Project Change Introduces Students to Durham and to Complexities of Social Change

Three students gather around a laptop as they work on a group project.
Duke freshmen participate in “Project Change,” one of 18 programs offered during orientation. Photo by Chris Hildreth.

In its Winter 2022 issue, Duke Magazine profiled Project Change, an experiential pre-orientation program run by the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Students were introduced to the Durham community through walking tours of downtown Durham, talks with community leaders and faculty, scavenger hunts, and other group activities. They also took a deep dive into local history as they researched the restrictive racial covenants, which – though unenforceable – are still attached to properties in neighborhoods proximate to Duke. They explored possible responses and deliberated on the best way to address the legacy of these covenants today.

“[M]any students enter Duke with simplistic ideas about making change in the world. Project Change, in some ways, teaches them how to fail – or at least how complex change can be and how long it takes.”

Read the full article by Scott Huler on the Duke Magazine website or in its Winter 2022 print issue.

Senior Fellow Dirk Philipsen interviewed on The Takeaway

the TakeawayKenan Senior Fellow Dirk Philipsen spoke with journalist Melissa Harris-Perry on the podcast The Takeaway this week about how focusing on economic growth leads us to ignore things that matter much more – like human wellbeing, and the health of the planet.

“The biggest problem is, for me, the sole focus on…output, which is essentially, in financial terms, what we sell and buy in the marketplace. Very obviously, this ignores a wide range of things that for you and me make life worth living. Everything from democracy to freedom to equality to a healthy environment. All of those kinds of things are simply not part of our economic indicators. And that is an enormous problem that is now widely recognized by scientists.”

Listen to the full conversation on The Takeaway via your favorite podcast platform or the WNYC Studios website here.

Seeking the ‘Solidarity Dividend’ of Racial Healing

Gail Christopher shares how her personal experience with health inequities and understanding the false hierarchy of human value led her to develop the TRHT framework. Photo by John West, Trinity Communications

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 300 people in Duke’s Penn Pavilion on Dec. 8, Gail Christopher was resolute.

She described racism as “organized lovelessness” which then gets translated into systems of oppression. “We can’t be afraid of each other because of our difference. And love and fear cannot exist at the same time.”

An expert in health policy and movement leader, Christopher addressed the topic of racial healing alongside her daughter Heather McGhee, a prominent author and racial justice advocate. The pair spent the day engaging with students, administrators, staff and faculty, culminating in a public Katz Women, Ethics, and Leadership Lecture on “Racial Healing, Hope, and the ‘Solidarity Dividend’” hosted by Charmaine Royal, Robert O. Keohane Professor of African & African American Studies and director of the Duke Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation.

Students, including those from the UNIV 101 course on race, were part of the program and met with the speakers.


The event was tied with UNIV 101: Let’s Talk About Race, a university-wide course that was piloted last year as part of Duke’s ongoing efforts to advance racial equity. During a lunch open to UNIV 101 students, Christopher and McGhee answered questions about grassroots advocacy and organizing, how to sustain activism post-graduation or in the face of indifference, and how much to focus on interpersonal racism versus structural racism in the fight for a more just world.

“I was so excited for today,” said first-year student Kyle MacLellen. “Reading their books for class was so interesting and then being able to be that close and interact with them on a personal level was very special. I liked how closely the books connected with what we did over the semester and it was not just discussing problems, but solutions. And I love that this was the end – this would be our last day of class and this is a good moving forward point.”

Christopher and McGhee also spoke to the Duke Racial Equity Advisory Council (REAC) during an early afternoon panel. Christopher noted that it’s important to ensure that racial equity efforts align with an organization’s mission. She added that with the president and Board of Trustees backing the work, Duke is off to a good start. But leadership needs continuous feedback.

“Focus on what you have control over,” she told those in the room. “Bring your excellence to that and then show collective progress.”

Ian Lee Brown, chief diversity & belonging officer and vice president at Duke University Health System, asks a question during the REAC panel discussion.


How does one end up pursuing racial healing as one’s life’s work? For Christopher, it was the loss of her first-born child that pushed her to study the health inequities that lead to higher rates of infant mortality among Black women. She focused on social determinants of health: how the environments in which we live in contribute to – or damage – our wellbeing.

