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CBE Spotlight - Dr. Livia Bornigia
Dr. Livia BornigiaDr. Livia Bornigia is an associate professor in the Department of Communication, School of Arts and Sciences. She is also a guest lecturer in the Master of Arts in Faith and Culture program and is chair of the Social Justice Committee.

Could you please share with us the role ethics plays in your teaching and research?

I can tell you without a doubt that I would not be able to fulfill my vocation as a teacher and media professional if I could not teach my students to be ethical communicators and ethical media critics.
What classes do you teach that include ethics?

Since ethics is an essential part of communication, I integrate discussions on various dimensions and nuances of ethical behavior in all my classes.  Here are a few examples:
  • Public Speaking (COMM 1331): Nowhere is the consideration of proper ethical behavior more important than in public speaking:

    Ethos- “Ethical proof is wrought when the speech is so spoken as to make the speaker credible; for we trust good men…as a rule, about everything; while about things which do not admit of precision, but only guess work, we trust them absolutely."
    Students who take my class learn from the very beginning of the semester that, as Aristotle put it, rhetoric can be used to do great good or great harm to society:

    “If it is urged that an abuse of the rhetorical faculty can work great mischief, the same charge can be brought against all good things, and especially against the most useful things such as strength, health, wealth, and military skill.  Rightly employed, they work the greatest blessings; wrongly employed, they work the greatest harm.”  (Aristotle, Rhetoric)

    Therefore, it is essential to me that they learn how to use the skills they are learning for the common good. This requires them to apply such skills in all their presentations and also to become critical discerners/listeners so that they may recognize unethical behavior when they hear it in others. An example of this would be a politician who deliberately uses a reasoning fallacy to trick his opponent and the audience.

  • Persuasion and Argumentation (COMM 2332):  This class explores, in depth, the components of persuasion within the framework of proper ethical behavior. Sometimes we refer to it as a “question of intentionality.” The students are exposed to a variety of persuasive messages in the arts, the sciences, the media, politics and more.  They learn to identify the persuasive strategies employed by the source of each message and determine whether such message is ethical or not.

    For example, is an emotional appeal used to intensify the evidence that is presented or is it supposed to confuse the target audience by replacing the evidence?  Once again, we base much of our discussion on Aristotelian thought, as well as on contemporary theories of persuasion and argumentation.

    Pathos-“The hearers themselves become the instrument of proof when emotion is stirred in them by the speech; for we give our judgment in different ways under the influence of pain and joy, of liking and hatred.” 

    The students are required to complete, also, a semester-long public communication campaign on an issue of social significance that will positively impact their community.  They are urged to use Catholic social justice teachings are a point of departure.  Currently, my students are working on the following campaigns of awareness:
    • The principle of stewardship: water conservation in Texas
    • The principle of participation: political activism in college students  
  • Propaganda (COMM 4393): In this class, students learn about the “dark side of persuasion.”  By looking at successful past and current propaganda campaigns, they learn how the same rhetorical principles that can be used for the common good can also be employed to deceive and manipulate a target audience.  In other words, this class represents the absence of ethos in communication.

  • Art and Asceticism of Dialogue (FC 5306):  In this class for the Master of Faith and Culture, the students learn how to be compassionate and effective communicators within an ethical framework.  The class could not exist without such a framework. Mindful communication, both as speaker and as listener, requires a decision to be ethical.
What research and/or service showcases who you are and the role of ethics in your career? 

Currently, I am developing a new syllabus for a course titled “Film and Society.”  Much like my other film class, Italian Cinema (think of post WWII Italian neo-realist films), this one will have a crucial ethical dimension, namely, an analysis of how each film we will view served to mirror or denounce what was happening in society at that time.  For instance, we will look at the issue of race and the civil rights movement through the eyes (or the lens, I should say) of the film directors who either supported racial discrimination or condemned it.
I have some research projects in the works as well, that deal with war films, deception and ethics but it is too soon to tell.

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