I was part of the Northeastern Ethics Debate team in the Fall semester of 2017. On the weekend of November 10th, Professor Yelle drove our team, consisting of 10 undergrad students, to Poughkeepsie, NY, to participate in the North East Regional Ethics Bowl held at Marist College. It was a raucously good time – definitely a highlight in my year!
Since this was the first year that Northeastern University attended this competition, the team entered the competition with an open mind-set, unsure of what to expect. We were eager to learn more about the ins-and-outs of the Ethics Bowl, in the hopes that we would be better prepared to be competitive in the future.
In preparation for the competition, our two teams of five students each met once a week for a couple of hours over great food, supplied by the Philosophy department, to discuss the ten cases that were to be argued by all participating colleges at the Ethics Bowl. All of the cases were controversial in one way or another, and the first few discussions were certainly too heated for competition.
When we arrived at Marist College on the frigid morning of November 11th, we were briefed on how the competition would work – Northeastern University would debate against three different colleges, arguing two cases against other teams. If we scored high enough after those first rounds, we would make the ‘playoff rounds’. Our first opponent was Yale Univesity, which was quite the task for our debut appearance as a team, but we debated superbly. Eventually the panel of three independent judges decided that Yale University was the winner, but we lost by only two points (144 to 142)! The cases against Yale University involved the Dakota Access Pipeline and Fake News censorship. In the latter rounds the judging was slightly less favorable with our teams arguably getting unjustly beaten by Sacred Heart University and Seton Hall University. Our debaters prepared great arguments on the ethics of ‘quarantining citizens’, Trump’s proposed ‘Muslim Ban’, ‘whether or not can be persons’, and the Goldwater ruling. Although we had a 0-3 record after the initial rounds but a high accumulative score, we narrowly missed out on the 8th placed-position. We would not argue any further cases at this year’s Ethics Bowl.
The enduring memories of this experience are absolutely not ones of defeat or disappointment. Our team, including Prof. Yelle, all agreed that we performed admirably, remaining competitive at all times and never letting our inexperience show, even against seasoned debate teams. We took away valuable lessons and skills to use in future competitions and that experience could only be learned by diving in ‘head-first’. We met students from other universities and their debate teams, some of whom are still in touch with members of the NEU team and who we look forward to debating again in the future.
Participation in the Ethics Bowl and other debate meetings is a crucial part of what makes our Philosophy Department great – it provides our philosophy students the opportunity to exchange ideas from outside our usual academic space, meet new and interesting people with similar interests from NEU and other colleges, and challenges us to think practically in an open-minded way about arguments that are 100% too sensitive in normal conversation.
I am very excited to be part of the next Northeastern University Ethics Bowl team, which may be competing in the BioEthics Bowl taking place in Alabama in April 2018. I would strongly encourage those interested to come to try-outs during the Spring semester.