Instagram a Cal Throwback Thursday (TBT) photo with #TBT, #BerkeleyConnect, and #CalBigGive. On Instagram, be sure to tag @UC Berkeley. Random post will be chosen to win cash prize for a program! The more entries we have, the more chances to win!
  • Starting March 12 at 2pm (ends 3pm): Post on Twitter or Instagram and fill in the blank: “Thank you Cal for _____________________.” Make sure to include #CalBigGive and #BerkeleyConnect. On Instagram, be sure to tag @UC Berkeley. Random post will be chosen to win cash prize for a program! The more entries we have, the more chances to win!

Let’s make this even easier:

You can pre-schedule your posts to automatically appear on Twitter at the right time!

Simply compose a tweet as normal in the textbox, then click on the calendar icon to the right of the emoji selection panel to open the scheduling function. Select the date and time you want your tweet to published, click confirm, and click the schedule button that has replaced your normal tweet button!

On Instagram, you can save posts as drafts, set a reminder on your phone for the time the contest opens, then log back on and post your draft when the time comes.

Be a Berkeley Connect ambassador and round up some friends to enter the contests too. The more entries, the better our chances to win!

And of course, you can also make a donation to Berkeley Connect and/or invite your friends and family to do so.

We greatly appreciate every post, donation, or share, as every dollar we receive this Big Give is a dollar that goes towards spreading the Berkeley Connect message: you belong here.

THANK YOU for helping this be our best Big Give yet!

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Environmental Conservation: How to Make the Right Decisions http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/environmental-conservation-how-to-make-the-right-decisions/ Mon, 02 Mar 2020 22:43:47 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2870 Imagine that you and a small group of conservationists must decide which lifeforms are most important to save from the brink of extinction. It’s a horrible task to be given; the extinction of any living thing is a tragedy and could cause immense damage. The web of biodiversity that connects ecosystems with their inhabitants, and predators with their prey, means that any single small alteration to the food chain or change in an environment could cause a ripple effect that might destroy that ecosystem entirely. Thankfully for students at a recent Berkeley Connect ESPM meeting, the stakes were purely hypothetical. Nevertheless, mentor Allie Byrne wanted students to take a swing at making the kind of tough decisions that conservationists face every day.

Each student picked a lifeform then joined a group of eight to decide the relative importance of each one. The exercise required students to assume that every creature was on the brink of extinction. Students picked a wide array of animals and plants ranging from grizzly bears and African elephants to eucalyptus trees and coral reefs.

The first rankings were based on how each group viewed the importance of their selections with no specific guidelines. Students discussed a variety of angles, with some highlighting the importance of oxygen production while others focused on preserving biodiversity. Ultimately, students tended to prioritize animals over plants in their final rankings, with one group ranking the preservation of polychaete worms as the highest priority due to their importance on the food chain for marine life, followed by grizzly bears and African elephants for the ecological role each plays in its habitat. The bottom of their ranking contained magnolia trees, roses, and avocados due to their comparative lack of importance to any particular biosphere. The second group of students prioritized coral reefs, gray wolves, and bats as the most important. UC Berkeley students may be dismayed to find out that squirrels ranked second to last in this group’s rankings!

After justifying their choices, students were assigned a new criterion: Economic importance. This changed many of the rankings significantly, with roses and avocados now topping the first group’s rankings. Japanese cherry blossoms shifted from least important to second most important in the other group, though coral reefs remained the most highly prioritized due to tourism and ocean sustainability.

The final criterion was just for fun: Ranking each set of lifeforms by their cuteness. This time, squirrels finally topped the rankings for one group while roses remained high on the list of the other group. Sadly for the polychaete worms, they came in dead last.

Despite being a thought experiment rather than a real conservation effort, this exercise did a great job of demonstrating how drastically different prioritization of a plant or animal can be depending on what framework is used. These conflicting angles make it all the more difficult to make the sorts of momentous decisions that are required of conservationists, governments, and NGOs. This “conservationist for a day” activity is a great one to do by yourself or with others, as it offers a starting point for important dialogues around environmentalism and conservation.

posted by Dylan McIlvenna-Davis, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant (Class of ’20)

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Architecture as Activism http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/architecture-as-activism/ Fri, 14 Feb 2020 20:25:04 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2850 It’s not every day that the work of a UC Berkeley professor becomes a viral sensation. Professor Ronald Rael spoke to Berkeley Connect Architecture students about a recent project that thrust him into the national spotlight and shared with them how the work emerged from his personal background and passions.