Christopher created the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) process while serving as senior advisor and vice president of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. TRHT seeks to reshape communities, first through truth-telling and relationship-building, and then through pursuing systemic change.

“Let’s build the coalitions, the critical mass, the supermajority we need in a democracy to sustain whatever we accomplish,” Christopher said. “Then you can come up with strategies for fixing the systems that are broken.”

Heather McGhee laughs as her mother, Gail Christopher, responds to a question.

Christopher and McGhee emphasized that fighting racism has benefits for everyone. McGhee calls this the “Solidarity Dividend” in her bestselling book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”

When asked about the relationship of racism to climate change, McGhee said that the same people who believed that they were at the top of a racial “hierarchy of value” also tended to believe that they wouldn’t be affected by climate change – “that the sea levels won’t rise to them.”

“This idea that we don’t all live under the same sky is an illusion,” she said.

While reparations are often viewed within a “zero-sum framework” – as a benefit to some and a cost to others – McGhee says she does not see it that way. “I see reparations as seed capital for the nation we are becoming.”

Furthermore, she says, “I don’t get how you can see how Black wealth was stripped, stolen, built up and taken away again without seeing how better off economically we would be if every family had a little more of that cushion of wealth.”

Citing the State of California’s decision to return “Bruce’s Beach” to the descendants of the Black family from whom it was wrongfully taken nearly 100 years ago, she said, “There’s no statute of limitations for making it right.”


According to Christopher, empathy is a necessary precursor to healing the wrongs of the past. This involves “developing the capacity to see ourselves in one another, to love one another, to care for one another.”

Nearly 300 people attended the session in Penn Pavilion

McGhee shares such stories of racial solidarity in her book as well as her Higher Ground-produced podcast, also titled “The Sum of Us.”

McGhee said she had an “a-ha” moment when she realized the difference between racial equity trainings and racial healing. While racial equity trainings are designed to help people grasp the differences resulting from racism, she said, “the racial healing methodology is about having people experience the desired state. Being in our difference is not the desired state—the desired state is our common humanity.”

Sponsors of the event included the Office for Faculty Advancement, Office of Undergraduate Education, Duke Health, Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke Arts, Social Science Research Institute, Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, Office for Institutional Equity, Racial Equity Advisory Council, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Department of African & African American Studies and Duke Alumni Engagement and Development.

This article was originally published on Duke Today. Kathryn Kennedy of Trinity Communications and Landy Elliott of the Office of Undergraduate Education contributed to this article. All photos by John West of Trinity Communications.

Charmaine Royal, Robert O. Keohane Professor of African & African American Studies and director of Duke’s Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, introduced the guest speakers.

Call for Applications: 2023 Re-Imagining Medicine Fellowship

Reimagining MedicineWhat does it mean to be a good doctor? What does the “do no harm” in the Hippocratic tradition mean—not in theory, but in practice?  How do we ensure that healthcare is just, fair, humane, and equitable?  How can we prepare to practice medicine with character, to develop a sense of meaning and purpose in our work, and to contribute to the betterment of society?

If you are a Duke undergraduate planning on working in health care and interested in exploring these questions, Reimagining Medicine (ReMed) invites you to apply for a Summer 2023 Fellowship.

In this program, you are invited to imagine the ways that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals can use their specialized knowledge and skills with humility to care for individuals, cure and prevent disease and suffering, flourish in their chosen profession, and work toward the greater good. Fellows will join with each other and with doctors, other healthcare professionals, and faculty from other disciplines (e.g., history, ethics, the arts) to explore themes often absent in traditional pre-health and health education.

The priority application deadline is January 31, 2023. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis after that time until all available spots are filled.


• Undergraduate students at Duke who are planning on careers in medicine, nursing, physical/occupational therapy, health administration, public health, or other disciplines related to health care. Priority will be given to rising juniors and seniors.


