Visualizing a better world

Visualizing a better world Rhodes Scholar Adam Cureton (AB ’ 03, MA ’03) has found a niche in the study of ethics and disabilities

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Visualizing a better world

Adam Cureton and his wife, Julie Rash Cureton (BSEd ‘02), are the proud parents of son Carson, 3, and daughter Riley, 2. While Adam was earning a degree at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, Julie taught preschool at Oxford’s Somerville College. She had quite an impact on her students, whose parents said they came home with “peculiar” accents and used words like “y’all.”

Photo by: Special photo

Adam Cureton is interested in ethics, particularly social rules and the small moments of everyday life that reveal larger truths. For example, what happens when someone doesn’t hold a door open for us? When someone cuts us off in traffic? Our reactions—maybe a dirty look or a muttered obscenity—reveal something about our society.

“There are laws, and then there are the informal rules we teach our children and enforce among ourselves,” he says. “I’m interested in thinking about what kind of rules we should aim for.”

A former Foundation Fellow and UGA’s 19th Rhodes Scholar, Cureton now is pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His interest in ethics dates back to his time at UGA, and he credits political science Associate Professor Alex Kaufman and a course on American philosopher John Rawls—a leading figure in moral and political philosophy—with sparking his enthusiasm.

“I fell in love with it,” he says. “It really laid the foundation for what I think will be my life’s work in philosophy.”

While earning a degree at Oxford, Cureton was immersed in a different tradition of philosophy, one with a utilitarian spirit and less focus on rights and liberties. Today he’s taking insights from both UGA’s and Oxford’s disciplines and creating his own framework for exploring ethics and also issues of disability. Cureton is co-editor of Disability and Disadvantage, a book of essays published in August that investigates the moral and political issues concerning disability.

“It seems to me that in the past, a lot of this has been dominated by medical thoughts about disability—that it’s a problem to be solved,” he says. “I kind of think, maybe from my own experiences, that how we should handle people with disabilities has to do with giving them opportunities and helping them help themselves.”

Cureton is legally blind, the result of a condition called ocular albinism, in which the retinas lack enough pigment to judge depth and see distances or details. Despite the visual challenge, he is a long-time racquetball player.

“I’m still not sure how I’m able to do it,” he says.

He figures the game is so fast and he’s played so long that he is able to guess where the ball will go. At work, Cureton doesn’t talk about his condition—in fact, his students don’t know—but clearly it has affected his academic interests.

“There are all sorts of cool issues that could help us improve all sorts of things in society, like the codes of ethics of teachers and doctors and social workers,” he says. “That’s just one example of how thinking about disability might help us to have real-world impact.”

He’s already having an impact through his teaching, where he emphasizes the importance of respect in considering and debating issues of modern life. After graduating in 2011, he hopes to continue that work by joining a university faculty.

“I’ve developed a strong love for teaching, and it seems to me a very important way in which I can have an influence on people and apply some of the theoretical insights that I’m working on in my research.”