March 22, 2012

Hold Paramount

Having just recently had the chance to invite the next group of engineers to join Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, I have been thinking about the Fundamental Canons of the engineering profession. These principles show up in the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Code of Ethics for Engineers, and read as follows:

"Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:
  1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
  2. Perform services only in areas of their competence.
  3. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  4. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
  5. Avoid deceptive acts.
  6. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession. "
Good stuff, right? I have a feeling someone mooched a bit off an English-major-college-roommate to get all that just right, though the initial form from the fictional “roommate” character was most likely in paragraph form. And iambic pentameter.

The engineer shall strive to do those these things
Which we’ve laid out in gloried detail here
And shall not stray – whilst on the job or not
Else should be lost the post that’s held most dear.

I got to thinking how well these apply – in bullet form, and with some tweaks – to just about everything. As a professor, I can see these applying to the specifics of what I do in the course of fulfilling my responsibilities. I can see these applying very well to the work I did in the Navy and to the work others have done or will do in all branches of the military. And relevant to the current location of the words I write, I can see these applying to being an ally or a member of the LGBTQ community.  For this post, I am going to take on just Canon 1 (after all, I would hate to upstage Pachelbel).

Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the LGBTQ community. Even the order of the words here was chosen with great care. First – the safety. If tragic events over the past too-many years have taught us anything, it is that there are still spaces of high danger for people in the LGBTQ community. Above all else, we must strive to make this school, and this city, and ever-larger circles of influence safe spaces for people to own and express their sexuality without fear. No true progress can be made under the specter of harm. 

Then - Health.  Perhaps half a tick down from safety if one were to construct a kind of Maslow’s Hierarchy of What to Hold Paramount. I think this includes physical health, and emotional health, and spiritual health. This means fighting discriminatory practices in the health and insurance industries. Demanding that resources be directed towards understanding the developmental psychology of people across the sexuality and gender spectra and eliminating any sense of heteronormativity in psychological or psychiatric practice. Creating support structures to heal those who’ve been bullied or otherwise wrongly convinced they are somehow less-than. And within faith communities, refusing to accept when decontextualized and often willfully misinterpreted passages are wielded as blunt instruments to diminish others. 

And finally - Welfare. To borrow from Merriam-Webster, welfare is “the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity.” This state is something that requires a feeling of Safety and possession of Health to fully obtain, but something which is nonetheless the birthright of every person and something we must all work to make available.  The desire to promote the Welfare of members of the LGBTQ community, for example, is where the strongest possible opposition to Amendment One comes into play -- though I suppose it could be argued as well that Amendment One and the cynical and misdirected attack on many people of North Carolina it represents pose a threat to the safety and health of our fellow citizens as well.  On issues such as Amendment One, being an ally means, first, acknowledging privilege and then, second, demanding that said privilege be applied universally. 

As you might imagine, neither of those processes ever really takes place in a vacuum. Along those lines - I was just recently a part of a task force charged with examining the role of the LGBT Center in campus life and looking at how it serves the undergraduate, graduate, alumni, staff, and faculty communities at Duke. All I will say about that is, in being witness to the creation of the final report of the task force, I realized that as thankful as I may have been before for the existence of the Center, and Janie, and Jess, and the support staff, and the student workers, and the student leaders - I didn’t know nearly the half of just how important that space and – more than that – those people are to so many in the extended Duke community. They are working to build – and in some cases, re-build - lives. The resources of the center and the scholarly and vocational attainments of the staff are critical parts of fulfilling Duke’s Mission of…”attending not only to [students’] intellectual growth but also to their development as adults committed to high ethical standards and full participation as leaders in their communities…” 

I better stop there (ask my students – I’m a rambler). Though I have to throw in one last thing - with early decisions out, and with Blue Devil Days and regular decisions fast approaching, I do find myself thinking about the Class of 2016. So to both the prospective future fellow alums and to those of you already here, I will say that from all I have learned over the past year especially, there’s one thing I want you to know. And that is that this is a place with a good many people who are deeply committed to holding paramount your safety, your health, and your welfare as a fundamental canon of being a part of the Duke Family.


  1. So I'm expecting a guest appearance at Lav Ball, Dr. G. Please?

  2. We are so, so endlessly fortunate to have you writing for us here! And for your active existence at Duke. So grateful! Also ramblers are preferable to those who don't say anything. ALSO iambic pentameter just brought back some serious nostalgia for high school english. I am impressed by your skills.

  3. @9:40 - alas! T'was the same time as the Engineering Ball...

    @8:26 - thank you so much for this. And glad I could take you back to the glorious days of HS :)