Washington and Lee University Mudd Center announces 2020-2021 lecture series on global ethics
Members of the advisory board for the Mudd Center for Ethics at Washington and Lee already had international ethics in mind in late 2019 as they pondered a topic for the center’s 2020-2021 lecture series.
“It was around the beginning of the new year, and we knew there were already serious international issues that were being raised across the globe,” Director Brian Murchison said, “and also that an election year was coming up where a lot of these issues would be at the top of the agenda for public debate.”
Then COVID-19 struck, and the topic was even more timely than before.
“As the COVID situation arrived and then got so deadly and so menacing across borders, we realized that the topic we had selected really had an increased urgency,” he said. “With that in mind, we were able to complete the schedule explicitly focused on global ethics.”
The lecture series, Global Ethics in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities, which is co-sponsored by the Mudd Center and W&L’s Center for International Education (CIE), will include talks by a former U.S. ambassador, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a successful alumnus, among other noteworthy guests. The topics they will address are wide-ranging and include the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change and the ethical issues surrounding COVID-19.
The series kicks off at 5 p.m. on Sept. 24 with a keynote address by the Hon. Reuben E. Brigety, current president of Sewanee University, former dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union. The title of his talk is “Black Lives Matter – An International Moment.” The lecture is free and open to the public to view via Zoom at https://wlu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Yvyn1jTATu2MFK3DucvRGg.
In order to host the best possible lecture series on international ethics, Murchison, who also teaches law at W&L, knew he wanted the Mudd Center to collaborate with the CIE. He worked closely with Mark Rush, director of International Education and Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law, to plan the dynamic schedule.
“The topic could not be more timely and the collaboration more logical,” Rush said. “Ongoing environmental challenges, COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter have only served to enhance the intensity of the spotlight on the issues that transcend national borders and whose solutions call for a revisiting of the ethical calculus by which governments have sought to address them in the past. We’ve assembled a tremendous roster of speakers who are authorities in a variety of fields. No doubt, their interdisciplinary expertise will offer our audience new perspectives from which to view the ethical challenges facing the world. ”
Murchison and Rush wanted to experiment with different approaches for the speakers’ appearances, and in a year when at least some of the talks will have to be presented in a virtual format, it seemed like a good time to embrace the spirit of change. For example, Rush and Geology Professor Lisa Greer will moderate a conversation with Elizabeth Kolbert, a Pulitzer-Prize winning staff writer for The New Yorker, who will discuss “Climate Change and Its Impact on the World Order.” Philosophy professor Erin Taylor will appear alongside a physician, Dr. Ralph Caldroney, for a conversation about “Ethical Issues in the Context of COVID-19.”
The Mudd Center has also collaborated this year with Associate Professor of Anthropology Alison Bell to bring UCLA Professor and MacArthur Fellow Jason De Leon to W&L. De Leon is the author of “The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Sonoran Migrant Trail.” He is also founder of the Undocumented Migration Project and organizer of a global participatory exhibition called Hostile Terrain 94, which was scheduled to visit W&L in October but has been postponed to February 2021 amid COVID concerns.
“Migration is another issue that transcends borders,” Murchison said, “so this is another collaboration that I’m very excited about.”
Hostile Terrain 94 honors the more than 3,200 people who have died attempting to flee unsustainable living conditions in their home countries for a better life in the U.S. The exhibit has 125 hosting partners around the world, and W&L is the only location in Virginia that will participate.
The installations involve a 16-20-foot map of the Arizona/Mexico border covered in 3,200 handwritten toe tags bearing details about people who have died crossing the border. The toe tags are filled out by volunteers in the exhibits’ host locations, and each hosting partner schedules supplementary programming, such as lectures and film screenings, to accompany the installation.
Although some aspects of the Mudd Center’s model for the series have changed this year, some cornerstones remain in place. One is students’ ability to meet with guest speakers prior to each lecture. This year, instead of visiting classrooms, speakers will be invited to virtual talks for more intimate conversations with undergraduate or law students about the chosen topic. Kolbert, for example, is going to meet with Law Professor Jill Fraley’s environmental law class.
Another part of the model each year includes a related course taught by a postdoctoral fellow. This Fall Term, Mudd Postdoctoral Ethics Fellow Jeremy Weissman is teaching a first-year seminar, Ethics of International Relations. The center also invited W&L faculty members to be Faculty Fellows for the 2020-21 academic year, and 26 stepped up to take part. Faculty Fellows gather before a speaker’s lecture and discuss the speaker’s prior writing.
Murchison said he’s looking forward to the rich and rewarding conversations that are likely to stem from this year’s talks, and he is grateful to the many folks across the W&L campus who have helped put the series together.
“A lot of people have been involved in making this year’s series a success,” Murchison said, “and we have rolled up our sleeves, worked hard together and had fun planning it.”
For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit the series webpage at bit.ly/3k6qz42.