Ethics Bowl makes trip to national competition despite bad weather

From left to right: Jeremy Caldwell, Indigo Conat-Naar, Alexa Bisphoric, Ryan Lee and Dana Horowitz pose for a portrait in Tisch Library on March 7. Kirt Thorne / The Tufts Daily

The Tufts Ethics Bowl team travelled to the national competition in Chicago, driving the 982 miles from Boston to the Windy City after bad weather canceled the team’s flight. 

Jeremy Caldwell, a junior who has been on the team since his freshman year, said that they found out their flight was canceled the morning of the competition.

“We all woke up really early, were supposed to have a 10:40 flight, and we found out that our flight had been canceled. We went to the airport, but the whole terminal was shut down,” said Caldwell, “We tried to get train tickets, but those were all booked, and we didn’t want to get on a bus for twenty two hours. I think out of sheer delirium we decided to rent a car.”

The team made the 18-hour trip from Tufts to Chicago beginning on Friday, stopping in Cleveland to sleep a few hours at a hotel, according to Caldwell. Philosophy senior lecturer Susan Russinoff, who advises the team, and TA James Withers, a senior, took turns driving. The team consists of Caldwell, senior Dana Horowitz, second-year SMFA dual-degree student Indigo Conat-Naar, sophomore Alexa Bishopric and sophomore Ryan Lee.

“We had worked really hard in the past two months to be ready, but we were expecting to be there by Friday afternoon, get to see the city, and all of a sudden we were just locked in this box together for 18 hours,” Caldwell said.

Horowitz, who has been on the team since her sophomore year, noted that the team had to adjust how they prepared for the competition that weekend.

“We were supposed to have all this prep time before, but we wound up really just talking the cases through aloud, which ended up working out fine,” Horowitz said.

Conat-Naar said that the team made the best of their altered travel plans and managed to fit in time to explore the city and bond as a team.

“A couple of us decided we had to try deep dish pizza … it was about one in the morning, and we went to this place around the corner that was still open,” Conat-Naar said.

She added that the trip was a bonding experience for the team.

“We were all good friends, but one of our teammates is fairly new to the team … so we got a chance to get to know him better, and it was really a wholesome evening,” she said. 

While the team did not win at nationals, this is the second year in a row that they made it to the national competition. Conat-Naar spoke about the process of getting to the national level of competition, starting with participating in the half-credit, pass/fail class in the philosophy department.

“The requirements for that class are pretty much to meet during the free period on Mondays and Wednesdays and discuss the cases with two teaching assistants. The final requirement for the course is to compete in the Tufts Ethics Bowl, which happens in October,” Conat-Naar said.

According to Conat-Naar, the team of five that wins the Tufts Ethics Bowl advances to regionals and then to the national competition if that team places in the top four at the regional competition.

Horowitz described Ethics Bowl as similar to debate, but with a less competitive and more collaborative feel to it.

“Ethics Bowl is kind of like debate through the philosophy department. [At the competition] you get fifteen cases regarding controversial issues … and you get a question each tournament and you don’t necessarily know what it is going to be, so you have to research, prep the case [and] talk about it,” Horowitz said. “Then at [the] competition you have another team who brings up objections, you respond, so it’s kind of a collaborative debate form.”

For each case, teams must consider the ethics of various issues, according to Caldwell.

“[We] focus on several different realms of social applications of philosophy, whether they be medical, artistic, media-based, political, international relations, corporate,” Caldwell said. “There’s a lot of different ways of looking at philosophy.”

Conat-Naar discussed how the topics she discusses in Ethics Bowl relate back to her academic interests as an art student.

“I have a lot of fun with the art-related cases, just because it kind of makes me think about art’s role in the public sphere,” Conat-Naar said. “If an artist does a bad thing, does that make their art problematic? … which is a question that is coming under pressure a lot with the #MeToo movement.”

Caldwell, Conat-Naar and Horowitz all said that Ethics Bowl has been a valuable experience and has provided them with various skills they will take into their future.

“[Ethics Bowl helps] you get better at having reasons to back up your claims, so you have to get better at going deeper into your claim and having principles to back it up,” Horowitz said.

Lee, who joined the team this year, spoke of both the academic and social benefits of Ethics Bowl, comparing it to other forms of debate.

“I did competitive debate in high school, [which was] very aggressive … and Ethics Bowl is a very Tuftsy experience,” Lee said. “It’s collaborative, there’s an expression of care from Professor Russinoff, the TAs [and] my teammates that is just unprecedented.”

Caldwell also said that Ethics Bowl felt unique to Tufts.

“It is honestly enjoyable to have these deeply philosophical debates, where it will be midnight on a Sunday night and we all have things we should be doing instead, but we’re all just sitting around … talking about the injustice of the medical system in America,” he said. “I try to explain it to any of my friends that don’t go to Tufts, and it sounds like the weirdest thing to them, but we all really enjoy it.”