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The USC Levan Institute engages students with the timeless values at the core of our humanity, promotes moral reflection and understanding of self, facilitates multidisciplinary dialogue, and encourages students to make a positive impact across society and the globe.

In this effort, the Institute collaborates with departments, professional schools and programs across the university to bring students and faculty together with authors and artists, philosophers and practitioners, and the ethical voices of our time.

USC Levan Ethics Essay Contest
The Levan Ethics Essay Contest aims to recognize the best written work on ethics by undergraduate students in the areas of global ethics, professional ethics, social justice, and moral decision-making. The submission deadline is Friday, March 6, 2015.  Learn more about the essay categories and how to submit your work here.

Levan Institute Ethics Essay Contest

Levan Institute in the News

Daily Trojan: "Superior court judge speaks at Gould series"
The Honorable Bernard J. Kamins spoke about his 22 years on the bench at the September 2014 Spirit of the Law event.

USC Dornsife News:

"Crime and Punishment"
A Levan Institute Coffeehouse Conversation on Practical Ethics event presents a panel of experts from USC speaking on the death penalty.

"Humanitarian Spring"
USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics’ director Lyn Boyd-Judson leads seven undergraduates to the University of Oxford for a five-day workshop on human rights and humanitarian action.

"Advocates for Ethics"
USC Dornsife students Amanda Schmitt and Marissa Roy present their ethics research at the 2013 Global Ethics Fellows Conference in New York.



Contest Deadline: March 6, 2015

The Levan Ethics Essay Contest aims to recognize the best written work on ethics by USC undergraduate students. More

Suggested areas for essays:
Global Ethics: Moral problems with an international focus
Professional Ethics: Examination of the ethical component of a profession, or of a specific ethical problem faced by members of the profession
Social Justice: Critical analysis of a moral issue of primarily social significance
Moral Decision-making: Exploration or analysis of a decision based on moral or ethical reasoning.

Awards will be announced at the April 2015 Annual Undergraduate Writer's Conference.



JULY 5-12, 2015 | LITTLE ROCK, AR

In partnership with the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, this workshop gives participating students the opportunity to think through the relationship between civil rights, usually considered primary for local politics and social organization, and human rights, typically understood in international frameworks. In particular, and as a means of concretely developing this relationship, we will focus our study on civil rights in the United States with regard to race, racism, and structural oppression.

Students will participate in a number of seminar sessions with leading civil rights, human rights, and legal scholars in addition to visiting a number of historical monuments dedicated to the struggle for civil rights in the Southern United States. Participating students will further have the opportunity to meet with and discuss local organizing with community stakeholders in the greater Little Rock area in an effort to enable the application of insights learned in the seminar context to community building projects. More

Application Deadline:  Monday, March 23, 2015

Application Information


Application Deadline: April 6, 2015

The Levan Fellows serve as ambassadors for the institute and work closely with Dr. Lyn Boyd-Judson, director of the Levan Institute, on designing and implementing mission-related projects. The program provides an interdisciplinary cohort-based experience that offers students the opportunity to integrate their academic interests with Dornsife programming and events.

Application Information

Meet our current Levan Undergraduate Fellows here.

Levan Coffeehouse Conversations on Practical Ethics—UNEQUAL JUSTICE: When Police Kill

March 11, 2015, Noon | Ground Zero Cafe | Lunch Provided


Recent police killings of unarmed black males in Ferguson, New York City and Cleveland have reignited the debate over racial profiling and  police treatment of minorities, prompting calls for use of body cameras on police, demilitarization of police forces and expanded community policing.  How should we weigh police protection, public safety and civil liberties?

Coffeehouse Conversations Program Director and Moderator:
Sharon Lloyd, Professor of Philosophy, Law, and Political Science

Ange-Marie Hancock, Associate Professor of Political Science and Gender Studies, USC Dornsife
Martin Levine, USC Vice Provost and Senior Advisor to the Provost
Jody Armour, Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law, Gould School of Law
Rob Saltzman, Professor of Lawyering Skills, USC Gould School of Law

Levan Coffeehouse Conversations on Practical Ethics encourage faculty, staff, and students from every part of our USC community to talk about the ethical questions of the day.

