January 04, 2013
May Webber ’66C, ’69G, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of
Philosophy and Chair of the
Humanities in the
College of Professional Studies (CPS). With bachelor’s and
master’s degrees from St. John’s, she earned her doctorate in
philosophy at New York University. Dr. Webber is a senior research
fellow at the Vincentian
Center for Church and Society, which is based at St. John’s.
She has a longstanding interest in the ethical dimensions of
real-life issues, including bullying.
What is the focus of your research?
I’m developing a three-credit, core curriculum ethics course for
the College of Professional Studies called Bullying and Moral
Responsibility, which will be offered in Fall 2013. It’s designed
as a philosophical inquiry into the nature and variety of bullying
in the 21st century, including cyber bullying and includes an
Academic Service-Learning component, in the form of an
on-campus, anti-bullying campaign.
The campaign will be created in collaboration with students in a
public relations course taught by John DiMarco [Ph.D., Associate
Professor of Communications, Journalism and Media Studies].
Why are you interested in conducting research on
As a moral philosopher, I feel an obligation to pay attention to a
growing global problem that has resulted, in some cases, in victims
taking their own lives. Bullying is a borderless issue of global
proportions that transcends the workplace and the schoolyard.
It is my belief that philosophers need to start playing an
active role in the community by addressing this issue and trying to
What do you want your students to take away from this
I want to raise their awareness about the prevalence of bullying
and have them reflect on their own experiences, allowing them to
think about whether they have been bullied or have participated in
any way in victimizing others.
I also want to teach them how they can use their classroom
learning to make a difference in the world by helping those in
What was the genesis of this project?
I was delighted when the CPS Faculty Development Committee gave me
the opportunity to develop a new kind of course, which employs
technology to enrich the learning experience while preparing our
students for the workplace.
This course uses the latest social media, which are tailored
made for this purpose, to explore issues associated with bullying.
Outside experts in the field will address the class on Skype;
philosophy and public relations students will collaborate online
through Wiki; and students can find endless, real-life examples of
bullying on YouTube.
What would you like to see happen next?
It is my hope that this campaign will lay the groundwork for future
efforts engaging the community at large, as well as other colleges
and universities. This is something St. John’s, as a University,
does quite well — setting an example for exploring the moral
dimensions of contemporary issues.
I envision the possibility of combining the study of ethics with
all professional areas taught within CPS. I’ve already introduced a
media ethics course in partnership with
Basilio Monteiro, [Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair,
Communications, Journalism and Media Studies], and I’m currently
designing a course on sport ethics. All courses will have an
Academic Service-Learning component.
How are you conducting your research?
I’m doing research in print and online, with a special emphasis on
cyber bullying. I’m also taking into account how certain popular
novels, movies and other media treat this issue.
In November, I attended the Fourth Global Conference on Bullying
and the Abuse of Power, in Salzburg, Austria. I received feedback
on my course proposal, learned more about the latest thinking on
this topic and got to know the experts in the field. One of the
biggest benefits was being able to invite some of the experts I met
to participate in the course as outside lecturers, who will also
interact with the students.
What else will the course cover?
There will be a list of required readings in moral philosophy,
which will provide an ethical context for classroom discussions.
We’ll apply those ethical theories and make moral judgments about
the roles played by the bully, the bullied and the bystander.
What attracted you to St. John’s
I was particularly attracted by the University’s commitment to
teaching philosophy from a moral perspective, and its longstanding
dedication to serving those our society marginalizes. It’s a
mission that allows me to teach a variety of courses, including
media ethics as well as this one. I find that my own concerns about
those who are vulnerable, including the victims of bullying, fit
well with St. John’s commitment to helping those who are in need