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Annual Mendoza, Deloitte Center Ethics Week focuses on empathy

| Monday, February 22, 2021

The 24th annual Ethics Week sponsored by the Mendoza College of Business and the Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership concluded Friday after a week of panels, presentations and discussions focused around this year’s theme: Beginning with Empathy: Listening and Learning from Others

The concept for this year’s theme emerged last summer in the ongoing aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election, associate professor and director of the Deloitte Center Christopher Adkins, one of the week’s keynote speakers, said.

Isabella Volmert | The Observer
Notre Dame graduate students Faith Bosom Achangwa and Ahsan Mohar and undergraduate students Michael Perez and Max Siegel II were the featured speakers on Wednesday night’s panel entitled “ND Student Voices on Empathy & Racial Justice.”

In light of the year’s events, the Ethics Week committee decided to focus on ethical and empathetic leadership and practices.

“We always try to come up with something that is both timely and timeless,” Adkins said. 

Ethics Week is an annual event put on promote discussions of the importance of ethics within business classes and professional spheres, founder Ken Milani said. 

Milani noted Ethics Week began 24 years ago because ethics is often discussed at the business college and the week is a way to highlight the topic.

“I thought, ‘We ought to set aside a week when we get really explicit about it,’” he said. 

As a result, Ethics Week takes place right around Valentine’s Day every year, during the time people are considering their relationships with others, Milani explained. He said usually after Ethics Week, the committee receives feedback from two or three professors who say the events sparked conversation on ethics in their own classrooms. 

The week kicked off Tuesday with a presentation entitled “Getting Better at Empathy: The Science and Practice of Standing Under Another’s Experience” given by Adkins, associate teaching professor in the management & organization department and outgoing executive director of the Deloitte Center. 

Notre Dame and Mendoza have a deep commitment to ethics, Adkins said.

“Our mission is ‘to grow the good in business’ and Ethics Week is just a perfect fit for that,” he said. 

Adkins stressed the importance of not just knowing one’s values, but also practicing them and empathy in real life, which was the subject of his presentation. He shared methods on how to become better at empathy in addition to his research and the science of empathy and ethics, along with personal stories and concrete examples from business leaders, community leaders and students. 

“Empathy is simply about understanding someone else … even if that person is very different from you,” Adkins said.

Adkins said he hoped attendees of the week’s events left with an inspiration to practice and extend empathy. 

Wednesday’s featured panel was “ND Student Voices on Empathy & Racial Justice,” and four students in the college of business spoke on the topic. MBA students Faith Bosom Achangwa and Ahsan Mohar and undergraduate students Michael Perez and Max Siegel II were the featured panelists and Jessica McManus Warnell, associate teaching professor of management, hosted the event. 

The student spoke about initiatives to drive awareness and improve racial equity, justice and empathy on Notre Dame’s campus. Achangwa is in her first year of the MBA program and studies finance and investment. She is an advocate for diversity in the program and is involved with speaking to prospective MBA students, especially Black students and students of color, as a mentor and ambassador. 

Achangwa noted when she joined the program, she was the only person of color in her class.

“I’m surrounded by amazing intelligent, smart and hard working people, but there is something to be said about having people who look like you around you,” she said. “There’s a different kind of support you get from them.”

During the panel, Achangwa gave a presentation on racial justice and diversity at Notre Dame, in which she addressed Notre Dame’s Initiative on Race and Resilience

“Educating the heart actually means unlearning all forms of hate and bias — the racist bias, gender related bias or even homophobic bias — and relearning the language of love,” she said during the panel. “I feel that empathy can be summed up in the word love.” 

Achangwa said she hoped people would carry one thing away from the night’s panel — that racial justice is everyone’s responsibility.

“It is always your problem if it is injustice,” she said. 

The student panel as well as all of the Ethics Week virtual events will be posted on the Ethics Week website. 

After Thursday’s presentation and discussion entitled “Working Toward the Common Ground” featuring Mendoza faculty Viva Bartkus, Joe Sweeney and Kelly Rubey, Milani hosted the panel Friday entitled “Medical Professionals Discuss Empathy in Healthcare: Its Possibilities and Pitfalls.” 

Speakers on Friday included clinical nurse specialist Lisa Gorski, former CEO at Beacon Health System Phil Newbold and local orthopedic surgeon and head of orthopedic sports medicine for Notre Dame Football Brian Ratigan. 

Friday’s panelists discussed the role of empathy in the current health crisis and healthcare professional world and touched on topics such as wearing masks, the public’s willingness to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the implications of medical jargon when speaking with patients. 

Brian Levey, this year’s Ethics Week lead coordinator, said he was pleased with the events of the week, which was virtual for the first time this year and therefore had the ability to reach a broader audience than normal.

“We hope this week we put a spotlight on empathy in a few different areas and folks got to learn a little bit more about empathy,” he said. 

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About Isabella Volmert

Isabella "Issy" Volmert is a junior majoring in English and minoring in theology and journalism, ethics and democracy at the University of Notre Dame. She currently serves The Observer as assistant managing editor. Follow her @ivolmertnews for niche JED Twitter content.

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