SPIRIT OF THE LAW featuring Hon. Dorothy Wright Nelson, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 12, 2015, 12:30 PM | Gould School of Law, Room 103 | Lunch Provided


The Honorable Dorothy Wright Nelson is currently a senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a U.S. federal court covering the nine western states. Nelson began her professional career as a research associate at the University of Southern California Law School where she received her Master of Laws in 1956. Nelson became Dean of the University of Southern California Law School in 1969 and holds the honor of being the first woman dean of a major American law school. Nelson is a member of the Baha'i Faith and served on its National Assembly for 40 years. While at USC, she served as the Baha'i representative on the University Religious Council.

President Carter nominated Nelson for the position of judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1978, with the U.S. Senate confirming her in 1979. She has worked to popularize mediation in U.S. Courts and in such countries as India, Egypt, Israel, Great Britain, and China. In 1985, Nelson, along with a group of attorneys and judges, established the Western Justice Center Foundation. The Foundation has created numerous programs that are designed to teach peaceful conflict resolution to children, youth, parents, teachers, administrators and community members. Nelson holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Organizing Sponsors: USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics and USC Office of Religious Life
Cosponsors: USC Dornsife Pre-Law Advising and USC Jewish Law Students Association

Spirit of the Law features legal professionals discussing how they find meaning, purpose, and identity in the law.

VISION & VOICES: 'Mercy Killers"—A Play by Michael Milligan

April 2, 2015, 4:00 PM | Mayer Auditorium, USC Health Sciences Campus

USC Students, Staff, and Faculty RSVP
General Public RSVP

“Beautiful and heartbreaking.”—American Theatre Magazine

As part of the Medical Humanities, Arts and Ethics Series, which engages core health issues in society today, we will present Mercy Killers, a one-man theatrical performance featuring playwright and actor Michael Milligan and directed by Tom Oppenheim. This provocative play takes an honest and heartbreaking look at the increasing dysfunction of the American health care system.

Joe loves apple pie, Rush Limbaugh, the 4th of July and his wife, Jane. He is blue-collar, corn-fed, made in the USA and proud, but when his uninsured wife is diagnosed with cancer, his patriotic feelings and passion for the ethos of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are turned upside down. Mercy Killers powerfully reveals Joe’s journey as he struggles with the uniquely American experience of losing your health in the land of plenty.

Playwright and actor Michael Milligan has been writing and acting for the theatre for almost two decades. Milligan has appeared on Broadway as Little Charles in August: Osage County, De Bries in La Bete and as a “raver” and understudy in Jerusalem. He also received four stars for his performance of Lanford Wilson’s one-man show Poster of the Cosmos at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Milligan’s produced plays include HeroineUrgent: Aliens and a musical adaptation of Aesop’s Fables. His love of Shakespeare has taken him around the world, performing at the Shakespeare Theater, Royal Shakespeare Company, Cincinnati Playhouse, St. Louis Rep and Shakespeare Festivals throughout the country. More

Organized by Pamela Schaff (Pediatrics and Family Medicine), Alexander Capron (Law and Medicine), and Lyn Boyd-Judson (Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics).

Cosponsored by the Keck School of Medicine’s Program in Medical Humanities, Arts, and Ethics, USC Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, and the USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics


Human Rights In and After Conflict

March 21-27, 2015 | Oxford, UK

The Levan Institute partners with the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict annually to offer a workshop at the University of Oxford. Areas of study include human rights in and after conflict, humanitarian action, conflict trends, human rights law, and peacemaking with a focus on recent armed conflicts. The module is a healthy mix of seminars, working groups, and student presentations. More

View photos here from the Levan-Oxford Spring 2014 Workshop


Contest Deadline: April 30, 2015

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs announces its third Trans-Pacific Student Contest, a pioneering exercise in U.S.-Asia collaboration. The contest is part of Ethics for a Connected World, a three-year global education project to mark the Council's 2014 Centennial. Winners will receive a trip to New York City.

