Ethics in Leadership: Zachary Taylor ’17 and Austin Piatt ’17 Zachary Taylor ’17 and Austin Piatt ’17 believe leadership, collaboration and responsibility are the keys to a successful conference.
“Whether it is through our Honor System or our robust form of student self-governance, W&L absolutely nurtures the idea that students should take the reins of their four years here and make of it what they want.”
— Austin Piatt ’17
You both were involved with the Mudd Center Undergraduate Conference in Ethics. What were your roles?
Austin: As director of the conference, I was responsible for finding someone to deliver the keynote address as well as coordinating the behind-the-scenes logistics of the whole thing. I was greatly helped by both Zachary Taylor and Professor Angie Smith (wouldn’t have been able to do it without them!) and this year we were fortunate to get Professor Sahar Akhtar from the University of Virginia to come and deliver an amazing and intriguing talk about religious travel bans.
Zachary: I am editor-in-chief of the “Mudd Journal of Ethics,” one of the only ethics-based, undergraduate philosophy journals in the United States. I lead a team of six editors who work collaboratively to select papers for final publication in the journal. I also assist Austin Piatt, the journal’s associate editor, with the Mudd Undergraduate Ethics Conference, at which students whose papers are selected for publication have the opportunity to present their work.
What made you get involved with the Mudd Center and this conference?
Austin: Last year, I was involved in the journal and the conference as one of the editors for the journal. I once again served as an editor this year but I was asked to step up my involvement and direct the conference because the previous director graduated. I was happy to take on this responsibility and do the best I could to live up to the greatness of the previous director, Teddy Corcoran ’16.
Zachary: My close friend Teddy Corcoran founded the “Mudd Journal of Ethics” last year and asked if I would serve as an assistant editor. I readily accepted his offer and worked closely with him in an effort to ensure a successful inaugural publication. At the end of last year, he recommended to Professor Angela Smith that I serve as editor-in-chief. Given how much I enjoyed my previous work on the journal, and my support for the Mudd Center’s mission, I enthusiastically took on that role for the second volume, which will be published in just a few weeks.
I see my work as contributing to a unique opportunity for students passionate about ethics to share their work with other students of philosophy, via both the journal itself and the Mudd Undergraduate Ethics Conference. The editors and I aim to engender stimulating ethical dialogue. Moreover, while not all of the students whose papers we accepted this year intend to pursue philosophy at the graduate level, most of them do, so we hope that the Mudd journal will not be the last academic journal that features their excellent research.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Austin: Being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to planning things out so that I don’t get behind on my duties.
Zachary: The publication of an academic journal, even at the undergraduate level, necessitates quite a bit of work. There must be a call for papers; editors must read the submissions; papers must be selected, edited, and proofread; the journal must be compiled; citations must be checked and double-checked for consistency; and, ultimately, the journal must be printed. The Mudd journal is truly student-run, so much of this work falls to the student editors. Fortunately, I have been able to rely on the advice of Teddy Corcoran, the journal’s founder; Professor Angela Smith, the director of the Mudd Center; and the helpful staff in the Publications Office throughout the entire process, which lasts around six months. Without their support, we never would have been able to publish this second volume.
What has been the greatest reward from this experience?
Austin: Seeing the enjoyment and knowledge everyone got out of the conference, including fellow students and other professors. Knowing that I could help put on this conference so as to bring a weekend of ethical discussions to this campus was by far the greatest reward. Also, seeing how interested everyone was in the keynote address was very rewarding.
Zachary: I am passionate about the study of philosophy, and especially about the study of ethics, not just because I find ethical debate intellectually invigorating, but also because I view substantive ethical dialogue as essential to the pursuit of justice, the beloved community and the good life. I sincerely hope that the Mudd journal facilitates such dialogue. Perhaps one of the student-authors gives a copy of the journal to a family member who, in turn, discusses its ideas with a friend or colleague. Perhaps a student at Washington and Lee happens upon a copy in the library, reads an article or two, and shares the authors’ conclusions with her peers or professors. The potential is endless once the journal is published for all to read, critique and analyze.
What insight, or insights, have you gained?
Austin: I have realized that sometimes it’s the thankless, behind-the-scenes work that is the most important. It has given me a greater appreciation for all the people we may not see on stage, but who are nonetheless crucial for such events like this.
Zachary: The publication of an academic journal is a highly collaborative effort. I often think of myself as a relatively self-reliant, self-sufficient person, especially with respect to academic matters. I realized quite soon, however, that if we hoped to publish another successful journal and host a second fruitful conference, I needed to trust the advice and assistance of other people.
What lies in the future for the journal and the conference?
Austin: Even though I am graduating, I plan to take on a consulting role for next year’s team and continue to help out any way I can to ensure the future of these projects.
Zachary: The journal is only in its second year, and if future students at Washington and Lee continue to value its ethics-based academic vision, then I foresee many more successful volumes in the forthcoming years. I only hope that more students from a diverse variety of universities across the United States will submit papers to the journal so that future students can increase the scope and size of the Mudd Undergraduate Ethics Conference.
What does leadership mean to you?
Austin: Leadership, for me, has always meant leading from within, not leading from above. I believe strongly in servant leadership, which is a concept I learned in high school and which I try to apply every day. A leader is not someone who tells his/her followers what to do, but rather someone who serves his/her followers in ways that best benefit the team. This requires a leader to be humble, selfless and a good listener, three qualities that I believe immature leaders lack. Washington and Lee has reinforced this servant leadership in me, whether it’s on the court, as Head RA, or within the Mudd Center.
Zachary: I have never been fully comfortable at the center of attention, with all eyes trained on me. Instead, I prefer to work behind the scenes, making small differences that not everyone notices or necessarily hears about. I try to practice this rather quiet and reserved leadership style at Washington and Lee. In my view, the best leaders persuade other people to care about problems that they think matter by posing difficult questions and facilitating respectful dialogue. I would like to think that the “Mudd Journal of Ethics” accomplishes both of these tasks.
Why is student leadership important on W&L’s campus?
Austin: Washington and Lee places an immense amount of responsibility on its students. Whether it is through our Honor System or our robust form of student self-governance, W&L absolutely nurtures the idea that students should take the reins of their four years here and make of it what they want. Every student has the opportunity, and it fosters an immense sense of leadership as students are galvanized to be active agents on campus instead of passive participants. This is all part of how Washington and Lee gives its students more than a college education; it gives us a holistic college experience, which enables students to enter the world as engaged citizens, lifelong learners and, most importantly, strong and principled leaders.
Zachary: When students assume leadership roles at Washington and Lee, they also assume a number of consequential responsibilities outside the classroom. I find this to be an essential part of personal development while in college. Moreover, the most effective student leaders cultivate a valuable sense of community among students, faculty, staff and the residents of Rockbridge County. I greatly admire students whose leadership efforts bring together people from these different, yet interconnected, groups.