Growing up near the border of New Mexico and Colorado, Rael got his first taste of architectural work building homes for members of his community with his father. Despite having an evident passion for architectural work, Rael described his perception of college as being only a place for future lawyers and doctors. When he enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he began a path towards Pre-Med, before discovering the world of architecture both in classes and in the world around him. His passion returned and he excelled in his architectural classes, earning his Bachelor of Environmental Design as a top student. Rael went on to pursue a Master of Architecture at Columbia University. He laughed when recalling his youthful confusion between the country of Columbia and Columbia University.

One of Professor Rael’s key focuses has been the US-Mexico border, an area he argues has been hugely misrepresented by the national news media. Instead of a dangerous wasteland filled with criminals, Rael described the border as a place that thousands call home, including many families. That’s why, when he witnessed large amounts of steel being transported to reinforce the border throughout his youth and early adulthood, he became fascinated by this boundary. Over the course of his career, he has dug into the architecture of the border wall to better understand the tensions surrounding it. One of his most famous contributions to the discussion was the design of a teeter-totter situated between the border, with one half on the United States and the other on Mexico.

This design earned Rael much praise for its innovative approach to activism, highlighting the rhetorical misunderstanding of the border as a dangerous and inhumane place. Rael wasn’t comfortable with the praise he received for his design, however, as he felt that the design was empty without practical implementation. He recounted his attempts to reach out to the Department of Homeland Security with different design proposals, which were met with firm denials each time. In a stroke of luck, a Mexican art collective reached out to Rael and offered to construct the teeter-totter themselves. With their help, he was able to turn his vision into reality in 2019.

Once construction was complete, Rael was tasked with setting up the teeter-totter on the border, a difficult and frightening proposal given the border tensions stirred up in the wake of the 2016 election and increased scrutiny of the border. Despite his reservations, Rael reminded himself that activists must be prepared to be arrested for what they believe in. Armed with this knowledge and the fully constructed teeter-totter, Rael and some friends made their way to the border and set up their creation.

The event was a massive success, with a high rate of participation. Children eagerly took turns on the teeter-totter on both sides of the border, while their mothers watched close by. Rael recalled his concern when, within ten minutes, US Border Patrol agents showed up to the figure out what was going on. Thankfully, the agents were sympathetic to the cause and stood by watching and taking pictures. The Mexican National Guard arrived soon after and similarly didn’t intervene.

Quickly, the images and footage from the demonstration went viral, generating an outpouring of support. The message of the project had obviously struck a chord with people in both countries and helped to create an oasis of peace amidst the tension. In the face of child separations and increased border wall development, this provided a sliver of hope to residents at the border with a rare moment of unity between the two countries.

Architecture is a craft that Professor Rael described as having lost its social agency, serving more often as a tool of corporations and uniformity. While he explained that there was nothing wrong with corporate or capitalistic architecture, he believes that architecture must rediscover that social agency to make the world a better place. He argues that architects “don’t design walls, they design the space between walls.” Through his work, he has quite literally designed the space between physical and ideological walls.

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Where do I go for the first day of Berkeley Connect? http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/where-do-i-go-for-the-first-day-of-berkeley-connect/ Fri, 17 Jan 2020 00:36:36 +0000 http://berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2807

Did you enroll in Berkeley Connect, or hope to enroll? Are you trying to figure out where to go the first week? Most Berkeley Connect program kicks off with a welcome event; sections begin meeting the following week at the date/time/location listed in the schedule of classes. Check the schedule below for the date, time, and location of the welcome event you are looking for; information will be updated as it becomes available. Semester plans with a detailed week-by-week schedule will be posted on each program’s bCourses site, and on our website under Participating Departments.