ESSAY OR VIDEO TOPIC: What is the future of U.S.-Asia relations or of the United States and one of the Asian countries listed on the Trans-Pacific Contest website?

Contest Information



Mindful USC is a new university-wide initiative that launched Fall 2014 to make mindfulness practices integral to the culture of the Trojan Family. It offers ongoing training, practice groups, faculty workshops, media resources, research, and special events. Mindful USC encourages meditative and contemplative practice for faculty, staff, and students in all disciplines, departments, and domains of the university.

For more information, click here

Search Inside Yourself featuring Chade-Meng Tan
October 22, 2014 | Bovard Auditorium, USC
Click here to see the video



Grants are available to students, faculty, and staff across the College who need funds for activities that coincide with the Levan Institute's mission. Student groups and student-focused projects are given a strong first priority, as are collaborative efforts across departments and schools. More




March 4, 2015, 12 PM | Ground Zero Cafe | Lunch Provided

Cosponsored by the Office of Religious Life

Dean Quinlan is responsible for guiding the university's efforts to establish the model for the 21st-century library by providing leadership for USC's library staff; collaborating with other university deans, faculty and friends to optimize and develop resources for scholars; and building partnerships with art, museum and library institutions throughout Southern California.  She came to USC after a decade at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she headed a library system encompassing 300 full-time staff members and more than 21 sites.

What Matters to Me and Why is a program that encourages reflection about values, beliefs and motivations. It aims to help students and others better understand the lives and inspirations of those who shape the University.

USC Gould's International Human Rights Clinic presents: JUDGE FAUSTO POCAR

March 2, 2015, 12 PM | USC Gould School of Law, Room 130 | Lunch Provided

International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia & Rwanda: "Mass Atrocities, the International Criminal Court and the Future of International Criminal Justice"

Since his appointment to the ICTY in 2000, Judge Pocar has served as a Judge in a Trial Chamber, where he sat on the first case concerned with rape as a crime against humanity, and in the Appeals Chamber of the Tribunal, where he is still sitting. As a Judge of the Appeals Chamber, he is also a Judge of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Cosponsored by USC Shoah Foundation Institute, Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, Gould Clerkship Committee, and Gould Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project 

HARRIET WASHINGTON: "Medical Experimentation: Unearthing the History of Medicine in America"

February 24, 2015, 7 PM | TCC, The Forum

Harriet Washington, medical ethicist and author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, will engage in an interactive discussion that includes Mississippi Appendectomies and the interesting connection between medical schools and body-snatching.
Cosponsored by USC Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, Black Student Assembly, Academic Culture Assembly, African Americans in Health, Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, Dornsife Pre-Health Advising Office, Dornsife Science and Health Program, and USC Spectrum

ZYGO SERIES—MEDICINE IN THE MEDIA: Ethical Obligations to Viewers

February 20, 2015, 12:30 | Doheny Memorial Library 241 | Lunch Provided

Cosponsored by the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study

Medically themed TV shows cover a wide range of genres; they include comedies such as Scrubs, dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, and soap operas such as General Hospital—the longest-running American soap opera currently in production. Too often the scientific-relevance of treatments presented on such shows is difficult to grasp and inaccurate. Research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in 2010 accordingly found that 46 percent of seizure cases depicted on medical dramas were subject to inappropriate treatments.

Along these lines, American news outlets are often criticized for presenting health-related news items in a sensationalist and distorted manner. Panelists for this event will consider the relationship between health issues and their representations in the media. Do TV producers and filmmakers have any ethical obligations to accurately present medical cases? How do current depictions of health on TV and in the news impact the way viewers seek out and view medical treatment? More

Moderator: Varun Awasthi, ZYGO Student Director

Doe Mayer, Mary Pickford Professor of Film and Television, USC School of Cinematic Arts, and Professor, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Armine Kourouyan, MPH, Project Manager, Hollywood, Health & Society, USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center
Lara Bradshaw, Ph.D. Student, Critical Studies, USC School of Cinematic Arts
William Reckner, Ph.D. Candidate, Philosophy, University of California, Los Angeles

