by – Linda L. Cox, Ph.D.

In ethics, we ask questions such as, “Who is the subject of rights?” “How should we address global hunger?” “What’s our duty to the environment?” I’ve observed that sometimes these questions and the competing answers can make students feel overwhelmed and paralyzed at the end of the day. One of my goals, then, has been to help students feel they can use their academic work to make a powerful impact in the world.

In many of my ethics courses I require students to do service-learning to experience local ethical problems first-hand. But how do we engage students in finding solutions to ethical problems half a world away? I’ve been working with a Faculty Learning Community to globalize my ethics curriculum. This experience has been remarkable and is transforming the way I teach ethics altogether.

The Globalizing the Curriculum FLC is a joint partnership between ACC’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning – FCTL (a part of TLED at ACC), ACC’s International Studies Office, and the Hemispheres program at the University of Texas. The group meets monthly on Friday mornings for lectures and meetings and asks ACC faculty to globalize their curricula with an emphasis on human rights. I was teaching human rights in my ethics courses already. But I have found two tremendous benefits to working with the Globalizing FLC this year.

First, the group brings in some of the most well-respected UT scholars working in areas of human rights for eye-opening lectures in areas outside our own disciplines. From a legal expert on Guantanamo Bay detention camp to a scholar who works on the rights of the Romani people, we learned recent evidence and interpretations of human rights violations around the globe.

Second, my ACC colleagues working in this group come from disciplines as diverse as construction, English, and computer science. Each has a unique approach to viewing and resolving human rights issues. They have all challenged and encouraged me to understand these issues in new ways and to make my own work relevant.

To globalize my ethics curriculum, I worked with colleagues at ACC to incorporate UT sociology professor Raj Patel’s work on global hunger into an applied ethics unit. This lesson focuses on the hunger crisis in Malawi and addresses social, economic, and environmental questions together. Gender equity has been slow in coming in Malawi, and women have become overburdened with both household and farming chores. In addition, global corporate management of agroeconomics—such as the agricultural takeover by western corporations owning both pesticide and seed companies—limit women’s participation in deciding economic and environmental policy. In the course, we look closely at the causes of the problems and the responsibility for solving them, and we examine several options for equitable, economically viable, and sustainable answers.

Viewing these issues of human rights, economic, and environmental ethics interdependently, rather than separately, better reflects the complexity of the actual ethical problems surrounding global hunger. In the end, students may find that the responsibility for solving many ethical problems across the globe begins at home.