African American Studies: Thursday, January 23, 5pm and 6pm, Gender & Women’s Studies Conference Room, 602 Barrows Hall

Architecture: Thursday, January 30, 6pm, Wurster Hall, room TBA

Comparative Literature: Wednesday, January 22, 5pm and 6pm, 4104 Dwinelle Hall

English:Wednesday, January 22, 6-7:30pm, Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall

Environmental Science, Policy & Management (ESPM): Wednesday, January 22, 12-1pm, Morgan Hall Lounge

Ethnic Studies: Thursday, January 23, 5pm and 6pm, Gender & Women’s Studies Conference Room, 602 Barrows Hall

History: Welcome/kick off will be at first section meetings, January 21 and 22, 3205 Dwinelle

Math: Thursday, January 23, 7-8:30pm, 1015 Evans Hall

Music:  Wednesday, January 22, 5:30-6:45pm, 117 Morrison Hall

Philosophy:Tuesday, January 21, 5-6pm, Howison Library, Moses Hall

Physics:  Wednesday, January 29, 12-1pm, 251 LeConte, or Thursday, January 30, 12:30-1:30pm, 375 LeConte

Sociology: Wednesday, January 22, 5pm, 420 Barrows Hall

Social Welfare: Thursday, January 23, 4pm and 5pm, Haviland Commons

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From Discovery to Disappointment: A Learning Experience in Physics Research http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/from-discovery-to-disappointment-a-learning-experience-in-physics-research/ Tue, 17 Dec 2019 23:13:39 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2799 Ever been in this situation? You have an opinion or an idea and you just know you’re right. You set out to prove it, and all the facts you line up seem to prove your side of the story. This is confirmation bias– the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. 

Even scientists who pride themselves on being objective and evidence-based are susceptible, as physicist Walter Ogburn learned the hard way. In a recent talk given to students in the Berkeley Connect Physics program, Ogburn brought students along with him on a heartbreaking journey from discovery to disappointment. 

Ogburn was a member of a team of elite scientists working on the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP) 2 telescope. The BICEP project was focused on Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the study of the conditions of the universe when atoms first began to form—the time of the “big bang.” It aimed to measure the B-modes of polarization present in the CMB. Multiple iterations of BICEP telescopes were attempting to find evidence for cosmic inflation theories that claim the universe expanded by 100 trillion times in less than the blink of an eye during the formation of atoms. Confirmation of these theories would be huge news for cosmology and our understanding of the creation of the universe. On March 17th, 2014, the BICEP 2 team announced that they had discovered primordial B-modes consistent with the theories of cosmic inflation–something that they believed would change cosmology forever. The announcement was covered in the scientific press as “Nobel-worthy.”

In the data-heavy slides Ogburn presented, he made his case for his team’s discovery, based on data collected from the BICEP 2 over a three-year period. All the projections looked right and all the signs pointed towards the definitive existence of these primordial B-modes. 

Unfortunately, as Ogburn described, the team turned out to be wrong. They had used an inapplicable measurement level for cosmic dust that gave a false positive for primordial B-modes. What the team had announced was likely the presence of cosmic dust that, when viewed through the right lens, appeared to be consistent with primordial B-modes. In a subsequent joint investigation with another team of astronomers, Ogburn and his colleagues confirmed what they had already feared, their findings were not what they seemed. In what felt like a tragic retraction, the evidence critically important to the cosmic inflation theories was snatched away. 

Despite this sad turn of events, the researchers at BICEP have not given up hope, and further iterations of BICEP have been deployed in the quest for data. 

Ultimately, Ogburn described this turn of events as a learning experience. An “instrumental bias” towards the set of tools that the team was working with, and a tendency to work only with the things with which they were familiar, were two possible areas of weakness that Ogburn identified. These biases led to the critical cosmic dust measurements being overlooked and the data inadvertently manipulated. Ogburn’s advice to aspiring scientists was to check for such biases and fight them at every opportunity to avoid a similar situation. 

