Ann Arbor, MI – High school students from around the area put pen to paper over the past few weeks to write about some issues that mattered to them – and most notably, the ethical dilemmas that accompany them – in this year’s A2Ethics case competition.

Students from four schools – Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor Huron High School, Washtenaw International High School and Saline High School – participated in the contest, which is in its second year. Case topics range from--current dilemmas about how to ethically respond to school policies whose purpose is to protect students from potential active shooters--to broader, but related, explorations about the moral meanings of being a Good Samaritan in different emergency situations.
The competition was judged by a top-notch panel of local philosophers: Jill Dieterle, a professor of philosophy at Eastern Michigan University; Guus Duindam, a University of Michigan philosophy graduate and law school student; and Keagan Holt-Potts, a Western Michigan University philosophy graduate student.

Jeanine DeLay, president of A2Ethics, said the case competition stands out in several ways.

“There are several worthy writing awards offered in Michigan high schools. The Case Writing Awards program is unique,” DeLay said. “It gives students a chance to research and write about situations which pose ethical choices that are neither straightforward nor clearly the right thing to do. The case studies are accompanied by questions the students would like others to think seriously about, to then discuss, and to come up with questions and case studies of their own.”
Huron High school student Ellie Makar-Limanov took the grand prize and $350 for her case, entitled Past and Punishment. The case, set in the early 1980s, explores a hypothetical scenario in which a beloved professor is discovered to be a former Nazi scientist – and what the university should do with that knowledge.

For Makar-Limanov, the case competition allowed her to present her own case, and to learn more about the ethical issues that mattered to other students as well.

"Winning felt great, of course; but writing the case felt good too, as did reading some of the cases my friends had written,” said Makar-Limanov. “The case writing competition is a great way to mix creativity with ethics and self-expression. Personally, it's allowed me to explore some of the philosophical and historical themes that I'm particularly interested in."

Pioneer High School student Grace Stephan and Huron High School student Frank Seidl took the other two prizes in the competition – honorable mentions - for their case studies, entitled Prisoners of War and Disabled Athletes, respectively. Prisoners of War examines the ethics of prisoner exchange, and what happens when justice and obligations toward a minority are pitted against the rights and claims of the majority. Disabled Athletes inquires into a separate arena – the world of competitive sports, and the ethical questions that come with the introduction of technological enhancements, such as prosthetic limbs.

The three winning cases, as well as the others submitted, can be found here:

The prizes were announced at the Michigan High School Ethics Symposium, a gathering of high school students, philosophy grad students and applied ethicists, at the University of Michigan’s Tanner Library. The Symposium is a spring event annually organized by the U of M Department of Philosophy’s Outreach program. It is now in its third year.

The event features presentations by high school students discussing favorite topics and asking questions of each other in a forum akin to the ancient Greek Symposia, convivial “parties” where philosophy and spirited argument reigned supreme and friendship flourished even when disagreements were common.

“Suppose we could time travel,” said DeLay in describing the Symposium. “Think about how the toga-clad philosophers at an Athenian Symposium would respond to these questions: Is it a violation of a disabled person’s rights to ban the technology on which they rely, for example, a prosthetic leg, from a competition? Is it always, sometimes, or never ethical to conduct research during wartime that could potentially be used for war?”

“The students at the 2018 Michigan High School Ethics Symposium would have plenty to discuss and questions to ask ancient philosophers too.”

Founded in 2008, is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethics and philosophy initiatives through events, education and civic partnerships in local communities. As a philosophy connector and social weaver, A2Ethics is developing an ethics network of organizations and individuals of all ages to support and expand knowledge about philosophy and ethics in public life, and to strengthen public engagement around real-world ethics issues across Michigan.