Ethical Dilemma

The Randolph College 2014-15 Ethics Bowl team: (From left) Assistant Professor of Philosophy Kaija Mortensen, Donald Saltmarsh-Lubin ’16, Sarah Biegelsen ’17, Sarah-Elizabeth Cottone ’15, and James Potter ’15

The Randolph College 2014-15 Ethics Bowl team: (From left) Assistant Professor of Philosophy Kaija Mortensen, Donald Saltmarsh-Lubin ’16, Sarah Biegelsen ’17, Sarah-Elizabeth Cottone ’15, and James Potter ’15

Life often presents challenging ethical situations that can take months, or even years, to resolve. A couple may struggle with whether to have children if there is a genetic disposition for disease. A spouse “forgotten” by a partner with advanced Alzheimer’s disease may consider a relationship with another.

In reality, these tough situations rarely happen overnight, but for students participating in the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) Ethics Bowl, the decisions must happen in mere minutes. Then the team members must defend their choices while competitors work to pick their arguments apart.

Fourteen VFIC colleges participate in the annual Ethics Bowl. This year, Randolph’s team made it all the way to the championship round after winning the Cardinal division. The team proved to be a solid contender, said Lauren Prisco, VFIC’s Ethics Bowl coordinator. “The members were organized, articulate, and they functioned well as a team,” she said.

Convincing a group of judges from the business community that your argument is the best requires rapid thought and teamwork, said James Potter ’15, a four-year veteran of the Ethics Bowl. “You have to be concise, you have to be very clear, and you have to make sure that all of your teammates are on the same page,” he said. “You have to be a cohesive unit.”

VFIC started the Ethics Bowl in 2000 to help increase discussions of ethics at member colleges. Like other co-curricular activities offered at Randolph, the Ethics Bowl helps students connect what they learn in the classroom with real-life situations.

For Sarah-Elizabeth Cottone ’15, experiences on the team have changed how she handles leadership positions, such as class president and the judiciary committee. “It enhanced my critical thinking,” she said. “Being able to back up what you believe and use examples, being able to entertain the other argument— that’s critical thinking. That’s learning.”

Kaija Mortensen, a philosophy professor and the team’s faculty coordinator, believes the lessons the members learn through practice and debate will help them throughout their lives. “We’re teaching them how to attune themselves to the ethical dilemmas of situations that arise in their lives so that they have the tools to think through those,” she said. “That’s a kind of thinking that we should foster in all of our students.”