It is not every day that a momentous-seeming scientific discovery is retracted, and it is even rarer to hear one of the scientists involved in such a retraction speak frankly about the experience. Berkeley Connect students got a unique behind-the-scenes view at the intersection of the scientific method and human fallibility. All students at Berkeley are encouraged to seek out “discovery experiences.”  Ogburn’s story was a powerful reminder that the path to discovery is not always straightforward, and can require the ability to learn from one’s mistakes.

posted by Dylan McIlvenna-Davis, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant (Class of ’20)

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How to Cite the FBI, and Other Challenges for the Historian http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/how-to-cite-the-fbi-and-other-challenges-for-the-historian/ Fri, 13 Dec 2019 00:35:08 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2795

Citations are the bane of many a student, absolutely critical yet seemingly so hard to master. In a recent Berkeley Connect in History discussion, mentor and recent History PhD-recipient Camilo Lund-Montano helped students understand the tricky world of citing using the Chicago Manual of Style, the accepted standard for historical writing. 

Lund-Montano acclimated students to the ins and outs of using Chicago citations, using the helpful guides provided by the Chicago Manual of Style Online. This tool acts as a quick reference for anyone looking to figure out how to cite anything and everything using Chicago citations. For example, citing a full book as a note goes like this: John Smith [First and last name of your author, in that order], A Traveler’s Guide [Book title], (Berkeley [City of Publication], UC Press [Publisher], 2019 [date]), 47-93 [Pages Cited]. 

While this system may seem convoluted initially, plug a few books or other written works in using the guidelines provided and it’ll become second nature in no time! Feeling bogged down having to re-cite the same source over and over again in a paper? Make use of citation shortcut “Ibid.” Latin for ibidem or “in the same place,” this term lets readers know that you are reusing a source cited immediately prior. If you ever feel uncertain that you’re doing it right, don’t be shy about using citation websites such as CitationMachine to iron out any kinks in your citations. 

An important distinction in the realm of history is that of primary versus secondary sources. A primary source comes directly from a period of history, such as a first-hand account of events that took place. A secondary source is an analysis of primary sources that might try to provide context or additional explanation. Both are key for historians in their research: primary sources are the foundation of historical analysis and secondary sources identify new possibilities and paths of research. Of course, both sets of sources must be cited, but how do they differ?

The Berkeley Connect students worked as groups to create citations for decades-old primary sources ranging from FBI memorandums and New York Times articles to survival guides and personal letters. The takeaway? It’s a lot harder to cite a primary source than a secondary one! Some of the challenges include the lack of clear titles, the inability to decipher authors, and the vague nature of some publishing dates. With a secondary source, the work has already been done for you, as these are usually published books in which it is easy to find the authors, dates, titles, and other details necessary to create a full citation. Nevertheless, primary sources are critical to historical research, so it is necessary to scrape as much information as possible from whatever source you are using to create your citation! 

History helps us better understand the world around us, as it was hundreds of years ago and as it is today. As historians discover and develop new sources, this understanding continually evolves. Citations can seem like an annoying part of the process, but they are vital to good research, as they create a path that allows others to follow in your footsteps and build upon your work. 

posted by Dylan McIlvenna-Davis, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant (Class of ’20)

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The Good, the Bad, and the Unhelpful: Using Feedback to Grow as a Writer http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/the-good-the-bad-and-the-unhelpful-using-feedback-to-grow-as-a-writer/ Tue, 26 Nov 2019 00:37:14 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2784 Ever received a comment on something you wrote that really helped you? What about something that really didn’t help or just confused the heck out of you? We’ve all gotten feedback on our work, whether in school or in the workplace. What we make of that feedback can mean everything for growing as a writer, and that central tenet is exactly what Berkeley Connect English Mentor and PhD candidate Michelle Ripplinger emphasized in a recent small-group discussion meeting.

During the discussion, Ripplinger posed two questions to the group: What has been some of the most helpful feedback you’ve received, and what has been the most unhelpful or confusing feedback you’ve been given?

Many students were excited to share their most memorable instances of good and bad feedback and provided some insightful answers to both questions. One student recalled his first college writing assignment: He felt confident he’d written an excellent essay, only to find “So what?” written on the front page of his paper. While the comment appeared at first to be an instance of unhelpful feedback, the student reviewed the rest of the comments and discovered that the teacher was trying to tell him that he had done a good job formulating a question or revealing a trend but hadn’t answered the question his paper set out to ask. This student had been “caught up in the weeds” and had failed to make his paper as meaningful as it could be. The takeaway? All writing that poses a question should be seeking to answer it!

