On February 26, 2023, a team of Mount Tamalpais College students faced off against a team of UC Santa Cruz students in the College’s fourth Ethics Bowl tournament. Ethics Bowl is an intercollegiate debate tournament that models a constructive civic dialogue, with each team defending what they believe to be the best ethical approach to a particular case, rather than being assigned a pro or con position.
Teams were presented with two cases to debate: the first questioned whether or not Carolyn Bryant (nee Donham), the woman who accused Emmett Till of harassment, should be prosecuted as an accomplice in his kidnapping and murder; the second delved into the culpability and liability of a nurse who mistakenly administered the wrong drug in a hospital setting, accidentally killing a patient.
The MTC team—Angel Alvarez, Jessie Rose, Ben Tobin, Tony de Trinidad, and Rob Tyler—prepared for the debate over the course of a semester, with coaching from faculty members Kyle Robertson, Connie Krosney, and Kathy Richards. “Bringing outside college students inside San Quentin offers MTC students the opportunity to be seen as students and fellow academics instead of inmates,” said Kathy Richards. “Ethics Bowl is also meaningful because it provides an opportunity to explore some of the most important ethical and moral issues of our time and to discuss those important issues in a civilized manner.”
With a crowd of fifty MTC and UC Santa Cruz guests, students, and staff looking on, teams huddled to construct their argument on a particular topic, presented their response, then fielded questions from the opposing team. Launching into the first topic on Emmett Till, the MTC team argued that Carolyn Bryant should be held accountable for her role in the murder, emphasizing the racism at the core of this particular case that continues to this day. The law, they asserted, should apply equally to all, regardless of race and class, noting that Bryant’s advanced age and poor health should not excuse her from responsibility. They further argued that the notoriety of this particular case made it all the more critical that persons be held accountable, drawing a distinction between prison time and public accountability.
The UC Santa Cruz team’s response to the second question about the culpability of the nurse who mistakenly administered the wrong medicine focused on the spread of responsibility across many entities, citing the responsibility of hospital administration and pharmaceutical companies. They also raised questions about the potential impact of recruitment and retention of nurses if society begins to hold them criminally negligent for such errors.
Judging was based on a variety of criteria, including the clarity and thoroughness of each team’s argument, the respect and awareness with which they addressed opposing views, and their responses to opposing team commentary. After eighty minutes of debate, Judges Marian Avila Breach, Eliezer Margolis, and Jeanne Proust tallied up the scores, and the Mt. Tam College team was awarded the win. This is the fourth win the MTC team has garnered against UC Santa Cruz.
Attributions: Photos courtesy of San Quentin Media.