Bridging the Town-Gown Divide - National Ethics Project

Ethics isn’t solely the purview of scholars. While most ethicists would agree with this claim, many struggle to engage the non-academic population in ethical discussion, even when that population lives in the zip code — the town-gown divide. Western Michigan University’s Center for the Study of Ethics in Society has geared their outreach to address this divide head on.

One branch of the center’s efforts is the Life is Better with Ethics podcast, a series of discussions and interviews running the gamut of ethical topics from conspiracy theories to climate change, all aimed at engaging public reflection. “The content of the podcast reflects our openness to ideas. If a topic is presented that deals substantively with ethics, we’ll engage,” said Ethics Center Director Dr. Sandra Borden.

While Borden hosts some episodes, the Life is Better with Ethics podcast is produced, edited and occasionally hosted by students covering a range of topics relevant to them and their work, allowing the podcast to keep pace with the varied interests of researchers and laypeople alike. This commitment to diversity of ideas is also reflected in their presentation. Recognizing the varied audience of the podcast, Life is Better with Ethics takes care to convey their topic in a way that everyone can understand. “We try to use accessible language in a conversational format,” said Borden, referencing the importance of approachability. “Anyone can be reflective and have engaging conversations about ethics.”

This philosophy of open engagement extends to their regular book clubs, open to anyone interested, regardless of WMU affiliation. While the podcast presents accessible conversations, the book club aims to cultivate similar discussions beyond the boundaries of the university by “managing to bring together people who would otherwise never meet over a book,” said Borden. 

As the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society continues to bridge the town-gown divide, you can catch Life is Better with Ethics on any major podcast platform, and keep an eye out for the Fall 2023 book club reading list and upcoming lectures on the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society webpage.

Has ethics made a difference at your institution over time? Contact Alexis Jimenez Maldonado,, with ideas for forthcoming Spotlights.

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