Another student shared her favorite piece of feedback from her community college days, explaining that her writing had the habit of being tangent-filled, answering too many questions or not finishing all her thoughts. One of her teachers summed it up by stating, “It’s better to say something rather than saying nothing by trying to say everything.” This idea resonated with many students who had similar issues in the past.

When tasked with opening up about confusing or unhelpful feedback, students exasperatedly shared stories that ranged from frustrating to hilarious. One student shared a story of a teacher simply writing a question mark on the very first page of her paper, only adding the qualifier of “vague” at a later point. This seemed to be a common trend of unhelpful feedback, with students remembering many times they received unhelpful and unexplanatory comments in the margins of their work, strikethroughs without explanation, or other bits of feedback that couldn’t be used to grow as a writer.

Ripplinger recommended students to always speak directly with their teacher or GSI when they found feedback to be confusing or unhelpful, since this is the easiest and quickest way to resolve problems and prevent future ones. Overall, she reiterated the importance of taking feedback seriously and using it as a chance to grow as a writer and as a student. Not all feedback is helpful, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed until you get an explanation!

If you’ve ever had to submit work for review, whether it be academic or otherwise, you have received feedback. Sometimes, that feedback is great and helps you the next time you submit work. Sometimes, you might get a big red “?” on your hard work. Nevertheless, make of it what you can and always strive to be better in what you do. Even the most experienced writers can benefit from editorial feedback, so think of it as a gift rather than a “gotcha!”

posted by Dylan McIlvenna-Davis, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant (Class of ’20)

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Hotels, Social Media, and Logic: How Math Paradoxes Disrupt our World http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/hotels-social-media-and-logic-how-math-paradoxes-disrupt-our-world/ Tue, 19 Nov 2019 00:34:45 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2778

Berkeley Connect Math students work together to solve a paradox.

The world is a confusing place and we humans struggle to parse all the information thrown at us on a daily basis. The one thing we can rely on through all our struggles is logic and problem-solving skills, right? Not so fast! In a recent Berkeley Connect Math discussion, Berkeley Connect Mentor and math PhD candidate Kubrat Danailov explored the crazy world of paradoxes: times when logic fails and problems become irresolvable.

During this discussion, Danailov introduced students to a series of mathematical paradoxes, each one a

complicated brain-teaser waiting to be solved, including the Achilles and the Tortoise paradox, Hilbert’s Hotel, Russel’s Paradox, and the Social Media paradox. How do these paradoxes work exactly?

Imagine a hotel with infinitely many rooms and in each room is a guest. Logically, you might think that this hotel is full, but mathematician David Hilbert would beg to differ. In the aptly named “Hilbert’s Hotel” paradox, a guest being in every room doesn’t mean new guests can’t fit, and as Danailov explained, the hotel can fit an infinite number of new guests. How is this possible? Students pondered this question in groups, attempting to identify the resolution to such a paradox. The answer is simpler than you might think!

Because there are infinite rooms, guests can be accommodated through the simple shifting of guests from room to room. If a new guest arrives at the hotel, each guest currently in the hotel will be shifted one room down to accommodate the new arrival. Guest #1 in room #1 moves to room #2 while guest #2, formerly in room #2 moves to room #3 and so on, to infinity. What if, however, an infinite number of guests were to arrive at the hotel, all wanting a room? Instead of shifting every guest one room over, each guest now moves to a room twice as high a number as they are. In other words, guest #1 will move to room #2, guest #2 will move to room #4, guest #3 will move to room #6, and so on to infinity! This leaves all odd-numbered rooms accessible to the infinite number of new guests, resolving the paradox.

Students discussed the concept of infinity in-depth amongst themselves, as it related to solving Hilbert’s Hotel. This paradox helps to illustrate that infinity + infinity = infinity, as does infinity * infinity + infinity = infinity, making clear just how large a concept infinity is.

Also discussed during this section was the Social Media paradox, a social phenomenon that people experience when they realize that most of the people on their friend’s list, on average, have more friends than they do, which contradicts people’s belief that they have more friends than their friends do. These perceptions conflict and create an irreconcilable logical breach in our thinking patterns.

