Campus & Community

Undergrads tackle issues in practical ethics

3 min read

The Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics has announced this year’s recipients of the Lester Kissel Grants in Practical Ethics. Five Harvard College students have been awarded grants to carry out summer projects on a variety of important subjects. The students will use the grants to conduct research in the United States or abroad, as well as write reports, articles, or senior theses. Each grant supports living and research expenses up to $3,000.


Christine Baugh ’10, a history of science concentrator, will undertake research examining the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allows universities to patent (and thereby profit from) research. As part of her senior thesis research, Baugh will examine the relationship between universities and the Bayh-Dole Act, asking more specifically whether the post-Bayh-Dole university is maximizing scientific profit at the possible cost of both social and scientific benefit.

Jonathan Gould ’10, a social studies concentrator, will explore the positive rights tradition in America in light of a commitment to active democratic citizenship. Drawing on democratic theory, distributive justice, and American history, Gould will ask what economic prerequisites exist for democratic citizenship. He will argue that a robust conception of participatory and deliberative democracy requires citizens to have access to a minimum level of education, housing, and health care, and will articulate an outline of the civic approach to the American welfare state.

Laura Kaplan ’10, a history concentrator, will explore the ethics of health care delivery in New Orleans during the Great Depression, and will investigate the ways in which national developments impacted a culturally distinct region; in other words, “Did the economic crisis and the New Deal affect the city government’s recognition of a moral responsibility for the physical well-being of the city’s inhabitants?” Kaplan will consider how different populations — hospital administrators, city policymakers, health professionals, and patients — constructed beliefs about the right to health care.

Joanna Naples-Mitchell ’10, a social studies concentrator, will undertake senior thesis research in South Africa on approaches to transitional justice. She will interview teachers and students in an attempt to understand how the country’s approach to post-conflict justice affects collective memory and stems the possibility of future atrocities. Naples-Mitchell hopes to answer the question: “What role does justice play in the process of transforming a society after conflict?”

John Sheffield, a graduating senior concentrating in social studies, is writing a critique of the ethical guidelines that govern research procedures for social and behavioral research. He will posit that the founding principles of current regulations often contravene the objectives of academic work in the social sciences, especially human rights research. His paper will discuss the concept of potential “harms” to subjects involved in corrupt, criminal, or other dangerous activities; ask why social concerns should guide researchers’ decisions; and set out a new framework for regulating social and behavioral research that addresses these shortcomings.

The Lester Kissel grants are made possible by a gift from the late Lester Kissel, a graduate of Harvard Law School and longtime benefactor of Harvard’s ethics programs. For further details about the Kissel grants, visit