Theater Delta presents new perspective on ethical problems in graduate research

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Parker Robb | Collegian Members of Theater Delta answer questions from the audience during the troupe’s interactive performance Monday evening in the Little Theatre in the K-State Student Union.

The Theater Delta group brought an interactive and thought-provoking perspective on the discussion of research ethics in graduate studies to the Little Theatre in the K-State Student Union on Monday evening. The group, which traveled from North Carolina, acted out a skit that showed three students facing three ethical dilemmas: plagiarism, giving unauthorized help and omitting lab results.

At the event, audience members were able to interact with the characters and ask them about their choices.

“It was very constructive,” said Emilie Guidez, doctoral student in chemistry. “I didn’t know about some problems that professors face. I liked that it was interactive instead of just sitting and listening.”

Theater Delta was started at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., by Ben Saypol, who acted as facilitator for the skit. According to the group’s website, it is called Theater Delta because the Greek letter for change is the delta symbol, and members are advocating for social change through theater.

The performance began with Soo Jung, played by Jennifer White, and her friend Courtney, played by Lakeisha Coffey, discussing problems with a paper. Tim (portrayed by Brandon Rafalson) then enters and complains about how several results from an experiment went horribly wrong and he cannot tell why. Meanwhile, Courtney is helping a friend by giving him a few answers to a quiz. At the end of the skit, Dr. Helen Clark (played by Anoo Brod) has caught both Soo Jung and Courtney cheating and decides to bring them to the honor court.

According to Rafalson, the actors spent a lot of time developing the background story for the characters and thinking of questions that the audience might ask. However, none of the actors had ever found themselves in their characters’ positions before joining the theater group.

“But I think I can relate to them,” Rafalson said. “I understand wanting to get good grades, but also I should be completely honest.”

After the skit, audience members were encouraged to ask the characters why they did what they did. The most common responses were “I was under a lot of stress” or “I didn’t have time to finish it.”

“We’re here to explore these grey areas,” Saypol said. “There are times when not cheating is the right path, but in this situation you can’t really draw the line between good and bad.”

After asking the characters their questions, audience members were then asked how they felt about the situation presented and what they would do. Many students voiced the opinion that no matter what happened, having good ethics was important. Another key issue was communication between faculty and students.

“If you have questions, start the conversation early,” Saypol said. “You can’t stay in your bubble and be isolated. It’s a two-way street.”

Besides the students in the audience, several faculty members also voiced their opinions on the issues. Peter Pfromm, professor of chemical engineering, has come across students in his classes who have clearly plagiarized or received unauthorized help.

“My approach is to reduce the value of homework,” Pfromm said. “I place more emphasis on in-class exams rather than homework because plagiarism isn’t an issue there.”

In the end, the audience agreed that time management was important in avoiding situations like these. Setting deadlines and hyper-scheduling were noted as among the most important things a student can do to avoid stress. In addition to scheduling study time, students should also schedule down time to relax and take a break. Finally, if the stress proves to be too much, students should talk to friends, faculty or the other various resources on campus, such as Counseling Services.

“I thought it was very thought-provoking,” Pfromm said. “We got a lot of people from all over campus to talk and learn about issues students have.”

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