The 8 Key Questions

by Cassidy Lawson
@cassidy_lawson

Hello everyone! Mid-August is upon us and soon it will be here…the beginning of the semester! Next week, approximately 4,200 students will descend onto the campus of JMU in Harrisonburg, VA to move into their residence halls and attend 1787 August Orientation. Our orientation program at JMU is a little different in the sense that during the summer, we have our one day Summer Springboard Sessions for incoming first years that focuses on getting their class schedules set, getting paperwork in, and really learning about what it means to be a student at JMU. However, during 1787 August Orientation, students move in to their residence halls with the help of their FROGS (First Year Orientation Guides). Then, they spend the rest of the week bonding with their floor mates, playing icebreakers with their FROGS, and also attending several campus events. One of the events that JMU has made a staple of during 1787 August Orientation is our annual “It’s Complicated” Session. “It’s Complicated” is a session that was implemented by the Madison Collaborative. The Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action embodies and complements the university mission of JMU as we promise to prepare students to be “educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives.” The “It’s Complicated” Session challenges students to respond ethically and critically to a hypothetical disaster situation, wherein the students are acting as FEMA with a hurricane approaching and several areas of the country are asking for immediate assistance; the catch is they only have so many rescue teams and so little time. In a nutshell, they can’t save everyone so they must use the 8 Key Questions to decide whom they will save. What are the 8 Key Questions you may ask?

They are the following:
  • Fairness - How can I act equitably and balance legitimate interests?
  • Outcomes - What achieves the best short- and long-term outcomes for me and all others?
  • Responsibilities - What duties and/or obligations apply?
  • Character - What action best reflects who I am and the person I want to become?
  • Liberty - How does respect for freedom, personal autonomy, or consent apply?
  • Empathy - What would I do if I cared deeply about those involved?
  • Authority - What do legitimate authorities (e.g. experts, law, my religion/god) expect of me?
  • Rights - What rights (e.g. innate, legal, social) apply?


Students are broken up into small groups to discuss amongst themselves what questions they should use when responding to the crisis. The discussion is facilitated by a faculty or staff member to promote reflection as to their decisions as a collective group and as individuals.

This program is still in its early days (this will be its 3rd year) but I think this program is such an important part of Orientation for students. During the session, facilitators ask students, “How will you apply these questions in your day to day life at JMU? Have you already had to use the 8 Key Questions in your time here?”  This talk prepares them for becoming “enlightened and engaged citizens”, which is part of our institution’s mission.

Does your school put ethical reasoning into action? What niche programs does your school offer to its first year students?

Student Affairs - the First Years

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