By: Ellen Siefke ~Head Copy Editor~
Senior biology major Rachel Fletcher was on a flight over the holiday break when she noticed a text from fellow Ethics Bowl member and senior philosophy major Max Creager. It read “check your email,” but considering that she was on an airplane, she was unable to do so. Finally, Creager told her the news: the Xavier Ethics Bowl team had qualified for the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB), a national ethics debate tournament held in Dallas this year.
“I think I started crying,” Fletcher said. “There should have been no good reason that I got the text message on the plane. My phone was in airplane mode, and no Internet was working, and Max said ‘check your email,’ and I was like, ‘I’m on a plane.’ There was no way that I could get any of those emails, so he finally just sent me a text.” “Learning right before Christmas [was] so special.”
The team will join 30 other schools nationwide at the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl National Championship on Feb. 26 at the Westin Park Central Hotel in Dallas as the first Xavier squad to do so in seven years.
Ethics Bowl itself consists of a group of students that regularly meets to discuss a wide variety of topics related to local, national and global issues and then presents its ideas in competitions.
“It’s kind of like taking ethical issues, those ethical issues we talk about all the time in our society, and then taking it a step further by applying these philosophical concepts we learn in the classroom to them in order to become better well-rounded people and citizens of the world,” sophomore captain and philosophy major Macey Gerster said.
Former captain and ’16 graduate Linnea Head described it as “applied philosophy” in the sense that members take philosophical ideas and use them to discuss real-world situations.
For competitions, teams are given 15 cases to prepare, but only six are used. The teams do not know which ones will be used and what questions will be asked and the participants cannot have any notes or other information with them.
There are two rounds that each include a starting team and responding team, along with a panel of judges.
After being given the case to argue, teams are allowed two minutes to prepare. The starting team gives a seven-minute presentation, the responding team gives a five-minute rebuttal and finally the starting team gives a five-minute response to the rebuttal. The judges have an opportunity to ask two questions, and then the teams switch for a new case. The starting team is now the responding team and vice versa.
The cases range in theme from laws regarding pregnant women and alcohol intake to political correctness in comedy to the Syrian refugee crisis.
A past case of particular interest to team members involved organ donation to infants born with anencephaly, a condition involving the absence of major portions of the brain, skull and scalp. In that scenario, organ donation had to occur before the babies were declared dead, which raised questions about the legal and medical definitions of death.
Senior nursing major Erin Grinsted explained that though the cases involve a good amount of research, partially provided by class time, she likes that they are able to pick topics that interest them. Head added that the team is not restricted to any specific major and current members vary between the humanities and sciences.
At the regional qualifying meet on Nov. 12 at Marian University in Indianapolis, the team finished with 351 points, tied for fifth place of the 32 participating schools. Since only the top five teams could advance to the national meet, a tiebreaker was necessary. Based on point differentials in individual matches, Xavier lost.
However, during the winter break, adviser and Besl Family Chair Adam Konopka was informed of a scoring change because of a disqualification. Now, Xavier was tied for fourth and headed to the national tournament.
Creager said that he looks forward to the opportunity for discussions with other students at the tournament.
“There’s the vacation vibe, staying with your friends in a hotel,” Creager said, “but at the same time, it’s what you’ve been preparing for. It’s the conversation I want to have about the good life and good politics and good policy.”
Fletcher said that since the presentations must include objections, the team has to come up with different ideas and perspectives that they might not otherwise encounter, which she likes. Grinsted detailed that judges’ questions are the most interesting for her.
“There were a few questions asked by the judges, that, in our response, you could tell by the facial expressions that we actually taught them something,” Grinsted said. “So to be this kid in college that doesn’t really know what you want to do with the rest of your life and there are these established people that are obviously well-respected in their various fields. To see that you were able to teach them something is really gratifying.”
Senior psychology major Armaan Sharma said that he most enjoys the ability to come to a consensus about ethical issues based on one’s own convictions, which he feels is of great importance today.
“When anything comes to ethics, people have this ideology that ‘Oh yeah, ethics is too complicated, who wants to think about that stuff?'” Sharma said. “Sure, ethics is difficult, but if you seriously think about it, it’s not like you will never have any answer or you cannot have a direction in which you can see yourself moving.” “We don’t just make stuff up so that it can look good. Every argument we’ve had is because we really think that way.”
Konopka explains that observing the group reach an agreement when discussing the different cases despite their different personalities and backgrounds is the most rewarding for him.
“One of the highlights is seeing [them] come together as a group,” Konopka said. “We have very different views here, politically and ethically, and to see differences come up together in a process of collective deliberation was particularly meaningful to me during the election and how contentious it got. It was refreshing, I thought, to have a very high level of civil discourse in a time where that was stark contrast to what was happening nationally.”
This year’s IEB is the 21st national competition. The event is promoted and governed by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) and will be held in conjunction with its annual meeting.