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Taylor students pursue excellence in all that they do, both inside and out of the classroom. After ranking first place in the Regional Ethics Bowl competition in the fall, Taylor’s Ethics Bowl team is on their way to the national competition in Portland, Oregon. The competition is March 4-5 and six students will be competing.
Ethics Bowl is a national program where students compete by presenting on various ethical issues. Students hone their debate skills, learn to approach an issue from all sides, and use their public speaking skills to argue for their perspective.
Politics & Law major Peter Schwark ‘24 and Philosophy major Teagan Bakker ‘23 are co-captains of Ethics Bowl this year, coached by Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion Koert Verhagen. They have been leading their teams as they prepare to compete at the national competition.
Last year, the team just barely missed the cut to qualify for Nationals, but they were invited to compete a month before the national competition, leaving the team minimal amount of time to prepare.
“At Nationals we did exceptionally well,” Schwark said, “especially given that we placed higher than several of the teams that made it to Nationals through our region.”
The competition last year was virtual, and the teams used two classrooms: one for the competing team, and one for the non-competing team to watch and show support. The competition was an especially exciting one for Taylor’s team, because one of their competitors was the team from Yale University.
Although Taylor’s team did not place at last year’s national competition, the team was exceptionally proud of their performance, given the incongruity between Taylor’s time for preparation and the rest of the competing teams.
This year, the Ethics Bowl split into two teams for the competition. They spent all of fall semester preparing cases and practicing their arguments before competing at the regional level in November.
“This year we took a similar but slightly different approach to what we've done in years past,” Schwark said. “Everyone briefs the case on their own, but it's more team-based than it has been in any previous year. We really tried to make a group effort on every single case so that everyone knew something about every case.”
The new approach proved successful as Taylor’s team placed first in the regional competition, securing their spot at Nationals. The team will be heading to Portland this week to compete.
Students involved in Ethics Bowl at Taylor have a special calling to do ethics in a way that represents the Christian faith well. Taylor students strive to bear witness to the gospel in all that they do, and Ethics Bowl is one of the more nuanced ways students can do that.
“What makes me really proud of our team is their commitment not just to Ethics Bowl but doing Ethics Bowl ethically,” Verhagen said. “In regional competition this year, there was a mix up when it came to the cases that were read in the first round. In the second round, the team that our team was going up against was at a disadvantage because our team had encountered one of the cases for round two already, so they knew the case and had already thought about it. Our team came up with a creative way of leveling the playing field to reduce the advantage that they had. That made me proud to coach. They’d been leaning into a competitive edge, but they sought to introduce as much equity and fairness as possible.”
Bakker, Schwark, and Verhagen all highlight working with the team as the best part of Ethics Bowl.
“It's a unique sort of student that wants to sacrifice so much of their time to think well about really pressing real world moral dilemmas,” Verhagen said. “I'm always encouraged by the students and their ability to weave lightheartedness and joy with really serious moral reasoning.”
Bakker, Schwark, and Verhagen all encourage students who are interested in Ethics Bowl to go to a meeting, emphasizing that there is a place on the team for people of all interests.
“When I was thinking about joining, I was convinced that I would not be competing,” Bakker said. “And now I'm captain, and I love it. It's one of my favorite things that I've done while at Taylor and I'm glad that I took that risk. There's a space for whatever your comfort level is in Ethics Bowl.”