The Sam Houston State University Ethics Team recently competed in their first-ever Texas Regional Ethics Bowl (TREB). Despite being a first-year program, SHSU finished third in the competition and are now preparing for the National Collegiate Ethics Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia on Feb. 22-23.
Out of the 26 teams that competed at TREB, only four are moving on to nationals. Teams from across the country will debate different ethics topics in front of a panel of judges. These ethics cases can range from questions about medicine, law, engineering, climate, research, animal rights, socio-economic policy, warfare, business and beyond. Teams must form a cohesive argument and master the moral dimensions of each case, while being ready to answer any question from the judging panel.
Joseph Agins, institutional compliance officer for SHSU, and Zachary Bachman, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, serve as the team’s coaches. Agins had previously been involved with the ethics bowl prior to joining the staff at Sam Houston State, and quickly made it his mission to bring a Bearkat team together.
“I knew our great students could compete with anyone,” Agins said. “It has been awesome and easily one of the highlights of my time here. My favorite part is seeing these students come together and form a solid team and, even better, form friendships that may have never happened otherwise.”
After deciding to help start the team at SHSU, Bachman served as a judge at an ethics competition to get a better understanding of the challenge the Bearkat team would face.
“I was really impressed with how engaged the students were in analyzing interesting and difficult moral issues,” Bachman said. “I thought bringing a team to SHSU would be a fun opportunity for students to learn about these issues while improving their critical thinking and public speaking skills and meeting new people.”
Students explained that taking on the challenge of competition is inspiring and leads to frank discussions of morality.
“My experience as a member of the team will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Ethan Eichhorst, senior history major. “It continues to be a challenging but worthwhile dive into some of the most important issues facing our society.”
To succeed, the team must be completely consistent. Once the thesis is established, it can be built upon but never contradicted in their answers. This builds teamwork and cohesiveness, skills these students can translate and use throughout their lives.
“This is a valuable activity for students because it makes you have an open mind and forces you to see that just because your value and beliefs are good for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for the many,” said Cydnii Daniels, sophomore criminal justice major. “You really get to see the whole picture when you take yourself out of the equation, rather than only seeing the corner you are in.”
These healthy debates lead to students forming bonds over bettering the world.
“One key part of preparation is being open and forthright about your moral intuitions as well as being willing to entertain approaches that may be unfamiliar to you,” said Elise Whatley, senior philosophy major. “This openness with one another allows the team to develop an excellent working chemistry and strong friendships.”
The term “moral victory” is something you typically hear after a loss in team competition. However, for these academic competitors they strive for moral victories in order to win each debate. These skills help students become better parts of society and even prepare them for the workplace after college.
“This program gives students an opportunity to further explore and consider tough ethical dilemmas that face our society and add to their experience before graduating,” Agins said. “Students are entering a workforce where businesses are more competitive, dynamic and connected than ever before. To thrive and move forward, these businesses will look to build a team of employees who will emerge as ethical leaders and problem solvers.”
The hope is to expand on the program in the future in order to give as many students as possible a chance to compete and learn. No specific qualifications or majors are required to join the team. Coaches simply ask for an interest in ethics, having fun debating and being a team member. Those interested can email Bachman (email@example.com) or Agins (jxa101@SHSU.EDU) for more information.