• ReMed is not a stand-alone program. To enable critical reflection on lived experiences and practices, Fellows are required to pair their participation in ReMed with an internship, employment, or service work related to health or health care. Fellows must arrange this parallel experience on their own. It must be at least twenty hours a week for eight weeks, and it can include formal Duke civic engagement or research programs, with permission from the directors of those programs. Experiences that would fulfill this requirement include volunteer service in a health-related setting; paid employment in a hospital, clinic, public health agency, or health-related company or nonprofit; or engagement in clinical research. Applicants must specify their proposed summer experience at the time of application.

• Fellows will gather in person for a week at Duke from May 14–19, 2023 (the week following commencement). This immersive week will feature shared meals and conversation, experiential learning at Duke Hospital, engagement with creative writing and the visual arts, and facilitated reflections on justice and equity in health care. Students who live on campus will work with Housing and Residence Life to extend their housing reservation. ReMed staff will support students in this application process and will cover the additional cost of meals and housing for that week.

• Following this week, ReMed is a virtual program. For eight weeks in June and July, Fellows and faculty will gather for weekly 90-minute ReMed Seminars to reflect on their summer experiences and to engage in conversation with leading scholars and practitioners. These seminars will take place on Zoom from 4:30 pm–6:00 pm ET on Thursdays, June 1, 8, 15, 22 and July 6, 13, 20, and 27.

ReMed Fellows are expected to participate fully in all components of the fellowship and to miss no more than one ReMed Seminar.

• Fellows are also expected to journal about their experiences during the summer and to complete a creative project, with the support of faculty, that will be presented at the closing dinner and celebration in early Fall 2023 (date TBD).


For full participation in the Fellowship, Fellows will receive:

• Coverage of all program-related expenses (including housing and food) for the summer experiential week and closing dinner/celebration.
• $1,000 honorarium
• Up to $1000 educational grant to apply to costs associated with summer health-related work and/or completion of the creative project (separate application required, may be limited by available funding)

Application Requirements

1. Major(s) if known
2. Minor(s) if known
3. Plan for at least 20 hours/week work or service in a health-related setting in summer 2023 (see above for details)
4. In no more than 250 words, describe your interest in working in health care. What motivates you, and what area(s) interest you most?
5. In no more than 250 words, describe a time when you faced a challenge and worked to overcome it. What did you learn about yourself and others?
6. In no more than 250 words, describe a time when you discovered an unexpected connection with someone or changed your mind as the result of a conversation.
7. In no more than 250 words, describe as specifically as possible how engaging the medical humanities, arts, ethics, and history through ReMed will make a difference in your summer health-related work or service, and/or in your future career in health care.
8. Please provide contact information for one faculty/staff reference: full name, title, email address, work phone, and how you know each other.
9. By submitting an application, you are indicating your intention, if selected, to participate fully in all aspects of the Fellowship including the summer experiential week in May 14–19, 2023, weekly meetings in June-July, and the closing dinner and celebration in the early fall. Do you know of any conflicts with your participation, as described?
10. Please upload your resume here (PDF, two-page limit).

Click here to apply

Priority Deadline

January 31, 2023


Contact Warren Kinghorn at warren.kinghorn@duke.edu.

ReMed is a program of The Purpose Project at Duke, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and the Trent Center for Bioethics, Medical Humanities, and the History of Medicine. It is sponsored by a grant from The Duke Endowment.

How to be a Better Person: The Ethics of Now with Michael Schur

Michael Schur and Adriane Lentz-Smith sit in armchairs on the stage of the Nasher Museum of Art lecture hall in front of a full audience
Schur and Lentz-Smith spoke to a capacity audience in the Nasher Museum of Art auditorium.

On Friday, October 14, 2022, the Kenan Institute for Ethics welcomed Michael Schur, Emmy Award-winning comedy writer and creator of “The Good Place,” to its Ethics of Now series, hosted by Associate Professor of History Adriane Lentz-Smith. The event was held at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Schur discussed how his interest in moral philosophy led him to create “The Good Place” and write the recent book “How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question.” Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

On “What We Owe to Each Other”

“What We Owe to Each Other” is a book by a philosopher named Tim Scanlon. That book, of all the books I read, was the most meaningful to me and struck the greatest chord. And I should say, as a caveat, because this is a discussion of ethics, I never actually finished the book. It’s very hard to read, in my defense.

