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Richmond students to discuss social media in Ethics Bowl

Published: February 9, 2013, 4:26 pm ET
Collegian Staff

Five University of Richmond students who will be competing in the Ethics Bowl Sunday and Monday to discuss a topic more relevant to college students than in years past: ethics and social media.

The staff at the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges has hosted the annual debate since 1997, each time at one of the 15 VFIC schools, according to the organization’s website. This year, the Ethics Bowl will be at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va.

This year’s topic of debate is different from those in the past because there is not one clear-cut line of thought, junior team member Rachel Hall said.

There is more gray area when considering what is right and wrong in dilemmas about social media, but “that makes it a little more interesting,” she said. In the past, the debate has come down to which team argued the same point better, she said.

“Today, we view social media as the new free speech,” freshman team member Rich Chian said. “The way our generation perceives free speech is much different from the way the last generation did.”

For this debate, though, an older generation will be deciding who wins.

The VFIC has told competitors not to tailor answers to what they think judges want to hear, Hall said. “But at the same time, a lot of the judges are older than we are,” she said. “A lot of them are business professionals, and obviously, the way that they’re going to look at things and the way they’re going to understand our arguments is through lenses that they’ve acquired over the years.

“That does mean that sometimes it is smarter – although not necessarily more ethical – to keep in mind the perspective your judges are coming from,” she said.

The judges are business and community leaders from the area, senior team member Elliott Fox said. They are donors, friends and trustees, who are recruited to volunteer to judge the competition, said Emily Lowry, program administrator for the VFIC.

Chian, Fox and Hall all became involved with the Ethics Bowl through their interests in philosophy and debate, they said. In preparation for the competition, the team has been reading and discussing philosophical articles and working on practice debates, Chian said.

The team has an idea of what to expect, in terms of the dilemmas it will be given, the members said. They have discussed how much information one consents to make public when online, whether Facebook should be considered a public or private forum, anonymity and cyber bullying, Hall said.

“The VFIC Board of Trustees has an Ethics Bowl Committee that develops the cases and competition parameters each year,” Lowry said. “The cases are typically loosely based on actual current or past events.”

“The point of the Ethics Bowl,” Fox said, “is to prepare you for real ethical dilemmas that you might experience at some point down the road.”

Hall said: “Ethics and clearly thinking about the issues of right and wrong in different situations can legitimately make the world a better place. And I think it’s something we should do more of than we do.”

At the Ethics Bowl, teams compete in four rounds of debate, during which they are given a complex ethical dilemma to consider, Fox said. During the hour that each round typically lasts, teams have time to discuss the dilemma, present opening statements, ask the opposing team a question, receive a question from the judges and then make concluding statements, Hall said. The two teams with the best scores from the judges move on to the final round, she said.

The other Richmond team members attending the debate are senior Lacie Horak and sophomore Zach Davis. This year, all 15 VFIC schools are sending teams, and there will be 72 students competing, Lowry said.

Contact staff writer Maggie Burch at

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