Four More Ethics Scenarios for Discussion of Racial Discrimination

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Ilford 1973 by Jussi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseThis academic year, I am a member of a learning community that is exploring strategies for inclusive pedagogy. As a result, I’m thinking about ways to include issues of diversity and accessibility in my teaching. Most recently, I have been developing materials that address racial discrimination, particularly ethics and race. I shared three scenarios and a moral compass technique September 5th, and three more scenarios last week. This week, I’m sharing the last four ethics scenarios for discussing race and discrimination, completing a serialized list of ten.


The Scenarios

  • You have been asked to create a diversity policy for the use of images in your advertising materials. There have been recent complaints about racist and sexist images, so your company is especially interested in ensuring that all ads in the future celebrate diversity. After examining the problematic images, you decide that it will be best to describe the best kinds of images to use, rather than to list everything that would not be acceptable. Your coworkers disagree. They worry that without an understanding of the specific things to avoid, employees will continue to choose inappropriate images. Despite their feedback, you decide to go with your own feeling. You believe that listing all the possible wrong images would be impossible and that it could easily offend employees. Did you make the right choice? Is there a better strategy?
  • Your company encourages employees to dress in costumes for Halloween every year. Last year, some employees wore inappropriate costumes that offended other employees and clients. Most of the problem costumes generically adopted culture as costume (e.g., Native American princess, Mexican bandito, geisha). While your company’s executive director is all for Halloween costumes and a bit of fun, she is worried about a repeat of the inappropriate costumes from last year. She emails all employees an announcement of a Halloween party during the company’s afternoon break. She invites everyone to wear costumes to work. To address the inappropriate costume issues, she adds this information to her email: “Please remember to choose an appropriate costume. If you are worried that your costume may not be okay, ask someone in HR about it.” Did she choose the right way to handle the situation?
  • The employees from your division go out for lunch to celebrate a coworker’s birthday. While you are all waiting for your orders, the group is chatting about family and plans for the weekend. Doug speaks up, saying, “You know that reminds me of a joke.” He then tells a racist joke. Most members of your group laugh outright. A couple appear bothered by the joke. You consider speaking up and pointing out that the joke is inappropriate and that Doug should not share such things at work. It appears though that most people did not notice that the joke was offensive. You decide to avoid the issue and say nothing. Everyone is out to have fun, and you don’t want to make everyone uncomfortable. Did you make the right decision? Is there a better way to handle the situation?
  • You handle customer service through your company’s social media accounts. The company has launched a series of television and online commercials that show diverse families enjoying their products. In response, protesters are complaining about these depictions on social media in posts filled with stereotypes. Some protesters admit they buy your company’s products but will find alternatives if the diverse images are not stopped. The large volume of protests is distracting you from your main task of providing customer service. You tell your manager about the situation, and she instructs you to block and report all protesters. You disagree with her, arguing that the protesters are still customers and that blocking will bar them from getting support. You disagree even more with reporting these protesters, who you believe have the right to complain. Your manager is not convinced. She states that you can block and report the protesters or she will find someone who will to take over your job and assign you elsewhere. You bow to her request and begin blocking and reporting all protesters. Have you made the right decision? Has your manager?


The scenarios above are phrased for technical and business writing classes (since that is what I am currently teaching). They could be used “as is” in first-year composition, or they can be customized. For instance, students could consider a diversity policy for images used on the university’s website and in printed promotional materials.


This week, I also tried to create scenarios that could turn into writing assignments. After discussing the first scenario, students can write their own diversity policy for the use of images. For a business or technical writing course, students can focus on company documents, such as the use of images in advertisements, slideshow presentations, and website resources. First-year composition students can create policies for clubs or groups they are involved with, for the university, or for the texts they write for the course. Whichever kind of policy they compose, students will have to balance specific explanations of the policy with persuasive strategies that will convince readers to follow the guidelines.


I hope you find the ten scenarios I have shared this month useful. If you have questions or suggestions about them, please leave me a comment below.



Credit: Ilford 1973 by Jussi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.