The ZYGO Series is organized by USC students in health and medicine who seek dialogue with USC faculty across disciplines in order to increase the integration of ethical themes into their curriculum.

zygo / ˈzʌɪgəʊ, ˈzɪgəʊ / pref. relating to union or joining

HUGO SLIM: "Humanitarian Action in the Syrian Crisis: Obstacles and Innovations"

February 11, 2015, 4 PM | Intellectual Commons, Doheny Memorial Library (DML 233)

Dr. Hugo Slim is the University of Oxford Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict Associate Director and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations. From 1983-1994, he worked as a frontline humanitarian worker for Save the Children UK and the United Nations in Morocco, Sudan and Ethiopia, the Palestinian Territories and Bangladesh. He is currently leading research on humanitarian ethics that will deliver the first major practical text on humanitarian ethics in war and disaster and will develop new standards of care and accountability in humanitarian organizations. Dr. Slim is the lead instructor for the USC Levan-Oxford Workshops.
Cosponsored by International Human Rights Clinic, USC Gould School of Law; USC Center for International Studies; USC Spectrum; USC Program Board Speakers Committee; Oxford Consortium for Human Rights; and Levan Institute Undergraduate Fellows

Levan Coffeehouse Conversations on Practical Ethics—SPEECH WITHOUT BORDERS: Disentangling Free Speech, Hate Speech, Irreligious Speech, and Seditious Speech

February 11, 2015, Noon | Ground Zero Cafe | Lunch Provided

The recent massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Saudi Arabia’s caning of a blogger for religiously offensive speech, and the French government’s crackdown on speech in support of terrorism have intensified debate worldwide over the meaning and limits of public expression.  What sorts of speech should be protected and on what grounds? More

Coffeehouse Conversations Program Director and Moderator:
Sharon Lloyd, Professor of Philosophy, Law, and Political Science

Ed McCann, Professor of Philosophy and English, USC Dornsife
Varun Soni, USC Dean of Religious Life
Marc Cooper, Associate Professor of Professional Practice, USC Annenberg
Arjun Ahuja, Inquisitive Student, Philosophy, Politics and Law, USC Dornsife

Levan Coffeehouse Conversations on Practical Ethics encourage faculty, staff, and students from every part of our USC community to talk about the ethical questions of the day.

"The Social Justice Review"

Submission Deadline: February 9, 2015

Want to have your work read around the world? The Social Justice Review (SJR), a journal sponsored by the USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, is now accepting outstanding submissions for publication in our inaugural Spring 2015 issue.

As a global platform for social justice, The Social Justice Review offers a forum for undergraduates worldwide who engage—utilizing the written word—with issues of ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, religion, or other social issues or inequalities. More


February 4, 2015, 12 PM | Ground Zero Cafe | Lunch Provided

Cosponsored by the Office of Religious Life

John Brooks Slaughter joined the Rossier School of Education in January 2010 as Professor of Education, with a joint appointment at the Viterbi School of Engineering. He has had remarkably distinguished career, which began as an electrical engineer and includes leading two universities and heading the National Science Foundation (NSF) as its first African American director. Before joining USC, he served as President of Occidental College for 11 years and transformed the school into the most diverse liberal arts college in the United States. He holds honorary degrees from more than 25 institutions, and he has received numerous national and an international awards and recognitions, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Award.

What Matters to Me and Why is a program that encourages reflection about values, beliefs and motivations. It aims to help students and others better understand the lives and inspirations of those who shape the University.


February 2, 2015, 5 PM | THH 212 | Pizza Served

Cosponsored by the Levan Institute Undergraduate Fellows and the Thematic Option Honors Program

Following the workshop on courage, we will now move to the virtue of justice. Aristotle noted that, among the canonical virtues, justice is a special case primarily because people mean so many different things when they appeal to it. Sometimes what is lawful is just, while at other times justice may require unlawful action. Sometimes justice can be equated with fairness, and yet at other times justice may require actions that seem inequitable. According to Aristotle, justice is also difficult to determine because, of the two parties which it involves, one often has a higher status than the other. We will navigate this difficult terrain with special focus, as ever, on how we might best be just in our daily lives. More

The discussion will be guided by Levan Institute Fellows and students from Thematic Option and will be moderated by James Collins, Assistant Professor of Classics.

