Ethics course has students reflecting on universal themes
March 13, 2006
|A UMNS photo by Andra Stevens
Kudzai Mukumba is a freshman in the health sciences faculty at Africa University.
A UMNS Report
By Andra Stevens*
MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) — Twenty-year-old Kudzai Mukumba didn’t know
what to expect when she saw Christian Ethics and Values on her list of required
courses at Africa University in January.
With Christian Ethics and Values and three other core courses taught across
all disciplines — African Studies, Communications Skills and Information
Technology — the United Methodist-related university aims to equip a
new breed of African professionals and leaders. Every undergraduate student
must pass these four courses to receive a degree.
“I thought it would basically be all about the Bible because of the
name,” Mukumba says.
Instead, she says the course is complex and challenging, and she’s thrilled
to have the Rev. Rosetta E. Ross as her lecturer. Ross is serving as a visiting
lecturer in the Faculty of Theology at Africa University from January to May
while on sabbatical from Spelman College in Atlanta. In addition to her teaching
duties, Ross hopes to give occasional special lectures for students in other
units and to the wider university community.
“Dr. Ross is quite a good lecturer, and I really like the fact that
she allows time for feedback and encourages us to express ourselves fully,” Mukumba
As a first-year student working on a bachelor’s degree in health services
management, Mukumba says she’s found the weekly discussions — on
the health professions’ code of ethics and African perspectives on Christianity,
among other topics — extremely useful.
Christian Kakez-A-Kapend, a second-year theology student from the Democratic
Republic of Congo, shares Mukumba’s enthusiasm for the course and for
the style in which it is being taught.
“Dr. Ross is urging us to read and to go beyond what we are given in
the classroom,” Kakez-A-Kapend says. “There is little spoon-feeding. ? When
we meet for discussions, everyone is able to contribute.”
Relevant for Africans
Although she’s taught this course in U.S. institutions, this is Ross’ first
time teaching it in Africa. She says she hasn’t changed it much except
to use readings and examples that highlight African perspectives and are relevant
to the African context.
Ross is quick to note that regardless of the context, this is a course on
Christian ethics. It’s not an African ethics course, and she finds no
added urgency for tackling issues of ethics and values in Zimbabwe over what
would be found in the United States.
|A UMNS Web-only photo by Andra Stevens
The Rev. Rosetta Ross is serving as visiting faculty at Africa University from January to May.
Her expertise ranges from public policy and social justice theory to womanist/feminist
theology and the civil rights movement. Her class consists of education, theology
and health sciences students.
First, she takes the students through definitions and terms. They’re
introduced to the language of “moral reasoning” so they can begin
to discern and separate the morality of society from ethics as a reflection
of morality, and they look at the Bible as a critical source for moral reasoning.
Throughout the course, the students reflect on weekly readings and make written
arguments for or against the positions taken in the readings. Current issues
and concerns such as ethnic differences, wealth, poverty and development and
human sexuality, are explored.
“(I hope) that students would begin to reflect more on notions of what’s
right and what’s good and develop some sense of their responsibility,
or an expectation of themselves, to not just take things for granted,” Ross
says. “If you hold a position, you ought to be able to give reasons for
Examining current events
Newspaper headlines are providing great material for classroom debates. For
Ross, the issues that come up in her Africa University classroom are generally
the same as those that arise in her classes at Spelman College, where she is
chairperson of the Department of Religion and Philosophy. Before joining Spelman,
she was the McVay Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at United Theological
Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn.
The issues related to ethical living are proving to be universal in nature.
For example, a story about a young woman whose ex-boyfriend attacked her because
she broke up with him became the jumping-off point for a discussion on violence
against women and the value and status of women in society.
|A UMNS photo by Andra Stevens
Kakez-A-Kapend, a former youth ministry director and journalist from
the Democratic Republic of Congo, is studying theology.
A shortage of fertilizer for corn, at a key point in the growing season, generated
discussion about leadership and social responsibility. At times, the discussions
center on the issue of integrity. Inevitably, the students are questioning
accepted behavior, social norms and traditions, affirming some notions and
determining that others may need to change.
“One of the things that I would hope for all my students is that they
would think that having a sense of integrity matters, even though we live in
a world where all kinds of people do all kinds of things and they get by, they
get what they want,” Ross says.
For budding health workers and pastors such as Mukumba and Kakez-A-Kapend,
the exposure and insights gained in taking this course are helping build a
strong foundation for living responsibly in community with others.
“As a pastor-to-be, I’ve come to realize that this course will
really help me in decision-making and in interpreting the Bible with justice,” Kakez-A-Kapend
“There’s a lot to take away from the course,” Mukumba says. “It
molds you in relation to your profession.
*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa University.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.