Ethics Bowl commands attention, students debate digital media

Featured Image: Sophomores Christian Palmisano and Casey Bennett, freshman Andrew Steiner and junior Kainaat Trehan confer during the fourth round of the Ethics Bowl against Shenandoah University on Jan. 30. VWU Flickr | Courtesy

The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges held their annual Ethics Bowl at VWU on Jan. 29 and 30. During that time, VWU’s Ethics Bowl team competed with 15 other Virginia schools for the Batten Trophy, which was awarded on the first day.

The primary team competing for VWU was made up of sophomore Casey Bennett, junior Kainaat Trehan, sophomore Christian Palmisano and freshman Andrew Steiner. 

Dr. Kathy Merlock Jackson, a VWU professor of Communication, led the team as the faculty advisor. As a whole, the VWU team won three of their four competitions over the course of the Ethics Bowl.

Bennett said the Ethics Bowl “was a challenging and rewarding experience.” Despite their one loss, Bennett said, “We left it all out there and I am very proud about that.”

As a team, the four “were sharp and placed necessary trust in each other,” Bennett said. 

This trust is learned, as is the study of ethics. “The study of ethics puts doing the right thing on your radar and gives you useful tools for navigating issues and conflicts in daily life,” Jackson said.

Andrew Steiner championed a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have the right to do and what is right to do.”

With this in mind, the teams competed in a variety of demonstrations to debate ethical cases that surrounded the central theme of ethics and digital media.

From left: Sophomore Christian Palmisano, sophomore Casey Bennett, freshman Andrew Steiner and junior Kainaat Trehan receive feedback from judges. Rhian Tramontana | Marlin Chronicle

For Bennett, the theme of digital media is of utmost importance in the realm of ethics. “There is an increasing amount of digitally based ethical dilemmas that are just now being introduced to our society,” Bennett said, “Not shying away from tackling these debates before they blindside us is of the utmost importance.

At the conclusion of the Ethics Bowl, the team from Randolph-Macon College was awarded the Batten Trophy and the runner-up was Mary Baldwin University.

VWU professor of Philosophy and Dean of the Susan S. Goode School of Arts and Humanities Dr. Steven Emmanuel is the Statewide Faculty Coordinator for the VFIC Ethics Bowl and serves on the executive committee.  For the Ethics Bowl, this committee oversees all aspects, “including the case development and assessment,” Emmanuel said.

Emmanuel commented on the importance of digital media as a theme for the proposed cases. “The nature of the digital medium itself creates new kinds of ethical problems — not least because of its reach and the speed at which information is disseminated,” Emmanuel said.

The teams focused on various aspects of digital media and how it is presented and used in society. “We all need to pay more attention to the ethical implications of how we create and consume digital content,” Emmanuel said.

While discussing the ethics of digital media, students are also exercising logic. “What the teams are demonstrating for the judges (and the spectators) is their ability to reason clearly and well about moral issues,” Emmanuel said. 

As a professor of philosophy at VWU, Emmanuel studies and teaches ethics to his students. “Good moral reasoning is one of the most important skills that our students will need in life,” he said. 

In teaching ethics, Emmanuel focuses on all the necessary background information and skills for practicing ethics. 

The practice of good moral reasoning “is one of the most important skills that our students will need in life,” Emmanuel said, as it “requires the ability to consider all the different aspects of a case, to listen carefully to other points of view, to expand the options for finding creative solutions and, where substantive points of disagreement remain, discovering points of common ground.”

These are skills that the VWU Ethics Bowl team has practiced with Jackson. In a compliment to the team, Jackson said, “In just minutes, they composed articulate arguments in response to ethical questions.” 

In doing so, the team “identified the crux of a case, the stakeholders involved, the possible solutions and the ethical reasons for the best path forward,” Jackson said.

For students interested in studying ethics or competing with the team, Jackson suggests Dr. Emmanuel’s Philosophy 212: Practical Ethics course during January Term, or to register for INST 351: Ethics Bowl Workshop. 

“Those who practice ethical behavior make better family members, friends and citizens of a community,” Jackson said.

By Rhian Tramontana