Hiram College

As citizens of global and local communities, most everyone faces moral and ethical dilemmas to which answers are not always clear. The Hiram Ethics Bowl team, led by Colin Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy, and Megan Altman, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy, is a debate team that addresses moral issues in current events and helps students develop complex analysis skills.

In November, after several months of preparation, seven Hiram students traveled to Michigan to compete at the Upper Midwest Regional Ethics Bowl at Oakland University. They faced teams from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Competing teams receive a set of cases dealing with real and current moral issues. They then prepare arguments, considering all sides of the issue, to outline the complex moral and ethical principles in question. Though the teams develop arguments for 12 cases, only eight are called at random during the competition.

One case asked, “What ethical responsibilities do the producers of the Netflix series ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ have to their audience?” The show dramatizes an adolescent suicide in the wake of sexual assault and caused widespread controversy upon its release. Another case focused on the ethical considerations surrounding the Electoral College and fairness in elections.

“Although Ethics Bowl is a debate competition, its real value comes from the students preparatory work. For 12 weeks, students extensively and intensively discuss some of the most complex and nuanced ethical issues we face as a society—the urgent ethical issues of our times. The competition allows them to continue to learn and practice their skills in conversations with other students with sometimes very different backgrounds,” says Dr. Anderson.

This year’s team was made up of students from all four years, first-years to seniors. Their areas of study range from nursing to early childhood education to philosophy. They called themselves “The Moral Agents” even striking recognizable ‘agent’ poses for a photo after the competition.

Henry Sannyasa, a senior religious studies major, competed on the team for the first time this year. Sannyasa says he was drawn in by the relevancy of the topics.

“I wanted to be more involved with making sense of national politics and social issues,” he says.

Sannyasa also adds that the weeks spent discussing the cases and preparing for the competition itself was the most meaningful part of the experience for him.

“I enjoyed just talking about these things with other people and getting their perspectives and input and giving attention to these topics because they’re not always present in other areas of academia,” he says.

Dr. Anderson, who has led Ethics Bowl teams at Hiram since 2007, adds, “Working with the team each year is extremely gratifying and intellectually stimulating.”