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Professor lectures discuss important roles in society

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Mass communication professor Leticia Steffen and math professor Jonathan Poritz talked about social responsibility at the 20/20 lecture, Jan. 20. 

Leticia Steffen talks about social responsibility in journalism at the 20/20 series Jan. 20. Photo by Sam Acar.

Two professors each give 20-minute presentations on a topic based on the theme of the lecture. The theme of this lecture was “Social Responsibility in the 21st Century.” Students were encouraged to come to this series because it gives them a chance to speak to professors out of the classroom.

“The most important goals of the 20/20 series is to emphasize the importance of life-long learning and to help everyone realize that even though we work in different disciplines or majors, there are common themes in what we teach and learn,” Steffen said.

Steffen used the example of Hurricane Katrina and how images or discussion about it can bring out certain emotions. She talked about how people reacted to the news coverage on it, as well as some photos from the aftermath of the hurricane. Coverage of news topics can have an impact on many people in various ways, ways that not everyone likes, she said.

 “Sometimes I feel like the news can overdo it with some of the stories that they cover. It’s on one channel, then 30 minutes later it’s on another one,” said Desaray Johnson, senior mass communications major.

Sam Ebersole, a professor in the mass communications and center for new media department, does not like the news trying to draw specific feelings out of him.

 “I don’t want news to direct my emotion. I really don’t want much anger from it,” Ebersole said.

The next example that Steffen used was someone who tried to bring out emotions in people with all of her work.

Steffen spoke to the audience about Nellie Bly, an investigative journalist in the late 1800s, who went to extreme measures to expose wrongdoings. Steffen pointed out how Bly went undercover in an insane asylum, as well as how she worked in a sweatshop to show cases of child abuse. Steffen also read an excerpt from the book “Inside Reporting” about how Bly behaved while she was in the asylum.

Jonathan Poritz talks about the ethical use of mathemtics in education. Photo by Sam Acar.

Steffen also explained the extent to which Bly acted as though she was mentally ill in the asylum.

Poritz used various aspects of math to get his point across to the audience.

The title of Poritz’s lecture was, “Is there a such thing as mathematical ethics or ethical mathematics?” Poritz used slides, stories and information from his background to develop his point. One of the slides showed math word problems used in elementary schools.

“Each basket has 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each one pick?”

The professor had another slide that elementary school students used as a word problem.

“Frederick had six baskets filled with cotton. If each basket held five pounds, how many pounds did he have all together?”

The word problem referred to none other than the man who escaped slavery, Frederick Douglass.

“I don’t know if there’s a lesson here besides don’t write word problems,” Poritz said.

Poritz went on to explain how irresponsible it was to represent mathematics how it’s been in the examples he used.

Poritz wrapped things up by talking about how math, like journalism, can carry an important role when it comes to social responsibility. The professor also used a quote from the movie “Spiderman” to express the power of social responsibility in math.

“With great power, comes great responsibility,” Poritz said.