Diversity and Democracy

Another Kind of College Lesson

In a sense, I did not travel far when I enrolled at University of the Pacific, less than a thirty-minute drive from my home. Yet at the same time, I entered another world, encountering for the first time people whose backgrounds, identities, and outlooks on life were very different from mine.

As a first-year student, I enrolled in Pacific Seminar 1, What is a Good Society?, and Pacific Seminar 2, Is Religion Good for Women? Both seminars challenged me to engage across differences and apply critical thinking skills to current personal, political, and societal issues in the world at large, including sexual identity, marriage rights, and racial stereotyping. Pacific Seminar 2 additionally allowed me to choose a path of study and eventually a research topic that interested me. As a premed student, I decided to focus my research on the ethical debate over female circumcision.

My experiences in these two courses reinforced my decision to major in biological sciences. Thus, following my first year, I focused on that path, usually taking only math, chemistry, physics, biology, and general education courses. Yet I longed for the discussion-based format of Pacific Seminars 1 and 2, which had provided an outlet from the science and math lectures that consumed my life. I therefore decided to look beyond my discipline and take more classes following that model, with topics in philosophy, psychology, economics, and even theater. Like the first two Pacific Seminars, these classes helped me interact with students from different majors. They gave me insight into what students with different academic backgrounds studied and how their knowledge might apply to certain topics.

As a senior, I enrolled in Pacific Seminar 3, another discussion-based course that encourages students to speak their minds. In the seminar, I studied different ethical issues, pushing myself to consider various approaches to ethical problems and theories of moral development. I learned how to use the moral outlook I had developed to approach ethical issues that will arise throughout my life, such as lying and childrearing. As I reflected on my own moral development, I came to understand and refine the values that I hold today, while also becoming more able to relate positively to others. I learned, in short, to keep an open mind.

The seminar allowed me to reflect on what I would do in certain situations. It offered a space where I could engage with others over the personal and ethical consequences of life decisions such as physician-assisted suicide. The challenge of discussing ethical issues in medicine strengthened my aspiration to become a doctor. It provided me with insight from different viewpoints, as well as an ability to suspend my biases when encountering the problems we discussed. It thus strengthened my ability to make tough decisions--and, just as important, to respect how others respond to problems regardless of whether I agree with their choices. By opening my mind to multiple perspectives, I learned to carefully consider the consequences of my actions and how they may affect others.

I learned a great deal in the course that I expect to apply in the future, both personally and professionally. When facing problems that test my morality, I will be able to reason through my decisions and imagine their consequences. But I will also weigh my choices with the understanding that there is no single right or wrong, but rather a variety of different moral approaches--and that those who approach problems differently than I would still deserve my respect.

I plan to graduate this spring with my bachelor's degree in biological sciences and eventually to enroll in medical school. I believe that what I learned in the Pacific Seminars will play a role when I am faced with difficult medical decisions and will allow me to respond with empathy to patients of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. The Pacific Seminars have taught me to keep an unbiased mind in making decision with reverberating consequences.

For more on the Pacific Seminars, see Lou Matz's article on page 18.

Jhoanna Amigable is a senior majoring in biological sciences at University of the Pacific.


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