Every mom has told her children at one point or another that just because everyone is jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean they should join.
But that lesson doesn’t necessarily last, according to Pam Sampson, the director of the Office for Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement at CSU.
During an interactive workshop Wednesday held to teach students how to establish solid individual codes of ethics, Sampson, citing a lack of positive public figures, said many students shape their moral bases after personal role models, which makes it easier for them to justify unethical behavior.
“If the way to get ahead is to cheat, lie, steal . you can start to rationalize and excuse that (behavior) away,” she said, adding that exhibitions of poor behavior by celebrities and high profile politicians in American society doesn’t help. “I think public figures assist us in rationalizing poor decisions. . Part of the responsibility of being in the limelight is you are a role model whether you want to (be) or not.”
Assistant sociology professor Tara O’Connor Shelley said in an interview before the workshop that public figures have the ability to influence students’ decisions, adding that public figures are “powerful symbolic examples” and especially impact young children.
Echoing Sampson, Shelley said private role models have a greater influence on the ethical beliefs of students than public figures.
“You have more trust with those individuals,” Shelley said, adding that personal role models also have many more opportunities to influence students because they are more willing to listen to those they know personally.
Shelley also said that consistent, constant messages received over long periods of time can influence what a person sees as right or wrong. These messages indicate the type of moral behavior society is willing to tolerate, she said, a dynamic that influences social decision.
Sampson said people often rationalize unethical behaviors after they see immoral acts rewarded or are told by others that there is nothing wrong with incorrect choices.
“You get so used to (unethical decisions) that you almost forget that there’s possibly a problem with the message that it’s sending over time,” Sampson said.
She emphasized the importance that students establish unique sets of core ethical values to follow in every situation.
“Most students who are plugged-in find some positive role models within their own peers,” Sampson said, continuing that student leaders can have a positive influence on others.
She added that she believes involved students are also greatly influenced by CSU professors and other faculty.
“Staff are a lot of times role models even when they don’t know it,” she said, adding that there are numerous positive role models among CSU faculty to whom students can go for advice.
Staff writer Natasha Pepperl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.