The Virtues and Vices Series encourages student discussion about virtues, vices, and their role in everyday life.

FILM SCREENING: "Norte, the End of History"

January 25, 2015, 1 PM | The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108

Cosponsored by the USC School of Cinematic Arts

Official Selection: 2014 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Nominated for Best International Film by the 2015 Independent Spirit Awards

An embittered law student commits a brutal double murder; a family man takes the fall and is forced into a harsh prison sentence; a mother and her two children wander the countryside looking for some kind of redemption. Lav Diaz’s epic reimagining of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is both an intimate human drama and a cosmic treatise on the origin of evil. Unfolding across the sun drenched fields and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon, Norte, the End of History is a tale of murder, hate and hope from one of the world’s most uncompromising cinematic visionaries. More

"There is also, above all, an almost inexhaustible humanism at the heart of this remarkable film. It is the work of a director as fascinated by decency as by ugliness, and able to present the chaos of life in a series of pictures that are at once luminously clear and endlessly mysterious." —A.O. Scott, The New York Times

The Cinema of Substance Series showcases meaningful films from around the world that explore who we are and how we might be.

ZYGO SERIES—QUARANTINE: Balancing Human Rights with Medical Best Interests

January 23, 2015, 12:30 PM | DML 241 | Lunch Provided

Cosponsored by the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study

The first known usage of quarantine dates back from 1377 in the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia when ships suspected of carrying the Black Plague were subjected to a 40 day hold before being allowed to enter the port. Quarantine is distinct from isolation in that it is solely a preventive measure enacted to seclude individuals who may be at risk of spreading a certain disease. Although quarantine has not been frequently implemented in recent history, during the recent outbreak of Ebola, entire villages in Liberia were subjected to quarantines, and in the US, multiple states implemented mandatory quarantines for health care workers returning from West Africa. These quarantine policies were heavily criticized by many as violating basic human rights and simply being unnecessary. Panelists for this forum will consider the medical relevance and necessity of quarantine and the human rights concerns associated with it.  

Moderator: Varun Awasthi, ZYGO Student Director

Sofia Gruskin, J.D., MIA, Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine and Gould School of Law, and Director, Program on Global Health & Human Rights, USC Institute for Global Health
Alison Dundes Renteln, Professor of Political Science, Anthropology, and Policy, Planning, and Development, USC Dornsife
Paul Holtom, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Orthopedics and Program Director, Infectious Disease Fellowship Program, USC Keck School of Medicine                                                   
Abelard Podgorski, Ph.D. Student, Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Jacob Roberts, Undergraduate Student, Economics and East Asian Languages and Cultures, USC Dornsife

The ZYGO Series is organized by USC students in health and medicine who seek dialogue with USC faculty across disciplines in order to increase the integration of ethical themes into their curriculum.

zygo / ˈzʌɪgəʊ, ˈzɪgəʊ / pref. relating to union or joining


Spring 2015 Training Sessions

Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 6-8 PM | THH 110 
Thursday, January 22, 2015, 7-9 PM | THH 110 

The Teaching Ethics Program (TEP) trains undergraduate volunteers each year to introduce competing ethical perspectives and lead ethics case study discussions in neighborhood high schools. Undergraduate students can participate in TEP as volunteers or for course credit (if enrolled in a participating TEP affiliated course).  Attend a 2-hour training session and join a team of three USC students to teach a series of four class sessions over four weeks.

For more information, click here


January 21, 2015, 12 PM | Ground Zero Cafe | Lunch Provided

Cosponsored by the Office of Religious Life

Erin Quinn is the Associate Dean for Science and Health at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. She has played a key role in medical education at USC for more than 30 years, serving as dean of admissions at the Keck School of Medicine of USC from 1998 to 2011, associate dean for women from 1993 to 1998, and assistant professor of clinical family medicine since 1991. 

What Matters to Me and Why is a program that encourages reflection about values, beliefs and motivations. It aims to help students and others better understand the lives and inspirations of those who shape the University.