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Columnist Zara Tena encourages Penn students to take an ethics class. Credit: Ipek Obek

This semester, I somehow ended up with four out of my five classes being either directly or indirectly about ethics. As a political science major, I was really excited to take these classes, since whenever people talk about ethics nowadays, it mostly has to do with politics or international relations.

At a time when our reality changes so rapidly because of technology, and when we are faced with a number of global challenges, some people have forgotten about the importance of acting morally. Especially at a place like Penn, where everyone seems to be extremely worried about their future and their careers, people often disregard these values when they are caught up by the competitive environment. Because of this, one would think that ethics classes would be extremely beneficial for all, but do they actually contribute to making students more ethical individuals?

According to my professors, they don’t.

In all four ethics classes, my professors started the semester by telling us that ethics classes will not make most of us more ethical. I sat there, listening to all of them, and I just could not understand why they would say something like that. If I wasn’t going to learn anything, what was the point of taking these classes?

That’s where I was wrong: I have been learning a lot. While perhaps the main goal of ethics classes is not to turn students into more ethical people, they definitely give us the tools we need to critically engage with ethical dilemmas. By taking these classes, I might not become a better person, but they have given me a space where I can explore, discuss, and reflect about where I stand on so many issues and what my beliefs about morality actually are.

Ethics is not a subject that can be forcefully taught through lectures and readings. There is no way that we can sit down for three hours every week and magically become more ethical just because we memorize theories and read long papers written by old white men. The goal of these classes is not to tell us what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’  but to give us the skills to navigate the gray areas in ethical decision making.

These classes encourage self reflection and personal growth. Even when analyzing big case studies or exploring different theories, students are pushed to question their own values, beliefs, and biases. While this may not guarantee that we will completely transform our moral compasses, the self awareness that comes from these reflections creates a great foundation for understanding why we act the way we do and also invites us to try to understand others.

The fact that ethics classes begin with a warning — that you won’t become more ethical by taking them — should not stop anyone from giving them a chance. The ability to think critically, understand different values and perspectives, and have the skills to self reflect are essential parts of any college education. They prepare students for the complicated moral dilemmas they might face in their personal and professional lives — especially when most people at Penn will end up with jobs that are notorious for their ethical scandals!

ZARA TENA is a College sophomore studying political science from Puebla, Mexico. Her email is