The brightest minds of division three colleges in Virginia debated ways to tackle ethical issues in today’s society at the Ethics Bowl, an intercollegiate activity that challenges undergraduate students to outsmart each other. While debating a case study, the two teams will be scored by a panel of judges for their responses not only from the panel, but even from the other team. Each team had the opportunity to argue their points to the chosen topic. Dr. Kathy Merlock Jackson is the faculty coordinator for Virginia Wesleyan’s Ethics Bowl team. Professor Jackson has been with the Virginia Wesleyan community since 1984 and this is her seventh year in charge of the Ethics Bowl team.
The team includes four members with one alternate in case one member is unable to compete. A school can bring up to five members to the Ethics Bowl. The 2018-2019 Ethics Bowl team includes seniors Brandon Foster and Joni Challenor (alternate), freshman Anitra Howard and sophomores Brianna Sandy and Alex Powers (captain). Every member volunteered to be on the Ethics Bowl team. Most of the students are recruited from other students, but some are recommended from other faculty.
Having more and more students participate will help the team in further years. “For as far as students participating in Ethics Bowl, the more we have the better because you can have separate teams [for practice],” Jackson said. Participating students come from all types of majors. “They tend to be not really with just one major. They tend to be across-the-board good students,” Jackson said. With the different majors from students ranging from freshmen to seniors, the points of view come from very diverse angles. The current Ethics Bowl team is made up of students majoring in social work, criminal justice, psychology, political science and mathematics.
The first Ethics Bowl for VWC was in 2000 where Virginia Wesleyan College took home first place. Philosophy professor Dr. Steven Emmanuel was the first faculty coordinator. For a brief time between the two coordinators, Dr. Eric Mazur was in charge of the team. The team practices weekly and goes over the normal routine of an actual competition.
In her seventh year as the faculty coordinator of the Ethics Bowl team, Jackson spoke about many of her great memories from the past years. The Ethics Bowl team last year won all of their matches. Hampden-Sydney has won five of the past seven years of competition. Every year there is a new topic for the Ethics Bowl to keep the competition fair to every university. This year’s topic is social justice. The topics that are covered are real-world problems, and the teams are tasked with creating and arguing their innovative and effective solution.
Sophomore and team captain Alex Powers has been with the team for his first two years here at Virginia Wesleyan. How did the team captain choose to be on the ethics bowl team? “Bri [Brianna Sandy] told me about it. I had been a part of debate in high school, and I wanted to continue that,” Powers said. Over half this year’s team is underclassmen. “We’re all young and inexperienced relative to years past. With that we bring a fresh, diverse perspective. Over the next few years we should grow as a team together,” Powers said. The team will continue to gain experience with three underclassmen.
The competition from other schools that give very different points of view is a sight to see. “There is no right or wrong answer. The responses are not heavily based on jargon. You don’t have to a philosopher to participate. Harry Truman once said, ‘The only thing about ethics I need to know is to tell the truth and the golden rule’,” Jackson said. Jackson greatly enjoys advising and coaching the Ethic Bowl team. “My best memory was when last year we won all of our matches,” Jackson said.
Following the Ethics Bowl competition, the Virginia Wesleyan Ethics Bowl team won all four of its rounds for the second week in a row. The team members went up against Emory & Henry, Roanoke College Team 2, Sweet Briar College and Shenandoah University to become winners of the Cardinal Division. Washington and Lee won the final round of the competitions but Virginia Wesleyan put up a strong fight and was awarded runner-up.