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The hidden gem of intellectual sports: the Ethics Bowl team

Intellectual sports are regarded with high status at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and praised for their frequent success as clubs and teams. There are nine intellectual sports organizations registered with UMBC, but only one that provides the opportunity to debate ethical issues with other collegiate students on campus and around the country: the UMBC Ethics Bowl team.

Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl has existed on college campuses for decades, gaining popularity at universities with academic rigor, like UMBC. The format of Ethics Bowl competitions vary from region to region, but the organization is largely the same. Teams are given a packet of case studies four to six weeks before a competition that includes a mix of hypothetical and real cases. The team then prepares for the competition by studying the cases and the ethical implications of each one. At the competition, two teams face off against each other through a rounds alternating between answering questions from judges and responding to the other team’s answers. The team with the best performance is declared the winner of the case and moves onto another round.

The team meets weekly under the direction of Professor Greg Ealick of the philosophy department, during which time they review ethical cases and discuss the implications of the situations. Isabella Negro, Psychology B.S. ’21, leads the club as the president. Negro provided a short synopsis of the organization, stating that Ethics Bowl is a “debate-style club where we [the team] go over ethical cases and practice our public speaking skills in a supportive environment.”

The team usually attends at least one travel competition each semester. Their weekly meetings are designed to prepare for the competition by reviewing the cases they are provided, debating each one and running case presentations. As the competition date approaches, they “start scrimmaging more in the Ethics Bowl competition format,” Negro explains. The weekly meetings are important for the team as they must come to a consensus on how to handle each case before attending the competition. This also allows members of the team who do not attend the competition to take part in the decision-making and debating that goes into each case.

Negro got involved with the organization after taking a philosophy class taught by Ealick last year. She humbly states that while there are executive positions among the team, they “really try to encourage everyone to think of themselves as equal members of the team.” She also notes that in addition to the range of ages of the students in the organization, the team invites students of all majors to join, adding, “it’s actually quite helpful to have many different perspectives and personalities.” The team’s structure also allows students to attend the weekly meetings and discuss cases without being on the competition team, which requires students to audition for a position.

As Negro’s description of the team and the structure of the organization suggests, Ethics Bowl provides an opportunity for all students to participate in an intellectual sport and foster healthy debate over ethical issues, which can be relevant to all majors and careers. UMBC’s intellectual sports teams may have varying degrees of fame on campus, but the trajectory of the Ethics Bowl team makes it one organization to keep an eye on.