The University of Lynchburg’s Ethics Bowl team defeated several large state schools at the Mid-Atlantic Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl on its way to a third-place finish and a trip to nationals in Portland, Oregon, in March 2023.
Among those bested by Lynchburg’s team at the regional competition, held at the University of North Georgia on Saturday, Nov. 12, were teams from the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Virginia Tech.
This is the fourth time Lynchburg has qualified for the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, having also competed in 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2020-21. For Maggie Miller ’23, team captain and four-year Ethics Bowl veteran, it will be her first in-person nationals.
“I’m just so proud of my team and so excited to go to nationals,” Miller, a political science major and Westover Honors Fellow, said. “We also went to nationals my sophomore year, but we had to compete virtually at both regionals and at nationals.
“This time, we will be in person. It’s so exciting and a great senior send-off.”
In Ethics Bowl, which is distinct from debate and forensics, students address a variety of ethical dilemmas, presented in case studies provided in advance of the competition.
Over the semester, Lynchburg’s team researched 15 cases concerning ethical issues of all types — everything from abortion, mental health, and justice in the 1955 murder of Emmett Till to whether or not an elephant at the Bronx Zoo could be considered a “legal person.”
The team met twice a week. “Early on, preparation takes the form of talking through each case, identifying the main ethical issues and different approaches one could take, and creating a research plan,” Dr. Laura Kicklighter, the team’s coach and faculty coordinator, said.
“After that, students create outlines of the arguments that they want to make for each case and we practice and refine presentations. I provide feedback, ask questions as if I were a judge at the competition, and sometimes pose as the other team to give them a case to respond to.”
In-depth research is key to success, Kicklighter added. “[It’s] a huge part of being well prepared for this event and definitely makes the difference between a team that qualifies for nationals and one that doesn’t,” she said.
“The cases provide basic information, but there are many facts and perspectives that need to be gathered in order to have a truly informed opinion.”
On the day of competition, the team worked to convince judges that their case positions had the strongest ethical grounding.
“There are four rounds,” Kicklighter explained, “after which the top four teams are identified for a semifinal round, and then the top two move on to a final round. Two cases are debated each round, so 12 of the 15 cases are addressed by the end of the first round.”
No questions are provided in advance, so success requires that teams be nimble. “Although we know the cases ahead of time, we don’t know what questions will be asked about each case,” Kicklighter said.
“Sometimes, the question asked requires the students to rework their presentation on the fly. Students do not use notes during the competition, so everything has to be in their head at that point.”
Teams are evaluated on the following criteria: clear and systematic presentation, thorough discussion of the moral dimensions of the case, thoughtful consideration of different/opposing viewpoints, response to opposing team’s case and commentary, and response to judges’ questions.
“[They’re] expected to approach the debate as a collegial conversation about important topics, and ‘gotcha’ tactics and rhetorical tricks are discouraged,” Kicklighter said. “We are not to try to trap or go after the other team, but to show why and how our analysis is better, or ask the other team questions that show their analysis needs to go further.”
Still, it’s hard not to relish the moment of glory. “One of the highlights was the point differential in which we beat another team,” Miller wrote in an email. “Not gonna name names, haha, but we ended up beating that team by 25 points.
“To understand how crazy that is, wins are usually only by 2-5 points.”
On a more serious note, Miller, an aspiring political science professor, said the “biggest lesson” she’s learned from competing in Ethics Bowl is how to defend her beliefs. “If you don’t have any support for your beliefs, other than ‘that’s just what I feel,’ then you’re not going to get anywhere in working with anyone,” she said.
“Even if you don’t end up changing someone’s mind, at least you gave an educated and heartfelt attempt. This is going to help me in my future career because I will need to be communicating my ideas and lessons in an academically appropriate way.”
Miller also praised Kicklighter, who has led Lynchburg’s Ethics Bowl team since 2008 and also serves as associate director of the Westover Honors College.
“Dr. Kicklighter is the best coach we could ever ask for,” she said. “She pushes us to be better because she knows we can be much better than we give ourselves credit for. I mean, we made it to nationals, after all. … We certainly wouldn’t be the team we are without her.”
In addition to Miller, the University of Lynchburg Ethics Bowl team includes Caleb Adams ’25, Jack Schroeder ’23, Olivia Upton ’25, and Theo Veal ’23.