Sweet Briar students debate ‘Ethics and Civic Responsibility’

Sweet Briar’s Brittany Behrens ’17, Annabeth Griffin ’18, Sarah Hunter ’16 and Felisha Leffler ’17 participated in the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges’ 17th annual statewide Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Hollins University. The team competed through four rounds, finishing with a 2-2 record. Heidi Samuelson, who teaches philosophy, coached the team as the faculty coordinator.

The Sweet Briar 2016 Ethics Bowl team: Annabeth Griffin (from left), Sarah Hunter, Felisha Leffler, and Brittany Behrens.
The Sweet Briar 2016 Ethics Bowl team: Annabeth Griffin (from left), Sarah Hunter, Felisha Leffler and Brittany Behrens

Each year, teams from the VFIC’s 15 member schools debate and adjudicate ethical dilemmas presented in case studies based on a theme, while a panel of judges scores their arguments. The 2016 debates centered on “Ethics and Civic Responsibility.” Hampden-Sydney College took first place, followed by Washington and Lee in the runner-up spot.

Samuelson, a visiting assistant professor at Sweet Briar since August, was new to the Ethics Bowl experience but found it a collaborative partnership with fellow Virginia independent colleges. She was pleased with her team’s “very respectable” finish, but equally so by the opportunity the event provides.

“I’m teaching an ethics course this semester in which we discuss current ethical issues, and I think it’s one of the most important classes philosophy offers,” she said. “It gets students thinking critically about issues that affect them personally — and maybe eventually professionally — that they might have formed an opinion on without considering alternate sides or approaches to it.

“ ‘Ethics and Civic Responsibility’ is a particularly interesting topic in a presidential election year, because that’s often when you directly feel your value as a citizen.”

The Ethics Bowl was new to the whole team, Griffin says. They didn’t know what to expect, but no longer.

“The first day of debates began with a learning curve and two unexpected losses,” Griffin said.

“We regrouped the next day and won both rounds on the final day. I am proud of my team and anxious to return next year with experience in what the judges are looking for and a desire to represent SBC as a place that instills the importance of a return to ethics in every aspect of education.”