“[I] saw the Mary Baldwin team, who we had made friends with, utterly excited, giving us the thumbs up and miming, ‘Go Sweet! Win it for the sister colleges!’ ” Britell, a senior religion and philosophy major, said. “That’s when it sank in: We are representing our College, our sister all-female colleges, and ourselves in the final round.”
Britell and teammates Kat Alexander ’11, Jennifer Will ’13 and Catherine Marcks ’14 went on to win the round on Monday, Feb. 14, concluding the two-day event at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk. Their faculty advisor is Kevin Honeycutt, an assistant professor of philosophy.
It was Honeycutt’s second year coaching the team and after last year’s oh-for-four performance, he took a different tack on preparation. Rather than spending lot of time on formal debate techniques, he focused on chemistry. “I tried to assemble a team of students who were collaborative, articulate, intellectually creative and analytical,” he said.
“All of them have studied philosophy with me in one form or another, and so all of them have had a great deal of practice in the skills and techniques I insist upon: intellectual courage, thoughtfulness, and the ability to read closely and carefully.”
During the competition, the teams are presented scenarios on an ethics theme — this year it was ethics and privacy. They’re given time to assess the situation, formulate a position and then argue it against an opposing team before a panel of judges.
“Every day in class they have to go through this process … the Ethics Bowl is just on a shortened timeframe,” Honeycutt said.
Will, a philosophy major, drew heavily on that training. “Although we didn’t have any formal practice with debate, I felt that taking four semesters of philosophy prepared me quite well,” she said. “Philosophy requires close reading and analysis, and every word has its own purpose. I applied what I knew from my classes to the prompts that they gave us, and developed an argument that took all details into consideration.”
Will said they used a “divide-and-conquer” approach, with each having a role in the thought process and later the debate, a team dynamic that Britell independently declared “superb.”
Britell said Honeycutt stressed that winning the debate was secondary to finding solutions as a team — and that’s what they did.
“Kat was the powerful and passionate orator who could immediately draw the judges and audience [into] seeing the problem on a personal level for all,” Britell said.
“Catherine knew how to formulate questions and answers in ways that were elegant, composed, yet pointed out the holes in our opponents arguments thus forcing them to either alter their stance or back track, and Jennifer was utterly amazing at discovering the written and unwritten important details based on the prompt, figuring out how to show the complexity of the situations and showing how our solutions answered those complexities.”
That Honeycutt’s chemistry was working showed from the first round — catching the team by surprise, since Sweet Briar has never won the Ethics Bowl in its 12-year history.
“I think I realized we had a fighting chance after our first round, when the University of Richmond coach said, ‘Three more rounds like that and you’ll be in the final,’ ” said Alexander, a government major. “I was floored — had we really done that well? When we barely lost to Washington and Lee, I knew we could hang with anyone.”
The plaudits, however, go entirely to the team members, says Honeycutt. “They are a credit to Sweet Briar College and exactly represent the type of thoughtful, brave and articulate women that we aim to develop,” he said.
The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges is composed of 15 member institutions. For more information on the Ethics Bowl, please visit the VFIC website.