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Ethics course has students reflecting on universal themes

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A UMNS photo by Andra Stevens

Kudzai Mukumba is a freshman in the health sciences faculty at Africa University.
March 13, 2006

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 says.

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.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS Web-only photo by Andra Stevens

The Rev. Rosetta Ross is serving as visiting faculty at Africa University from January to May.
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.

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 it.”

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.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Andra Stevens

Christian Kakez-A-Kapend, a former youth ministry director and journalist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is studying theology.
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 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 says.

“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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

 
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