This past weekend eight JMU students along with their two coaches, Dr. Joe Derby, College of Business, and Scott Ingram, Ethical Reasoning Engagement Fellow, traveled up to Marist College in New York to compete in the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Northeastern Regional Competition. This is the second time that JMU has fielded a team at an Ethics Bowl competition. The team consisted of students from a vast array of backgrounds and areas of study who each have a vested interest in unraveling moral dilemmas.
Abby Wallen – Public Policy Administration
Allahjah Smith – Justice Studies
Brook Poyer – Psychology
Kailee Cunningham – Marketing
Katrina Libera – International Affairs and Psychology
Mira Gruber – Psychology and Philosophy
Nick Langkau – Political Science and Philosophy
Olivia White – Justice Studies
Throughout the semester, the team worked together to use the 8 Key Questions in analyzing fifteen difficult cases that would be argued at the competition. The students enrolled in a class where they learned the 8 Key Questions in depth, along with various argumentative strategies and debate techniques. Over the course of the semester, the students would develop positions on the cases and then would argue with one another to determine what stance the team as a whole would take. Sarah Taylor Mayhak from the School of Communication even came in to teach about particular debate strategies, having competed in persuasive speaking competitions herself.
When December 1st rolled around, the team was certainly well-prepared to face difficult opponents such as Yale, Salisbury, and St. Francis. In the first round, the team went against Yale and discussed cases dealing with midwife practices in the Amish community and law enforcement’s usage of genealogical data. After an extremely close match, the Dukes fell to Yale by only 1 point. The team went on to face Salisbury University, where they fell after another competitive match. This match highlighted one major challenge that teams face in preparation for Ethics Bowl: how should teams handle judges who disagree with their position? In the second round, our team argued in opposition to the censorship of vulgar language on television, which seemed unsatisfactory to one judge in particular. After the completion of the round, the team received both the highest and lowest scores during their time at the competition. For a coach, this seems extremely perplexing with regards to how we can best prepare next year’s team. Our practices were both extraordinary and insufficient in the eyes of the judges, so whose advice do we follow? Thankfully the team finished off the day by dominating in a round against St. Francis, where they discussed cases of trans-racialism and reinstating felons’ right to vote.
Overall the entire experience was worthwhile for the eight students seeing as how they were able to better themselves and bring to light the distinctive practices we have here at JMU. Ethics Bowl exists to serve as a means to prompt difficult discussions about ethics and to prepare students to adopt a critical stance in ethics debates—our students did that and more. After deepening their understanding of the 8 Key Questions and putting them into practice throughout their course work, the students were able to learn how to better interrogate ethical dilemmas. Regardless of the outcome of the weekend, JMU stood out as an exemplar of critical thinkers and cordial individuals. Our students set the tone for what was expected in each round and clearly showed that they were capable of analyzing both sides of a case. Having presented first in all three rounds, the team from JMU was able to work the language of the 8 Key Questions into their own presentations. This language was then picked up by the opposing team and the judges, providing a common ground for the entire room to rely on. If nothing else, this competition showed how useful the 8 Key Questions are in both interrogating moral questions and serving as an easily adaptable language to effectively communicate the complexities of the question at hand. It is encouraging to see such great potential in a group of students who care deeply about finding answers to pressing moral problems and who are able to reason to and articulate possible solutions to these problems.