Kristi Schultz Broughton Liberal Arts Essay Contest

Each academic year, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences invites students to participate in our liberal education essay contest. The contest is open to all Butler University undergraduate students, and the submitted essays are judged by a committee of Butler University faculty drawn from various disciplines as well as members of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors. The student who writes the winning essay wins a $1000 prize and is honored at Awards Day towards the end of the Spring semester.

The essay contest is named in honor of Kristi Schultz Broughton. Although not a Butler grad, Kristi was an avid supporter of Butler. Kristi was an elementary school teacher and a Butler Mom whose life exemplified the values of liberal education and a commitment to teaching and learning. The contest is made possible through the generous gift of Kristi’s sister Karen Schultz Alter ’85 and brother Steven R. Schultz ’88.

Why trying to get it right matters.

Debates about what counts as reliable information and what is accidentally or intentionally misleading, about how to discern between knowledge and mere opinion (or even wishful thinking) are not new, to be sure. Yet, they have received greater significance, among other things, as a result of this ongoing pandemic. Do we have a moral duty—to others and ourselves—to grasp the truth, in so far as we can, and to act accordingly? Please write an essay about the ways in which your liberal arts education over the past year or so at Butler has helped you become better at making such distinctions and putting them to work.

Right Is Wrong, Just Past the Bathrooms, And to Your Left

by Miriam Berne

In the early stages of my education, more specifically, from the moment I was taught that Wikipedia should only be used as a starting point in research (if at all) and should not be used as a valid (or cited) source, I began my journey of discovering the distinctions between knowledge and mere opinion. Though unreliable and misleading information is not new, in the past two years or so (at least, dating back to March of 2020), we have seen a spike in the number of invalid information sources that exist. These websites and “data sources” can be added to a growing list, alongside Wikipedia, of sources that should not be used as valid information. This list has grown tirelessly as a result of this ongoing pandemic. My liberal arts education at Butler has further helped me with making these distinctions, and has shown me what—and who—to trust.

Coming to Butler was a huge culture shock to me regarding the lack of diversity and the extreme polarization of thought. I know that not everyone’s opinions will always align with mine, but before I arrived at Butler, I never really had to face anyone directly who believes the opposite of what I believe. Butler has taught me how to engage in these challenging, yet important, conversations, and how to support what I believe with evidence-finding research skills. My liberal arts education at Butler has continued to teach me the ways in which social interactions are imperative to the survival of society. The way we talk to each other, and teach and learn from one another, can have powerful consequences on someone’s beliefs or understandings. To move forward, we must create new policies that align with the truth of our current times, and we cannot do that without talking to one another. The truth behind our current times is that we are not living in the same place that our Founding Fathers lived in, let alone the same place that we were living in two years ago. Paul Valliere’s lecture, “The First Last Lecture,” speaks to this point when discussing how “acknowledging and cherishing the traditions of our institution, for traditions are dialogic, too… are the continuing dialogue between the living and the dead.”  Knowing where to find truthful information has become somewhat subjective in that it depends on what one personally believes, and what one believes can have detrimental consequences. Today, choosing to not believe in the power and truth behind science has shown us just how dangerous a stance like that can be. Furthermore, in the context of today, I understand this moment in Valliere’s lecture to act as a harsh and literal demonstration of the result of misinformation surrounding COVID-19. A liberal arts education at Butler should promote both its beliefs that it was founded upon, while also including a modern understanding of the world. We live in a time in which information, or misinformation, is a matter of life or death.

My generation’s fingers itch tirelessly when our phones are not in our hands. It has become a habit to scroll through Instagram and other apps, and it used to be that we could scroll without really thinking twice. But, in the past year or so, these apps became some of my generation’s main sources of current events and mindless scrolling became a thing of the past. Different social media platforms, websites, and apps (such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and even Spotify), now share the news (or “news”) of today surrounding vaccines and mask mandates and everyone’s opinions about them. Imagine, having an opinion about scientific facts… The pandemic has progressed, and these social media platforms and organizations have implemented policies that try to disallow individuals from sharing misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines for it. Just as Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account for violating its policy “Glorification of Violence” after the riot on January 6th, 2021, we have seen Twitter continue to uphold its values when Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green’s personal Twitter account was permanently suspended after violating Twitter’s COVID19 misinformation policy. We look to our elected officials to make decisions that will keep us safe, essentially trusting them with our lives. We also look to celebrities, social influencers, and other individuals who hold social power, for information as well. Unfortunately, there are instances in which action is not taken. For example, Spotify has recently refused to remove Joe Rogan’s podcast in which he spews COVID-19 information leading his audience to fear vaccines and contribute to the seemingly never-ending pandemic. Some podcasters and musical artists, though, are beginning to remove their music and podcasts from Spotify in protest. When our elected officials and celebrities tell people to do—or not do—something, it can have drastic effects on the world and the communities we live in. The effects of vaccine misinformation are very real, and we have seen the grasp that it has had on our healthcare system and morgues.

In “A Liberal Education is Not a Luxury,” Marshall Gregory lists for his readers what I believe my liberal arts education at Butler has helped me to hone and better understand about myself: “powers of imagination, aesthetic responsiveness, introspection, language, rationality, moral and ethical reasoning, physical capacities, and so on.” All of these have been imperative to my growth as an individual throughout my education here in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler. Though my time at Butler is coming to an end, the research and interpersonal skills I have learned throughout my liberal arts education will only continue. Butler was only the beginning for me, and as I enter law school and the professional world, I will further hone these skills, hopefully creating real change, and promoting truth and science through laws and policies.