CCU's Jackson Center provides open forum for important conversations among students, faculty, and the community
by Sara Sobota
The ability and opportunity to engage in open dialogue about serious, sometimes uncomfortable topics is an important matter, one that is often overlooked or avoided. Coastal Carolina University’s Jackson Family Center for Ethics and Values, founded at CCU in 2004, is designed to ensure that this kind of informed dialogue about issues happens regularly in a comfortable, accessible manner.
Each semester, the Jackson Center offers speakers, roundtable events, community programming, and academic classes that focus on ethical issues relevant to CCU students, faculty, and community members.
David Holiday, director of the Jackson Center and lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, said the range of content and the environment of Jackson Center events are inclusive, as is the definition of “important” topics.
“‘Important’ may mean different things: it can mean controversial and sensitive issues, issues in the news, issues that students contend with, or issues students want to talk about,” said Holiday. “We try as much as possible to make our programming accessible to the local community. We want people to learn about what’s happening in ethics, but also for people to engage in it.”
Tea & Ethics panels, which are discussion-based events comprised of CCU faculty, staff, and students with topics generated and selected by students, are particularly popular. Because the subject matter is organic, the discussions are immediately relevant, and panel participants are campus individuals who have direct involvement with the issue. Past topics have included food insecurity, transitioning from the military to college, first-generation college students, race on campus, and domestic violence.
Past panels have, in fact, led to additional programming and policies within the University. For example, a roundtable panel on issues related to first-generation college students yielded a great deal of discovery and information. The following summer, the topic became an optional session at CCU Orientation, and it ultimately became institutionalized .
“That’s just an example of a talk that actually created change at Coastal,” said Holiday. “Now there’s a University committee for addressing first-generation student issues. I’d like to think the Jackson Center played a part to get the ball rolling.”
This semester’s Tea & Ethics topics are “Ask a Young Person” on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 4:30 p.m. in the Burroughs & Chapin Center, Room 100, and “Invisible Disabilities” Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 4:30 p.m. in the Lib Jackson Student Union, Room A-201. Both panels are free and open to the public.
The “Ask a Young Person” event, a collaboration with CCU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), is designed to bring college students and area seniors into the same room for candid, inquisitive conversation.
“I predict they will talk about generation gap kind of issues,” said Holiday. “I don’t know what questions are going to come up; we’ve left it open for the community to send in whatever they want. They might want to know what ‘ghosting’ is, or understand why young people spend so much time staring at their phones, or what young people think about the climate crisis. My expectation is that there will be some social/political discussion, there might be some questions about race, and there will probably be some talk about sex and gender. This is one way we’re trying to reach out a little bit more beyond the campus community with a topic and a format that we hope will interest and engage seniors.”
The other Tea & Ethics panel, on a date that coincides with International Day for People with Disabilities, focuses on invisible conditions of impairment. Holiday said these types of disabilities pose unique challenges among students, faculty, and staff. The featured CCU students have hearing, vision, and cognitive disabilities that others wouldn’t immediately detect, so their need for accommodations is sometimes met with resistance.
“Each student will talk about their experiences navigating Coastal,” said Holiday. “The idea is to have a conversation to raise awareness about the challenges people with invisible disabilities face, but also point out some things about the campus culture and what, as a matter of University policy, we can do to make things better.”
In addition to event programming, the Jackson Center operates an ethics and leadership academy, a visiting ethicist series, and a scholars program. The Jackson Scholars are an interdisciplinary group of students interested in ethics-related issues who are selected through faculty recommendation and an application process. The intensive, four-semester program involves classes, leadership opportunities, and involvement and planning of Jackson Center programming.
“We try to plan events that reach out to more than just philosophy majors; it’s people interested in people,” said Elody Bensch, a sophomore biochemistry major with a minor in philosophy and Jackson Scholar. “A lot of the talks focus on including others, ways to reach out to people, how to understand people. It doesn’t matter who you are; you’re always going to need those skills. You don’t even have to be in school to have to need social intelligence, and it increases your social intelligence just to get involved.”
The experience of being a Jackson Scholar has provided an additional form of education, said Lauren Palazuelos, a senior English and philosophy major.
“Because the participants are CCU faculty, staff, and students, you not only experience the dynamic and diversity of roles, but you also get to find out what issues you wouldn’t think would affect your peers or the faculty you work with,” said Palazuelos. “It’s just humbling, and grounding, to get to hear about other people’s experiences.”
Palazuelos added that the Jackson Center has been a central part of her CCU identity.
“This experience will stay with you,” she said. “It has been and continues to be one of my favorite parts of being at college. I think as I move forward, I’ll always carry it with me.”
Visit coastal.edu/jacksoncenter to learn more.