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VWU Ethics Bowl Team Prepares for Statewide Competition

Students from 16 VFIC colleges and universities will deliberate on the topic of Ethics and the Environment in January

University News | November 30, 2023

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Virginia Wesleyan University’s 2024 Ethics Bowl Team will compete in the 24th annual statewide collegiate Ethics Bowl sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) on January 28-29, hosted on the campus of Hollins University in Roanoke, VA.

VWU’s team has been preparing to compete head-to-head against 15 other highly-qualified student teams from Virginia’s leading independent colleges and universities, deliberating a variety of case studies and real-world dilemmas relating to this year’s Ethics Bowl topic, “Ethics and the Environment.” 

The focus for 2024 is on a variety of issues that arise in our interactions with the natural world and the impact of human activities on the environment. This includes, but is not limited to, issues related to personal and workplace conduct, land use, the ethical responsibilities of public officials, social and economic impacts, resource management, the alignment of organizational philosophy with practices, and responsibility for remediating environmental damage.

The 2024 Virginia Wesleyan University student team includes Casey Bennett ‘25, Christian Palmisano ‘25, Rowan Stuart ‘24, Abigail Villacrusis ‘25, and Elena Lichtenwalner ’26 (alternate), who will travel to Hollins University in January to represent VWU and compete in the statewide event. Avery Belisle ’27, Lily Reslink ’26, Andrew Steiner ’26Kainaat Trehan ’24 and Jessica Wilson ’25 have also been preparing for the event, meeting with the team to argue practice cases with faculty coordinator and Professor of Media and Communication Dr. Kathy Merlock Jackson. Merlock Jacksonwho first began advising students for Ethics Bowl deliberations in 2012, has been assisted in preparing the students by local attorney Hank Howell.

“We have a very experienced, strong team,” said Merlock Jackson. “We have ten students practicing each week, which is a large number, and we’ve been able to have two teams for practices all semester.”

She says that Howell joins them each week, providing invaluable insights into the topics and critiques for the students’ presentations

“I enjoy working with this amazing, dedicated group of students and thinking about ethical issues of importance,” notes Merlock Jackson. “Each student brings something different to the table. It is fulfilling to watch students grapple with questions that have no easy answers, and try to do the right thing.”   

A part of the team’s preparation for the big competition in January is an event hosted on campus by the The Robert Nusbaum Center in the Lighthouse: Center for Exploration and Discovery in Clarke Hall. On Tuesday, December 5, at 7 p.m. members of the campus community are invited to gather for a debate demonstration. Judges for this practice debate will be Professor of Marine Biology Dr. Soraya Bartol, Professor of Philosophy Dr. Steven Emmanuel and Hank Howell, Esq.

During the VFIC statewide event, business and community professionals serve as judges and moderators. Many notable individuals from a variety of career fields including business, law, education, finance, journalism and others will listen to team presentations and offer reactions. The first rounds of the Ethics Bowl are typically scheduled during Sunday afternoon. On Monday, January 29, rounds three and four begin in the morning, with the final round of competition taking place just before noon. The winning team will be announced early on Monday afternoon.

Virginia Wesleyan University's 2020 Ethics Bowl team, comprised of Alex Powers ‘21, Anitra Howard ‘22, and Criofan Shaw ‘23, took home the Batten Trophy when they won the Ethics Bowl. Deliberating the topic, “Ethics and Higher Education,” the 2020 team edged out Hampden-Sydney College in the final round to win the Batten Trophy for the second time in the event’s history.

Virginia Wesleyan also won the very first VFIC Ethics Bowl in 2000, deliberating the topic of “Ethics and Society.” The VWU team was awarded runner-up in 2014, deliberating on the topic of “Ethics and Health Care,” and again earned runner-up in 2019 on the topic of “Ethics and Social Justice.”

The VFIC Ethics Bowl program was first conceptualized in 1997 by the VFIC Ethics Task Force, co-chaired by prominent journalist and former VFIC Trustee Roger Mudd, and Phillip Stone, former president of Bridgewater and Sweet Briar Colleges. The mission of the task force was to explore opportunities to involve students at VFIC colleges in the lively debate and consideration of applied ethics—real world dilemmas that affect people's lives in increasingly complex ways.

Founded in 1952, the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges is a nonprofit consortium supporting the programs and students of 16 leading independent colleges in the Commonwealth: Bridgewater College, Emory & Henry College, Hampden-Sydney College, Hollins University, Mary Baldwin University, Marymount University, Randolph College, Randolph-Macon College, Roanoke College, Shenandoah University, Sweet Briar College, University of Lynchburg, University of Richmond, Virginia Union University, Virginia Wesleyan University, and Washington and Lee University.  

Learn more about the VFIC Ethics Program.