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Students Heading to National Ethics Bowl

After three years of knocking at the door, SHU’s Ethics Bowl reaches top four regionally to qualify for national competition

From left are students Brendan Wardlow, Andrew Loughrane, Drew Winkler, Kristina Payne and Alexia Pappalardo.

After much practice and hard work, students in Sacred Heart’s Ethics Bowl debate team placed in the top four at the Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl Competition (NEREB), qualifying for the national competition this month.

Twenty-six teams from colleges such as Tufts University, Dartmouth College, Villanova University, West Point, Colgate University, Marist College and Manhattan College participated in the NEREB. It took place last summer at St. Joseph’s College in New York. Sacred Heart hosted the NEREB the previous three years.

The event involves moderators asking teams questions on a variety of topics that pose ethical dilemmas. Judges then rate teams based on their responses.

The five SHU team members woke at 4 a.m. on a Saturday to catch the ferry to Long Island so they could arrive at St. Joseph’s on time for the competition, says Ono Ekeh, assistant professor of theology and religious studies and one of the team’s coaches. Ekeh was at the competition with fellow coach Gordon Purves, assistant professor of philosophy, taking pictures and cheering on students.

The SHU team defeated Villanova, Notre Dame of Maryland University and West Chester University of Pennsylvania in the first three rounds, Ekeh says. In the quarterfinals, SHU’s team surpassed one of the West Point teams before falling in close debate to Union College in the semifinals. Tufts was the competition’s eventual winner.

Students received 15 cases to study beforehand, Ekeh says. They practiced and prepared throughout a full semester so they would be prepared for any question about the cases. At the competition, students only had two minutes to prepare their answers for the tough ethical questions.

Next, SHU will join West Point, Union and Tufts to represent the Northeast region in the National Ethics Bowl competition Feb. 21 in Reston, Va.

“It is a significant accomplishment,” says Ekeh. “We’ve participated in the competition four years now, and we understand how difficult it is to proceed to the top eight teams, much less the semifinals.

“In every single round, you are going up against very talented students, and you have to be at your best and sharpest,” she says. “You also have to understand ethical theories and be familiar with contemporary events. So, as you can imagine, this takes a significant time and intellectual commitment on the part of the students, and they rose to the challenge. They attended practices faithfully. They pushed each other intellectually and allowed us to challenge their thinking, and they understood that our practices were not about winning arguments, but learning. Their success is a major credit to them and to everyone at Sacred Heart who has had a hand in their collective formation.”

“It shows that we should feel real pride for our students because we can compete and excel against students from the best schools in the country,” Purves said. “The students themselves should also feel proud because they put in an enormous amount of work and critical thought and were able to see real, concrete results.”