Humming Along
Vol. 1, no.1 | March 24, 2020
Friday was one of those glorious spring days here in Durham. Duke’s East Campus was a lush green and the grounds were sprinkled with individuals sun bathing, families walking, kids biking, dogs chasing balls and a steady stream of well-spaced runners circling the campus. How could life be better? For a moment you can forget that the ACC tournament was cancelled, Duke classes have transitioned online, that the libraries, Nasher Museum and Gardens have all closed along with research labs, that staff are working remotely and the class of 2020 graduation has been postponed. You forget that your favorite Durham coffee shop is now closed or your favorite local bookshop has packed it in. So what next?

Humming Along is an attempt by the Kenan Institute for Ethics (together with DukeEngage) to keep the greater Duke community engaged and connected at a time when engagement and connection seem hard to imagine. It is our way of saying we are still here and we are still with you. As we all try to navigate a new normal mostly from home, many in our community are feeling isolated, adrift and lacking in purpose. We worry for our families, for our communities and for those most vulnerable amongst us. We long to do something meaningful. So here, through a weekly dispatch and a set of new virtual opportunities and engagements, we offer both a space of reflection and a set of purposeful opportunities. We will provide scholarly perspectives on the ethical challenges of this moment, examples of individuals and organizations acting with a renewed sense of purpose, suggestions to keep you thinking, a bit of whimsy and perhaps even a bit of hope.

Be good. Stay well.
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Suzanne Shanahan
Nannerl O. Keohane, Director
Kenan Institute for Ethics
What Next?
Thinking Ethically About Mitigating COVID 19 – A Focus on the Margins
Patrick T. Smith, Senior Fellow, Kenan Institute of Ethics
Patrick Smith
This is no doubt true. Politicians, pundits and media outlets repeat this phrase as the reach of the coronavirus spreads. Senators , journalists , athletes , actors , doctors , and academic elites suffer alongside those without that same social standing, health security, and financial stability: small business owners , artists , service industry workers , the unemployed and underemployed, those who are homeless , those who are incarcerated and those who are employed to work in these spaces with them. And there’s a whole range of people in between.

The problem, however, is the suggestion that COVID-19 made this true. It perhaps naively suggests that all of a sudden we will act in ways that reflect human solidarity when deep social fragmentation mar important aspects of our collective life together. Our tribalism, unfortunately, is not so easily set aside.
The challenges resulting from COVID-19 remind us of something that has always been true ethically and sociologically. We are deeply interconnected…and yet our society is structured so that we lose sight of this reality. Those who are marginalized or part of vulnerable communities disproportionately suffer even when – and perhaps especially when – we say that we’re “all in this together.” COVID-19 is a reminder that we cannot easily nor without consequence separate our particular community’s well-being from that of others.

So, yes, “we are all in this together.” In saying this though, we must also be aware that when crises emerge, the long-term health and economic impact for those who survive is often felt hardest by those who already experience disparities in wealth, overall health outcomes and in access to and benefits of health care. All of this suggests that any pathway forward requires and must be attentive to particular and concrete forms of justice.
Thinking & Doing
In this first installment of a new series, Qintian Zhang (Trinity '22), current Team Kenan student and alum of Project Change and the Ethics, Leadership & Global Citizenship FOCUS cluster, discusses her work on campus in response to the widespread disruptions caused by COVID-19. Zhang's perspective on the moment is informed by her longer relationship with what is now a pandemic: she is from Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, among the hardest hit Chinese provinces outside of Hubei. Unable to go home, she is working with multiple partners across the Duke community to respond to the situation here. Qintian has become involved with mutual aid and community building efforts among several different communities on campus.

 Contact her at to connect. 

Responding Purposefully
This spring, the Institute will host a regular series for graduating seniors on forging a purposeful life after Duke. What "life after Duke" looks like is more uncertain than usual for many this year—and thus the opportunity to work through questions and anxieties together is all the more important. Together, we'll respond to questions on seniors' minds, learn a bit, and have a lot of fun along the way. These conversations attend to questions of purpose and pragmatics, in a relaxed, open, and often playful atmosphere.

Remote Connections
The Kenan Institute is inviting staff across campus to start a virtual book club . The Institute will provide up to $500 to a group of staff from any unit on campus who are hoping to stay connected and engaged together while apart through shared readings. We’ll even offer book recommendations!

For more information,
contact: Jeremy Buotte .
Ethics in Action
Brandon Hoe (Fuqua, ‘05) created  Bull City Responds , a comprehensive website of ways to stay safe, volunteer and support local businesses in Durham in the midst of the coronavirus response. “I knew that Durhamites would want to help their neighbors, but that it can be really challenging to find information on how to do so. I felt that building a website that people can visit to find the information they need would be helpful, so I did it.” 
“All the world’s a stage!” The Chino Valley High School chamber singers recorded their individual a capella parts to  “Over the Rainbow” ; the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra played “Ode to Joy”  from individual homes; and Broadway actress Laura Benanti’s  Instagram plea  to high school students whose musicals have been canceled to record their songs and tag her received thousands of replies.
Lesley Jane Seymour (Trinity, ‘78) teamed up with Kelly Rovetto, a medical devices representative with connections throughout New Orleans, to collect masks, gloves and medical supplies from dentists, veterinarians and other medical professionals with closed or limited office hours and redistribute them to hospitals. Check out their effort at  Supplies for Saints .
Cultivating Character
In Cultivating Character we explore ideas to get you thinking and reflecting with suggestions of what to read and watch while sheltering in place.

This week we are recommending Ross Gay’s  The Book of Delights   (2019). Staff at the Kenan Institute (and DukeEngage) are currently reading this book to help us see and appreciate the wonders of daily life. 
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