Courtesy of Kiki Plowe

Cornell Ethic Bowl's leadership team. (L-R Sylvan Martin '25, Kiki Plowe '25 and Gabriel Davila '25)

September 13, 2022

Ethics Bowl Club Debuts on Campus

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Many Cornellians have experience defending an argument, be it for an academic paper, in a debate club or in ordinary conversation. This year, students who are drawn to such exercises will have another opportunity to do so — the University’s new Ethics Bowl team.

The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, held annually by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, is a competition in which teams of undergraduates from around the country receive a set of 15 dilemmas, or “cases,” to review and come up with an argument for the most ethical solution to it. The teams are graded based on the coherence and thoughtfulness of their stances.

Kiki Plowe ’25, a philosophy major, founded the club in the spring along with some of her classmates.

“Last year I had the idea; I loved doing Ethics Bowl in high school, and I thought it was funny that Cornell didn’t have a team,” Plowe said. She elaborated that the club aims to promote a relaxed environment and is open to students without prior debate experience.

Sylvan Martin ’25, the club’s treasurer, said he felt that they received a good amount of interest at this weekend’s ClubFest. 

“It was definitely a range of people [at ClubFest], there were some people that had no experience and just thought it sounded cool,” Martin said. 

He also reiterated that the club’s environment made it an appealing alternative to other similar opportunities. 

“There were definitely a lot of people… [who were] coming from the same place I was, where I did debate in high school and loved it, but it’s too intense to keep doing in college,” Martin said. “I didn’t have that kind of time, and so that ended up being something that a lot of the new potential members resonated with.” 

The club is currently preparing for the IEB’s regional competition phase, which begins in early December. The national-level competition takes place later in the spring.

Due to the nature of the competition, in contrast with other common formats such as parliamentary debate, teams are not assigned specific positions to take in advance, and are allowed to agree with each other during competitions. 

“You’re not trying to score points or get one over, you’re just trying to come to the best conclusion possible,” Vice President Gabriel Davila ’25 said. 

According to Davila, members split into two groups during club meetings and practices using one of the dilemmas that they will be expected to confront. One such dilemma involves the decision by the Wimbledon tennis tournament to bar Russian and Belarusian players from competing in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even though some of these players have spoken out against their government’s actions. 

Often, these can overlap with or be drawn from hot-button political issues or current events, but Plowe emphasized that the arguments they would be making go beyond politics.

“If anybody has the slightest interest in getting better at speaking, learning more about ethical issues, learning more about how to engage in discussion and discourse, in very much a collaborative environment, in sort of a lower-stakes way, I think Ethics Bowl is the perfect place for that,” Plowe said.