Villanova to Compete in National Ethics Bowl Competition


Courtesy of APPE LinkedIn

APPE hosts the annual Ethics Bowl Competition.

Charlotte Ralston, Staff Writer

As the University’s Spring Break kicks off this weekend, many students will be heading home to visit family or traveling to various vacation spots. However, the Ethics Debate Team has other plans. Four members, coached by Ethics professor Mark Wilson, will be competing in the 26th Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl National Competition.

Organized by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE), the national competition consists of four preliminary rounds, in which 36 teams face off one-on-one to debate a contemporary ethical issue. The top eight teams then move on to playoffs, competing in elimination quarter- and semi-final rounds that culminate in a final debate between two schools for the national title.

APPE provides teams with packets of potential debate topics weeks before competitions, allowing students to hone their arguments well in advance. The catch? At the beginning of each round, teams are randomly assigned a topic to debate, so they have to prepare for every possibility without knowing what specifically they will be arguing. Topics from Villanova’s recent competitions have ranged from bans on teaching Critical Race Theory in schools to iguana-owning regulations in Florida.

“We get a packet in the beginning of [the season] with anywhere from 15 to 17 cases, and we work on dividing up those cases,” said senior Anthony Berna, captain of Villanova’s Ethics Debate Team. “Then in the competition, whoever’s cases get called, they take the lead. Since we’ve all been discussing together, we have some awareness of what the main topics are, and we’ll supplement the discussion as it goes and help answer questions that come up, but whoever is the lead on the case will really take charge.”

Berna has participated in Ethics Bowl since high school, where as a sophomore, he founded an Ethics and Philosophy club and formed a team to compete with.

“I was really drawn to it because I liked the format and I liked the intentions of the Ethics Bowl in trying to promote dialogue in important topics and contemporary problems, but without the heated atmosphere of debate or the hostile environment that hot topics can encounter,” Berna said. “I joined [Villanova’s team] as a freshman, and I’ve been on the team since.”

In the Fall 2021 semester, under Berna’s leadership, the team took home its first Northeast Regional win in school history. After losing narrowly to West Point in a preliminary round, Villanova battled back to come out on top in a final-round rematch. Entering the competition missing a teammate, Berna, along with juniors Hillary O’Neill and Patrick Riss and freshman Justin Williams, did not have high expectations.

“One of the things about Ethics Bowl is you learn to get content with failure, because only one team wins at the end of the day,” Berna said. “At the collegiate level in the Northeast, Tufts and West Point tend to be the top teams pretty consistently that end up in first or second, so to be able to beat them in the competition felt great, and [so did] seeing that all our hard work, especially given the circumstances, paid off.”

The national competition, originally scheduled to be held in Cincinnati, will take place virtually on Feb. 26 and 27, due to the ongoing pandemic. Berna hopes to keep up the momentum of the team’s regional victory, but competing online poses a unique set of challenges.

“I’d say [being virtual] makes a big difference,” Berna said. “Personally, I really like the in-person format where you’re sitting at a table across from your opponent and the judges are in between you. As a team dynamic, you’re able to collaborate and work much better at a table, whispering to each other as opposed to having to go to a breakout room on Zoom to discuss cases.”

Despite the added complication of virtual competition, the team of Berna, Williams and freshmen Kaleigh Brendle and Mike Blake is excited to face off against schools such as Yale, University of Chicago and Stanford at nationals.

“However we do, I’ll be proud that we made it this far and we won the first Northeast title in school history,” Berna said. “Especially with a young team, I’m a senior and then we have three freshmen right now, so I think it’ll bode well for the future that they get this experience, and it’ll be leaving the team in a good spot going forward. It’s just exciting to see not only how we do next weekend, but in coming years, what the Ethics Bowl will look like at Villanova.”