3 Texas Educators On Ethical Leadership In This Moment

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Each of us makes numerous ethical decisions every day, but for educators preparing for fall 2020 amidst the persistence of Covid-19 in the US, those choices feel particularly consequential right now. We asked three seasoned educators from different colleges and universities in Texas to weigh in on how they approach ethical decision making at this moment.  

None of these questions is easy. Do we hold classes in person, virtually, or with a hybrid model? When do we change course, what evidence will that require and how will we communicate that shift? How do we foster physical health and safety alongside economic security and educational outcomes? Given our diverse community, how do we prioritize competing goods? Interfaith leadership is made for these moments, for the genuinely hard questions. We know that our students are learning a great deal in the midst of this pandemic – about adaptive leadership in an ever-changing landscape, ethical decision making in a diverse democracy, and what people and institutions truly value.  

Amelia Koford is an Associate Professor, the Outreach & Information Literacy Librarian, and Director of the Center for Women’s Studies at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas.  

One of the most heartbreaking parts of this pandemic is the way it is reinforcing existing inequities. Here in Texas, for example, the Latinx community is being hit disproportionately with Covid-19 cases and deaths. As university leaders, our responses to injustice are informed by our individual religious and ethical traditions, as well as shared community values. At Texas Lutheran University, the institution’s deep commitment to the common good is rooted in its Lutheran heritage. Our values lead us to consistently ask questions about equity, even though our efforts can feel incomplete and imperfect. Leaders have to make a lot of decisions this summer and fall, and we should examine each decision for their impact on students and staff who live in poverty and deal with various oppressions. I’m a librarian, and modern academic libraries are loud and boisterous spaces where students collaborate, ask for help, and build an intellectual life together. That will look different this fall – we’ve removed a lot of chairs, and people will mostly be sitting alone and looking at screens. Librarians will still help students get the resources they need, but the way we do it will feel imperfect, especially since our attention will also be on caring for our own children, elders, and others in our communities. I am a Unitarian Universalist with a secular worldview, and I will draw on my religious community to help me accept the imperfection and uncertainty of life this fall. There are no perfect answers about how to operate during a pandemic, and that’s hard. The best we can do is to maintain transparency and communication, look to science and experts for guidance, keep equity in mind, and draw on the strength and hope that we find in our common purpose and our care for each other.   

Zahra Jamal is the Associate Director of the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance at Rice University in Houston, Texas. 

We live in a culturally, religiously, and ethnically diverse world. Pluralistic attitudes require that we understand, value, and honor that diversity, especially when it is hard to do so. So for me, ethical leadership entails: 

  1. viewing the world and its challenges and opportunities through an ethical lens, which for many, is rooted in faith or philosophical tradition;  

  1. listening to, understanding, validating, and learning from diverse perspectives we do not share or do not like because we are all members of a single human family who issue from a single soul; 

  1. analyzing and resolving problems in collaboration with others (including those with whom we disagree) where each applies their respective moral reasoning to those problems;   

  1. remaining intellectually and spiritually humble in the process, recognizing that none of us has all the answers and that together we can co-create more equitable and inclusive solutions; 

  1. finding the courage to make, articulate, and uphold difficult choices that honor and enable the dignity, belonging, and value of all stakeholders

I think it’s also important to maintain self-care while caring for others. If we burn out, we can’t serve anyone. For me, self-care involves proper nutrition, exercise, lifelong learning, abstaining from substances, and constant remembrance of God, gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness. It also entails focusing on what I can control and helping others do the same, prioritizing essentials, being flexible and resourceful, connecting on a human level, delivering unexpected rewards, resources, and support to others.  

Britt Luby is Associate Chaplain at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. Her work focuses on religious literacy and interfaith leadership, grief support for students coping with loss, and pastoral care/spiritual development for young adults. 

676 people in my county are in a hospital bed due to Covid-19 today. The decisions I wrestled with last summer seem juvenile compared to the moral dilemmas I face now. Last summer, it was this: should we go swimming in the morning or the afternoon? This summer, it is this: how likely are we to catch the virus in a swimming pool? How likely are we to give this virus to our aging parents? How likely are they to survive?  

