ST. PETERSBURG — Is bullfighting ethical? Is computer-generated child pornography? What about illegal immigration?
Think about it. Sometimes, the answers might not be clear-cut.
If you're not sure, ask members of the Eckerd College Ethics Bowl team. These were some of the cases that won them the Southeast competition last fall for the seventh year in a row.
In March, the group of seven students will head to Cincinnati for the national competition.
"The challenge of the debater is to ultimately decide what is going to be the best outcome for the general public," said co-captain Kate Hamilton, 20. "It's a gut sense of justice. You can feel what's ethical and what's wrong."
Teams from the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg also advanced to the nationals, finishing second and third, respectively. The 2010 Southeast Regional Ethics Bowl was held Nov. 13 and featured 24 teams from colleges and universities across the Southeast.
At Eckerd, the Ethics Bowl is an extracurricular activity not guided by a class or program. Students meet weekly to research arguments for cases, which are provided ahead of time and often involve current events.
They debate in head-to-head rounds at tournament-style competitions. Prompted with a question from a case, each team presents its answer and offers rebuttals.
"The more research I do, the more I look into it," said Elizabeth Renihan, 21, the team's other captain. "You find that things are never black and white. Things are never clear."
The key, the captains said, is to consider every perspective. Looking at all the players and stakes, they have found themselves pondering unusual stances — like whether animal conservationists' actions against Japanese whalers actually endanger the very whales they try to protect.
"One of the great things about Ethics Bowl is so much of the debate in this country has become very polarized: 'I'm right. You're wrong,' " Renihan said.
"This is very, very civil. It's great to have these very spirited debates."
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.
What: Seventeenth Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl
When: March 3
The cases: Teams will be questioned on one of 15 cases posted online in advance. They will not know which one beforehand. Some of the cases focus on current issues like the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, the Arizona law that allows police to stop people if they suspect they are in the country illegally, and a Colorado bill passed last year that ties tenure to teacher effectiveness.
Read the full cases at indiana.edu/~appe/ethicsbowl.html.
Noodle on this
Think about these three cases, adapted from the regional Ethics Bowl competition and the arguments prepared by the Eckerd College team.
Does a ban on computer-generated child pornography violate your right to privacy?
Eckerd's team said: Virtual child pornography should stay banned under federal law. Likening your right to privacy to your freedom of speech, obscene materials are not protected by the First Amendment. Based on today's societal norms — one of the ways we define "obscene" — child pornography, computer-generated or not, is obscene and provides no ethical good.
Should Spanish bullfighting be legally protected against animal cruelty laws because of its history in the country's culture?
Eckerd's team said: Bullfighting has become a symbol of Spain and a national tradition, but the widely recognized symbol of Spain does not reflect the popularity of the practice among Spaniards themselves. A Gallup poll in 2006 reported that 72 percent of Spaniards have no interest in bullfighting. Culture changes over time: 82 percent of surveyed Spaniards between ages 18 and 25 said they had no interest in bullfighting. Animal rights should also be acknowledged as a cultural belief.
Should all children born in the United States be granted citizenship regardless of their parents' nationalities?
Eckerd's team said: There is no way to consider all sides — children of illegal immigrants, illegal immigrants as parents, foreign nationals who want to legally immigrate, American society in general — and find a solution without significantly disadvantaging one party. A test case should be brought to the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine the 14th Amendment and find an appropriate interpretation for today's society.