When I first came to Tufts, I knew very little about what classes would be like, but one thing I did know was that I wanted to try out for the debate team, since my high school didn’t have one. I remember getting up early for my audition on a Saturday morning and repeating my notes to myself as I walked down to Olin’s basement, clutching a cup of coffee. I was nervous, too nervous– I spoke fast, lost track of my own points, and became more and more flustered by the minute. I knew I didn’t make the team as soon as I left. I was dejectedly walking to class later that week and I saw a poster for the Tufts Ethics Bowl. I had done Ethics Bowl for a year in high school, and really enjoyed it, but I hadn’t expected it to exist at the collegiate level. I saw there would be an information meeting at lunch, and there would be free pizza. I went.
Aside from taking significant advantage of the free pizza, I learned that Professor Susan Russinoff, soon to become my favorite professor (and overall person) at Tufts, runs the Ethics Bowl program out of the Philosophy department. It’s a half-credit, pass-fail class that meets during lunch on Monday and Wednesday, and it’s entirely discussion based. It’s monitored by two grad student TAs who sit and debate tough philosophical questions with the 20-40 students. No prior knowledge of philosophy or ethical theory is expected, and if anything discussions are more productive without throwing around big names like Immanuel Kant or Peter Singer. Ethics cases come from a range of areas– one was the issue of Apple versus the FBI in regards to the locked phone of the San Bernardino shooter; another was on Body Identity Integrity Disorder, and whether doctors have any moral restraints on the controversial treatment that involves the removal of healthy limbs. At the end of the course, everyone forms teams that compete against each other with philosophy grad students as judges. Whoever wins this bowl, Tufts sends to the regional ethics bowl in Poughkeepsie, and if the team wins this, they get a spot at the National ethics bowl that occurs in a different city every year.
I attended my first class the very next week and from there, several things were set in motion. I became a Philosophy major largely as a result of how much I loved spending time thinking about these issues, and how friendly and accessible department was. I also met the people who would become my best friends and future housemates– My first team was one other freshman and one sophomore. We ended up winning the Tufts Ethics Bowl that year in what was described as an astonishing upset against a seasoned team of upperclassmen, many of whom had gone to nationals before. We couldn’t believe that we won, especially considering that we were such good friends at that point that we would spend the entire round giggling quietly to ourselves while we past back and forth doodles of the opposing team’s argument until we collected ourselves just in time to fire back a rebuttal. We won a spot at Nationals my first two years, and in the second year, we ended up on a last minute, 18 hour road trip to Chicago through a “bomb-cyclone” snow storm with Professor Russinoff and one of her fearless TAs driving us. We slept for 4 hours outside of Cleveland, and sustained ourselves entirely with Dunkin’ Donuts. I asked her to be my advisor during that trip while walking through a Chicago park. This past semester she recruited me and some fellow ethics bowlers to help bring Ethics Bowl into the TUPIT (Tufts University Prison Teaching Initiative at Tisch College) program that teaches Tufts classes in a nearby state prison, which culminates in an AA degree for the inmates that are enrolled in the program. I visited the class twice in Concord, MA and helped introduce the Ethics Bowl and judge the inaugural rounds. We’re talking now about ways to push for further involvement going forward, as Ethics Bowl has proven itself to be an accessible and invigorating way for people to engage in philosophy and apply it to everyday issues. Ethics Bowl shaped my time at Tufts in ways I never could have imagined, and to be able to see the way it enables participation in philosophy, an area of academia that notoriously hides itself away in an ivory tower, continues to be an inspirational experience.