Barrett students win at regional Ethics Bowl competition; will compete nationally in February

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November 28, 2016
Ethics Bowl team

Members of the ASU Ethics Bowl team show off the 1st and 2nd place awards from a regional competition in early November.

Think about this scenario: The meat industry produces more environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. The emissions come from the animals’ digestive systems as well as from the production of their feed. Cattle and sheep are the most environmentally destructive farm animals, though all types of animal agriculture have a negative impact on the environment. There is also evidence that eating too much meat, especially red meat, is unhealthy. But should governments attempt to push their citizens to eat in a more environmentally friendly manner or is choosing whether to eat meat an individual choice that should be left up to consumers?

This is an example of an ethical dilemma presented to students in the Rocky Mountain Regional Ethics Bowl competition in early November in Golden, Colo.  In addition to this topic, students debated other issues, or cases as they are called in the competition, including guns in classrooms, genetic testing, political correctness and comedy, Bodily Identity Integrity Disorder, Zika and abortion in Brazil, fair wages, and drug legalization. Two teams of Barrett students competed and won 1st and 2nd place. Members of the Barrett Honors College teams are Sam Stoffer, Caleb Vinson, Zihan Jennifer Zhang, Erik Ayala, Elana Quint, Eric Dunn, Robin Allen, Caroline Meek, Corbin Witt, and Richa Venkatraman. By virtue of their win in the regional competition, Stoffer, Vinson, Zhang, Ayala, and Quint will compete in the National Ethics Bowl Championship in Dallas, Texas in late February. It will be the first time for an ASU team to compete in the national competition.

The Intercollegiate Ethics BowlSM (IEB) is presented by the Association of Practical and Professional Ethics and gives students a chance to enter an academic competition that combines excitement and fun with an educationally valuable experience in the areas of practical and professional ethics.

Hundreds of students and teams across the United States and Canada compete in 11 Regional Ethics Bowl competitions each fall. The teams argue and defend their moral assessment of some of the most troubling and complex ethical issues facing society today. Questions address a wide array of topics in business and professional ethics, in personal relationships, and in social and political affairs.

The competition focuses on selected cases developed by APPE ethics faculty, researchers, and professionals covering a wide range of disciplines, including business, engineering, journalism, law, medicine, and social work. In the competitions students demonstrate their ability to understand the facts of the case, articulate the ethical principles involved in the case, present an effective argument on how the case should be resolved, and respond effectively to challenges put forth by the opposing team as well as the panel of expert judges.

Over the last three years, 30 Barrett students have traveled to compete in regional competitions in California, Washington, and Colorado, according to Jenny Brian, Barrett faculty fellow and coach of ASU’s Ethics Bowl team, which is made up entirely of Barrett students. The team is funded by the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at ASU and meets four hours per week to prepare and practice arguments and counterarguments.

“The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl is an exciting and fun academic competition that is also an educationally valuable experience, in which interdisciplinary student teams argue and defend their moral assessment of troubling and complex ethical issues. Students learn how to think and talk about difficult problems to which there are no easy answers. They have to understand and explain a range of different perspectives, which promotes empathy, and develop their own argument about the case, which requires clear, critical and creative thinking,” Brian said.

“Ethics Bowl values constructive dialogue and understanding complexity, and I think that resistance to reduce problems to simple yes/no or for/against answers is so important for teaching students how to understand and make sense of our complicated and changing world,” she added.

Zhihan Jennifer Zhang, captain of the ASU team that advanced to the national competition, said she has broadened her world view by participating in Ethics Bowl for the past two years.

“I think that it's been a valuable experience to me because we have the opportunity to discuss so many diverse topics that I hadn't known I had an opinion about, even though I may not have specialized knowledge about a particular scenario. I'm not a philosophy major, but that hasn't precluded my ability to apply ethical theories and ideas to the very real scenarios brought up in each set of cases. I think that Ethics Bowl has widened my perspective on these issues,” she said.

“I'm obviously really excited that we won (the regional competition), but, looking back, I'm also very proud of how our team has improved. Just comparing our first Ethics Bowl team, when we had no idea how the rounds were even set up and the current one can be astonishing at times. I'm looking forward to nationals as well. The cases haven't been released yet, so there's nothing to research quite yet, but we're planning on brushing up on various ethical theories in preparation for when we do have the cases,” she said.