The title, meaningfully, is not, “Do we owe things to each other?” The title is “What We Owe to Each Other.” It is saying we do owe things to each other, and now our job is to figure out what those things are.

[John Stuart Mill] just says, ‘Create as much happiness as you can,’ and if you follow that to its logical conclusion, I wouldn’t be here right now,” said Schur, on the limits of utilitarianism as a moral philosophy. “I’m creating some amount of happiness, in theory, by speaking to you fine folks. But I could easily be creating more happiness by going to Florida and helping victims of Hurricane Ian, and so, ‘Goodbye,’ and I would leave, and I would fly to Florida, and I would find the people who are suffering the most, and I would max out…so if that becomes the only objective in your life, then you just become like a battery, powering the lives of other people.”
On how he started thinking about how to be a good person and how it led to “The Good Place”

I got into a number of situations in my life where something happened, I waded into this messy situation and did something that I felt pretty strongly was wrong, but I didn’t know why. And eventually, in the year 2005, one of these things happened, and it sent me into this zone of…I think I need to read about this, I think I need to learn. I need a vocabulary. I need a scaffolding, or some kind of structure, so that when I blow it, I can explain how I’m blowing it, instead of just being bummed out.

And so that then started the more official journey through ethics. For me, it was purely a hobby for ten years, and then in 2015, when the show “Parks and Recreation” ended, and I was given the opportunity to do a new show, my bosses very nicely said, you can do anything you want.

I had been working on this idea about ethics—about an afterlife that is reserved for the most rarefied of the best of the best. Like, life on Earth is a video game, and if you are one of the very best players of that game, you get your initials on the home screen, and everybody else is tortured forever. And the idea that I was toying with was, a woman is granted admission to this very exclusive club who clearly did not belong there. There has been some mistake. There’s been a clerical error…

Part of the pitch to NBC was, this is gonna be a show about ethics, and not on the margins—this is the core of this show. And that went over great. No—to their credit, they were wary, but they were committed at this point. They [had] told me I could do whatever I wanted.

I said, “Listen, I understand that this is atypical, and so I will make you a promise, a solemn vow: I will not make the show feel like homework.”

And then in the third episode of the show, Chidi Anagonye is standing in front of a blackboard, and it says “Philosophy 101” on it.

On why “The Good Place” “gently endorses” Aristotelian virtue ethics

When I was sampling, like at a buffet, all of the various ethical theories that have existed in the universe for the last 3000 years, the one that I found myself drawn to more than the others—I wavered, but ultimately I landed at Aristotle. And part of the reason that I landed at Aristotle, slightly above the others, who I think are all valuable and interesting, and have important things to say…just in case Emmanuel Kant is here somewhere…is because he’s asking a slightly different question than the other folks. Most of the other folks are saying, “What should I do in a given situation?” And Aristotle is saying, “What kind of person should I be?”

On the limits of utilitarianism

I care a great deal about ethics and about trying to live a good life. But you can’t make that all you care about, because then you’re not actually living a good life at all, or really any life that we would recognize as good.

Michael Schur at the Ethics of Now
“From the moment that you sign up for a career in Hollywood, you are morally compromised,” Schur said in response to a student’s question about whether you can be ethical while pursuing a career in entertainment. “There’s no way around it. The people I work for, I really like, generally speaking. There are also people…who have made donations to every single politician in the world that I actively hate and wish harm upon. Not physical harm,” he quickly added. “Just, like, existential sadness.”

On practicing philosophy “in the wild”

Scanlon’s theory is basically like, you’ve got to sit around a table and actually hash this out with each other. These are the people we live with, they’re the people that we have to survive with and exist with, and the rules need to be worked out in conjunction with other people, even when those other people are irritating or annoying or seemingly unreasonable.

