Jacob Levernier, a senior sociology major, served as the only delegate from USF to attend the National Conference on Ethics in America this past October. The National Conference on Ethics in America (NCEA) is an annual event hosted by the United States Military Academy held at West Point, NY. The U.S. Military class of 1970 sponsors this annual event. Levernier was one of the 150 national students chosen to represent more than 60 academic institutions from across the country.
This program tries to split the participants–50% civilian students and 50% military cadets–to discuss moral and ethical challenges that face society today. Essentially, the goal of the conference is to “challenge the delegates to think critically about relevant topics and to facilitate a dialogue that lays the groundwork for the delegates to build upon as they bring their ideas back to their colleges and universities,” according to the NCEA Conference website.
With lectures from reverends, Navy Seals, and military leaders, panel discussions and group discussions of about nine people led by military leaders, the conference met their goal.
For Levernier, he says, “Ethics is fundamentally trying to answer the question of how to live my life, what’s right to say.” In fact, at the conference, Levernier discussed various issues ranging from bioethics to university standards. For him, the conference allowed “for students to engage in dialogue around ethical issues following what my definition of ethics would be.”
While he stayed at West Point for four nights, Levernier stayed in the barracks with two cadets that were hosting him. From the rooming experience, Levernier discovered that it was “just as educational for me as the conference itself. These are people who are living very different lifestyles than students here.”
Usually, the students have a 21-unit course load focused on engineering and comprehension. Throughout their entire college years, they can only have room for three or four electives. On top of that, they only get about 4 to 5 hours of sleep with military training included. Every day they must wake up at 6:30 for morning inspection.
“They have a large responsibility that is connected to real-world consequences and is also bound by an ethics code which is written in a slab of black granite in the center of campus: ‘I will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate anyone who does.’” If indeed any one of these students were to go against this commandment, they would face expulsion. Obviously, he implies, these students make excellent role models.
Ethics originates from the early Greeks, from the days of Aristotle who taught that ethics is a search for happiness. Indeed, the ultimate end goal for humanity is happiness. Levernier describes Aristotle’s viewpoint and applies it to USF. “I think it is very important for USF. This follows from Aristotle’s ethics. Aristotle says it is vital to recognize who your mentors are and who you respect in your life and then try very conscientiously to be like them.”
From his experiences at the conference, Levernier has some suggestions for the university. From the notes that he gave to the Associate Dean, he stated that we could engage in issues that are morally charged, such as the overnight guest policy.
As for school spirit, Levernier proposes, “one thing we can have in common is to define what we want to look towards or be like. Basically, rethink what we are doing as a student community.”
Aristotle says, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Levernier takes on this belief and adds, “Ultimately we all want to be happy, that’s why we’re here. Talking about whom we want to be and our communal fears is like exercise. It helps us towards the state of being happy. The first weight you lift is going to hurt, but it will get easier with time.”
As for his goals concerning ethics, Levernier declares, “I hope that I can give this back to the student community following my experience at the conference—reframing the idea of ethics until it becomes a point around which we can gather and talk and from which we can grow the university.”