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UNC-Chapel Hill Ethics Bowl team competes at nationals

Members of the Ethics Bowl team pose for a group picture at Caldwell Hall on Feb. 18, 2022. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The UNC-Chapel Hill Ethics Bowl team competed in an intercollegiate national competition on Feb. 26 and 27 — the team's first time qualifying for nationals in over five years.

The Ethics Bowl team is made up of students who are in the PHIL 261: Ethics in Practice course, which focuses on principles of argument and applying moral theories. This year, seven students competed for the team at nationals.

The 2022 Association For Practical And Professional Ethics Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl was held over Zoom. Of 150 teams from across the country who competed for a qualifying spot, 36 teams made it to the national competition.

The UNC team, sponsored by the Parr Center for Ethics, qualified for the competition based on its performance at the regional competition in November. The team placed second in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ethics Bowl, said Delaney Thull, a doctoral student in philosophy who instructs the course and coaches the team.

In each competition match, students receive a case about an ethical topic and a moderator asks the teams questions about the case, Thull said. Students must then give a 10-minute presentation answering the question while addressing the central moral dimensions and an alternative viewpoint of the case.

After presenting their ethical analysis, a panel of judges rates responses based on specific criteria, she said.

“It's really cool to see ethical theory go from being just like a theoretical abstract thing you study in a classroom to seeing them taking it and applying it to real-world scenarios,” Thull said. 

Ethics Bowl competition

At the national competition, the team won two matches, tied one match and lost one, Thull said. 

Although the team did not advance as far as they had hoped, they still did the best they could have done, Jade Monday, a junior on the team, said.

Monday said she is proud of the team's performance. Despite earning a nationals berth for the first time in years, she said the team was able to grow together throughout the season.

“We were really nervous, but we had grown a lot since the fall," Monday said. "We had great team chemistry. We won the first round and we were like we deserve to be here, we are in this thing and we are really dangerous competitors.”

The topics covered in competitions can range from cases in bioethics like the permissibility of gene editing to environmental ethical dilemmas such as the harms of tourism to the integrity of National Parks, according to Thull.

In the most recent national competition, sophomore and team member Lauren Haines said she debated about whether or not it was ethical to fund space exploration when there are climate problems on Earth.

She said her time competing with the team has helped her value the importance of research. She added that team members' areas of study range from biology to economics, which is an advantage when cases cover a broad range of topics.

“Doing the Ethics Bowl has helped me understand there's a lot of nuance in issues where that might not always be apparent on the surface,” Haines said. “It has helped me think harder before actually trying to argue about something I don't know about which I think happens frequently now.”

Team environment

The environment of the Ethics Bowl team is special because it provides a space for disagreement and freedom of thought, Ann Goulian, a sophomore on the team, said.

“We're not worried about expressing ourselves and I think that’s really important for training thoughtful, educated, citizens of democracy,” she said. 

Thull said the team and its focus on talking through difficult topics benefit the intellectual environment of UNC’s campus as a whole.

“(Team members) are able to go into conversations with friends or in other classrooms, and be able to bring a level of respect for the process of talking about hard things,” she said.

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Next year, the Ethics in Practice course will not be a requirement to join the Ethics Bowl team because the team will be recognized as a student organization, Thull said. This shift will hopefully bring make the team more inclusive for new members.

“Being able to have students who have a really robust skillset in civil discourse, I think, makes all of campus better,” Thull said.