On liking art by problematic people, and where we draw the line

I became a comedy writer largely because of Woody Allen, a totally unproblematic person who has no issues surrounding him, and so I’m fine. No. Obviously, I grow up and I learn about him, and then I have this problem, which is, I’ve seen Annie Hall 250 times. I can quote the entire movie from beginning to end. It had a profound effect on me. I don’t know, honestly, whether I am supposed to rip Woody Allen out of my soul and throw him in the garbage pail, or whether I am allowed at some level to engage with him still.

This, to me, is the thorniest question. There is not a person in this room, nor a person on earth who does not confront this problem. You are a fan of someone who has done something that you would consider to be problematic, and the answer to how we negotiate that is endlessly complicated and difficult, and, I think, different for different people.

John Oliver, whose show I greatly admire, has this thing where, when people say, “Where do you draw the line?” his answer is “Somewhere!”

You draw it somewhere. The fact that the line is blurry is not an excuse to not draw it. You gain more information as you get older, you erase the line, you draw it somewhere else, and as soon as you draw it, you are guaranteeing that one of your smartass friends is gonna come up and say, “Oh, this is okay. But this isn’t? How is the line here?” and you go, “All right. I agree with you,” and you erase it, and you redraw it.

That’s sort of the best we can do. It’s not a great solution. I don’t know of a better one. I think that the only thing you can do that’s truly a mistake is to pretend that it doesn’t matter, or that there’s nowhere to draw the line.

On whether you can work in Hollywood…or anywhere, and still be ethical

I think you can be an ethical person and work within an industry that has a lot of ethical problems. I do. I believe that. But you shouldn’t fool yourself…the ethical challenges endemic to it are real, and they require daily thought and maintenance to understand what you won’t do and what lines you won’t cross, and it’s hard. It’s really hard.

Schur signed copies of his book and posed with fans for photos at a reception following the event. Photos: Luke Taylor.

Announcing the Prison Engagement Initiative

Prison Engagement Initiative web tileThis fall, the Kenan Institute for Ethics is welcoming a new program: the Prison Engagement Initiative. Under the direction of Douglas Campbell and Sarah Jobe, the Prison Engagement Initiative will bring together faculty, staff, students, and community members seeking to engage prisons, the people affected by prisons, and the politics and pathways surrounding mass incarceration.

Campbell, professor at the Duke Divinity School, and Jobe, prison chaplain and prison educator, bring over a decade of experience to this initiative. Since 2009, they have co-directed the Divinity School’s Prison Program, which offers Divinity School students the opportunity to take courses in a local prison along with people who are incarcerated there.

Both Douglas and Jobe hope the PEI will serve as a site for imagining additional possibilities for collaborations that transcend the divide between universities and prisons. “We’re both grateful and excited that Kenan will provide the resources and the space to map the work across Duke that is already being done in relation to prisons, pathways to and from prisons, and the current crisis of mass incarceration,” said Campbell. “We hope that bringing together Duke’s conversations, insights, and resources will generate new insights and constructive forms of engagement—not to mention new energy and hope—for addressing the vast and harmful dynamics of the American prison system.”

“This is the kind of project Kenan likes to support because it bridges classroom and community and draws widely on Duke’s capacity for interdisciplinary research,” said David Toole, interim director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics. “It promises to bring sustained attention to a pressing societal issue in great need of solutions that challenge the status quo, the burdens of which in this case fall disproportionately on underserved communities and people of color.”

Throughout 2022–23, the Prison Engagement Initiative will convene a Strategic Listening Team to map Duke’s existing engagement in prisons, to learn about ongoing research and collaborations, to meet community partners in the Triangle area, and to envision the shape and orientation of an ongoing cross-disciplinary prison initiative at Duke University.

“We believe that by joining the knowledges of business, law, and the humanities together, we can amplify what individual scholars and programs are already doing in and around prisons,” said Jobe. “We are seeking interdisciplinary partnerships that will enable Duke students and professors from all graduate and undergraduate programs to more actively engage prisons, the pathways that lead people to prison, and life after release.”

Those with practical experience and/or academic interest in prisons are invited to email graduate assistant Meredith Manchester at meredith.manchester@duke.edu, introducing yourself and your connection to these issues.

To sign up for the PEI’s list serv, please email program coordinator Jac Arnade-Colwill at jac.arnade-colwill@duke.edu.