Whitman’s Ethics Bowl team wins Ladenson Award

Lachlan Johnson

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Seven students traveled to Washington, D.C. last weekend to compete in the national ethics bowl tournament, a competition where students from across the nation face off to see who can have the most thoughtful conversation.

Whitman’s Ethics Bowl team won a ticket to nationals after a surprise first-place finish at regionals last December. At nationals, Whitman’s team was awarded the Spirit of Robert Ladenson Award. Named after the founder of the Ethics Bowl, this award is given to the team which best represents the spirit of rationally exploring issues through civil discussion.

“We felt that it was especially meaningful that the winner is determined by how many votes a team receives from the members of the three teams that it competes against, as well as from other people who interact with it, such as judges, moderators and other coaches,” wrote Associate Dean of Students Noah Leavitt in a blog post reflecting on his experience being with the team in D.C.

Whitman’s team differentiated itself by prioritizing the process of having a conversation over concern for scoring points.

“One thing that served us well is [that] we’ve gone into both the regionals and the nationals not being super concerned about winning, and being interested in having fun and having good discussion,” said senior Emma Thompson, who joined the ethics bowl team this year. “This has helped because it’s less stressful, we’re able to be more creative and pursue ethical theories that aren’t the obvious ones to see how they play out, and I think that’s really helped us.”

Whitman’s Ethics Bowl team was founded three years ago by Associate Professor of Philosophy Patrick Frierson, though this is its first year competing in the regional and national competitions of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl organized by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics. In the previous two years the team only competed in the Independent Colleges of Washington’s ethics bowl (ICW), a smaller regional competition.

“Our intent was to go to the regional as a low-pressure way to have a bowl that wasn’t the ICW. And then we won the regional, which we were not expecting. Until our third round, we had not even recognized the possibility that we could win it. It wasn’t on our radar at all,” said senior Nick Moen, who is on the team for his second year.

Thompson came to the Ethics Bowl team after Whitman’s debate team was suspended last spring. Ethics bowl gives them the opportunity to practice skills from debate such as public speaking, though there are important differences.

“[Ethics Bowl is] more aimed toward training you to talk to business people or other professionals that might need to be making ethical decision. Unlike debate, you dress up in a suit and speak slowly. It’s more about convincing and have a discussion with the judges, the judges can ask you questions. The judges act like a professional seeking an ethical opinion.”

For the next two months Whitman’s team will be preparing for this year’s ICW, which will be held April 22 at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

Editor’s note: This article originally used the incorrect pronouns for Emma Thompson.