In two weeks, the moral questions move to the residence halls, the classrooms, and other spaces on the TCU campus where I serve as a chaplain. Performative hygiene will settle some of our anxiety. But as the virus travels in our conversations, our breaths, how can we honor the dignity of every single human life on our campus?  

As a cradle Catholic, I use Catholic social teaching as my moral compass. I believe human dignity comes from God, not from any human accomplishment, and that every person is worthy of respect. The cruel path of the virus into the bodies of the most vulnerable, a path compounded by the festering wounds of racism, weighs heavy on my spirit. I do not envy those who are making tough decisions about campus reopening. My sphere of influence is laughably small, and all I can offer are tangible ways to honor the dignity of others. Today, it looks like this: though my heart is broken, my hands are washed; while my soul is weary, my mask is on.   

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

It is incredibly empowering to know that by protecting yourself, you can protect so many other people.  The Lord gave us the knowledge and people we need in order to defeat COVID-19.
"99.8% of U.S. deaths are of the unvaccinated. If you heard of an airline of that percentage dying, whereas a 0.02% on another, you’re switching flights." -- Dr. Jimmie Smith, Macon-Bibb County Health Department, Georgia.
As a scholar of religious studies, I frequently use critical race theory as a tool to better understand how religion operates in American society.
Inspired by their faith, four LDS students built new study resource that has revolutionized how hundreds of thousands of aspiring physicians study for their exams. "It really started because we just wanted to help people," one said.
We're now in one of the holiest seasons of the year for one of smallest and oldest religions in India -- one with a long history in the United States.
Organizing on-campus vaccination clinics, calling thousands of students, hosting informational webinars with medical experts – these are some of the ways in which IFYC’s Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors (FIVA) have been raising awareness around the COVID-19 vaccine on campuses and high-need communities across the nation.
Last year's winners, listed below, created a range of initiatives, from virtual retreats and criminal justice initiatives to book clubs and racial equity workshops.
Religious objections, once used sparingly around the country to get exempted from various required vaccines, are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.
What will the campus chapel, and the chaplaincy, look like more than a century from now? Let the adventure begin.
The issue is not the presence of religion in the public square. Instead, the question before us is how to express those religious commitments within in a pluralistic society.
We don’t know what the year 5782 – as it is in the Hebrew calendar – has in store for any of us. But we have the power to act in a way to do right by each other and bring a little more peace and love and joy into this profoundly broken world.
The following interview features Dr. Toby Bressler, senior director of nursing for oncology and clinical quality at the Mount Sinai Health System and vice president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association.
Part of what I found so beautiful about our conversation is that we both agree that American pluralism is not simply a pragmatic solution to the challenge of a diverse democracy, it is also a kind of sacred trust that God intends us to steward.
After 9/11, there was increased intentionality in widening interfaith relations to include a broader number of faith groups and discussions. Twenty years later, it is not unusual to see interreligious conferences, joint advocacy efforts and disaster relief teamwork involving faith groups ranging from Adventists to Zoroastrians.
Twenty years later, we at IFYC, like so many others, collect the shards of memory, recollecting, reconstituting the trauma and horror of that day. And the sacredness is in doing so together.
As we approach this significant anniversary of 9/11, we must work to infuse the day with purpose and pluralism. Pay it Forward 9/11 is bringing people together to do 20,000 good deeds for the 20th anniversary.
In the first month since 9/11, The Sikh Coalition documented over 300 cases of violence and religious discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S. and has since grown to become the largest Sikh advocacy and civil rights organization in the country.
“If you were to quiz these students on what happened on 9/11, they think they knew what happened, but nobody really explained it to them,” Lisa Doi said. “I had to think through, how do you teach this history to somebody who doesn’t really remember it?”
My prayer is that for as long as we remember 9/11, that we will take time to listen to the stories of loss that break our hearts, and join together in finding ways to heal the division, violence and hate that continue to tear apart our world.
It has been 20 years, but the pain of that day is still present in so many places.
20 years after the 9/11 attacks, four remarkable people took profound suffering, loss and grief and “somehow managed to not center enemies. What can we learn from that? How can that be a teaching to the culture?”

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.