Math is often an area we look towards for absolute answers, but the six unique paradoxes (only a small sampling) that Danailov shared with students demonstrate that even logic is not always crystal clear. Paradoxes are a great topic to get the brain engaged, and each paradox on this list is worth looking into, some more difficult than others. You don’t need a math background to get involved and see if you can solve these challenges!

posted by Dylan McIlvenna-Davis, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant (Class of ’20)

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Ethical Dilemmas: What is the Right Thing to Do? http://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/ethical-dilemmas-what-is-the-right-thing-to-do/ Tue, 12 Nov 2019 20:58:46 +0000 https://www.berkeleyconnect.berkeley.edu/?p=2764

Ethics is the study of right and wrong and as such, it means different things to different people. In a recent small group meeting for Berkeley Connect in Philosophy, some of those differences were discussed and debated. Berkeley Connect mentor Erica Klempner, who recently received her PhD in Philosophy, studies ethics extensively. She challenged students with two classic ethical dilemmas and a set of questions for group discussion.

The first ethical dilemma is known as “organ transplant” and it supposes that you are a doctor with five patients in need of various organ transplants. Without those organ transplants, all five patients will die. The dilemma arises when an innocent bystander arrives at the hospital and you, the doctor, now must choose to either let this innocent bystander walk away while your five patients die, or to kill the innocent bystander and get the sufficient organ supply needed to save all five patients.

With this dilemma, there is consensus across the general public and the philosophy community that it would be morally impermissible to kill the innocent bystander even if it means the likely survival of all five patients. As a result, it doesn’t seem like an extremely valuable ethical dilemma. However, there is another version that produces far more interesting responses.

The second ethical dilemma is known as “the trolley problem,” one of the most famous and recognizable ethical dilemmas. This scenario supposes that you are on a train or trolley hurtling down a track at speeds far too fast to stop quickly. Ahead, you see five people on the track, unable or unwilling to move away before your train will hit them. You also see a second track that splits from the first, allowing you to avoid the five people entirely. Unfortunately, there is one person on that track also unable or unwilling to move before you reach them. The dilemma is whether you should pull the lever in your trolley to switch to the second track, thereby killing the one person, or stay on the first track, allowing the five to die.

Despite having essentially the same basic conditions – a five-to-one tradeoff with inaction leading to five deaths and action leading to the direct killing of one person – there is no consensus at all on this dilemma, making it a far more intriguing puzzle.

After introducing these ethical dilemmas, the mentor proposed some questions for discussion: (1) What is the right thing to do? and (2) Why might someone think that it’s right to either act or do nothing?

Students quickly jumped into spirited small group discussion, arguing over small details like whether the patients in the organ transplant would consent to the murder of the bystander to save their lives, and larger conceptual questions like what constitutes murder. The arguing was respectful and intellectual, creating a space for all opinions without judgment. Students tended to collectively agree that it was right to do nothing in the organ transplant scenario, because the choice was between murder and inaction, especially since these patients already were expecting to die because no organs had been provided up to this point. There was much less consensus about the trolley problem. Students pondered ideas such as whether guilt controlled action or inaction, or how to quantify the value of a human life.

Brought back together to discuss the questions as a group, the students made many excellent points and engaged in lots of back-and-forth with their mentor, with the mentor sometimes playing the role of devil’s advocate. One student made the point that it isn’t the fault of the person in the trolley that the other people are on the tracks, making it morally permissible to not act (thereby allowing the five to die). The mentor then responded with a counter-scenario where someone is walking through a park and hears a child drowning in a lake because they can’t swim. She used this example to illustrate something that could be a point of ideological inconsistency because most people would feel obligated to act even though it wasn’t their fault the child was drowning.

By the end of the discussion, the nature of ethics and its applications were evident. Students challenged themselves and their peers on ethical assumptions and left with a better understanding of what makes an action right or wrong. It was an extremely deep and at times uncomfortable (in a good way) conversation that allowed students to put themselves in scenarios that hopefully they will never face in reality. If you were the trolley driver, would you pull the lever? The answer is extremely subjective, making this question an ideal way to understand ethics better.

posted by Dylan McIlvenna-Davis, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant (Class of ’20)

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