W&L takes home sixth Ethics Bowl win


Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Lam

Mahon, Corcoran, Perkins, Peterson and Lam pose with Roger Mudd ‘50 on the first day of the 2014 Ethics Bowl competition.

The Washington and Lee team took home the championship trophy at the Ethics Bowl in Arlington on Feb. 9. This is the school’s sixth win since the competition began 16 years ago.

The Ethics Bowl is an annual program in which students from 15 area colleges are invited to consider and debate ethics in real world situations. It is intended to strengthen and challenge students’ pre-existing ethical and moral values.

This year’s competition was held on Feb. 8-9 at Marymount College. The debate moderators were W&L ethics professors Angela Smith and Sandy Reiter.

“While it’s important for all college students to think critically about ethics, I think it’s especially important for W&L students,” Teddy Corcoran, ‘16, said. “When you consider the values of the University and the honor code that is in place, it only makes sense that we use some of our time in college to grapple with and study difficult ethical situations.”

This year’s team was comprised of Corcoran, Cynthia Lam, ‘15, Connor Perkins, ‘15 and Austin Peterson, ‘16.

Professor James Mahon coached the team to victory. The team was formed after Mahon reached out to some of his philosophy students this past fall to see if they might be interested in entering the competition. The four teammates chose to volunteer.

“We had weekly practices where we went over the cases and reviewed various arguments for our position,” Lam said. “It’s been an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience.”

“This competition is important because, first, we do not really have a team debate competition at W&L” Mahon said. “And, second, this is a chance for students to engage in debates about ethical matters specifically.”

The competition’s unique structure means that each participating team does not argue in favor of their personal beliefs. Teams are required instead to adopt a particular position and debate that position to the other team.

Prior to the competition, teams were told the theme. This year’s ethical dilemmas were matters of “Ethics and Family.” This required Mahon to invent hypothetical situations to debate during practice sessions.

“We were required to develop our own set of values and principles so that we were ready for any case,” Mahon said.

In the final round, the team had to compete against students from Randolph College. The two teams were presented with a case in which a woman had to decide whether to move her emotionally abusive mother into an assisted living community, or to allow her to live with her and her two sons.

The W&L team argued that the woman should allow her mother to move in with her. The judges applauded the cohesiveness of the team, as well as their presentation skills overall.

“Our team chemistry was why we won, I think,” Corcoran said. “We really enjoyed working with one another and I think it showed in the way we were able to build off one another’s points and make persuasive arguments. I genuinely felt lucky to be a part of such a great team.”

The program was founded in 1997 by members of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges Ethics Task Force. Co-chairs of this task force were Roger Mudd, ‘50 and VFIC trustee Phillip Stone. Participating institutions include the University of Richmond, Hollins University and Sweet Briar College.