The Ethics Essay Prize

SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility is proud to host the 2023-2024 Ethics Essay Prize - an essay competition open to all undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at SMU. The competition encourages the development of ethical discernment, imagination, and thoughtful reflection by challenging students to consider the role of ethics in their lives. Further, the contest provides the Maguire Ethics Center valuable insights into topics of importance to students.


2023-2024 Ethics Essay Prize Submissions are closed!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2023-2024 Ethics Essay Prize. Winners will be announced in early April.

Download the Scoring Rubric Here



First Place: $1,000

Second Place: $500

Third Place: $300

Honorable Mentions: $200


The competition maintains separate divisions for graduate and undergraduate submissions; however, both categories now share a uniform deadline of February 28th.

Essay Topic

Explore your preferred topic by selecting one of the prompts presented below:

1. Reflect on an ethical issue you have encountered in your own life and analyze and evaluate the situation. Describe the ethical dilemma you faced, providing relevant context and exploring the factors that contributed to the complexity of the issue. Reflect on your decision-making process, considering the role of personal values, moral principles, and ethical reasoning in shaping your response to the ethical issue. Finally, discuss the lessons you have learned from this experience and how it has influenced your understanding of ethics in real-life situations.


2. Analyze a contemporary societal issue of significance by examining the ethical dimensions, implications, or potential solutions related to the chosen issue. Consider the broader collective impact, potential conflicts of interest, and the ethical responsibilities of individuals, institutions, and organizations involved. Your essay should present a well-reasoned argument, incorporating relevant ethical theories and principles to support your analysis and recommendations.


In many successful Ethics Essay Prize submissions, students applied an ethical framework to their discussions, a choice that significantly elevated the depth and quality of their essays. By voluntarily choosing to apply an ethical lens to their discussions, students not only showcase their intellectual rigor but also demonstrate a profound understanding of the complex moral dimensions inherent in the topics they explore.

Moreover, it reflects a commitment to thoughtful contemplation, encouraging students to grapple with ethical dilemmas, ethical theories, and their real-world applications. In doing so, students’ essays will not only be more academically robust but also socially relevant, making a compelling case for the ethical imperative that underpins their arguments.

For students seeking guidance or direction in their Ethics Essay Prize submission, the Santa Clara Markkula Center for Applied Ethics offers a valuable resource – the Framework for Ethical Decision Making. This framework provides a comprehensive and useful tool to aid in crafting well-written essays. You can access the Framework for Ethical Decision Making here.

Submission Requirements

  • Essays must be submitted as a Microsoft Word file here (link to Qualtrics).
  • The title of the Microsoft Word document file name must be the Entrant’s last name only (e.g., LastName.docx).
  • All materials must be received by 5 PM on the essay’s due date.
  • Essays should be 4,000 – 6,000 words, not exceeding 6,000 words. Essays must be written by a single author, typed in Times New Roman 12-point font, double-spaced, and standard one-inch margins.
  • Essays written for a class requirement are acceptable for submission.
  • Students may only submit one essay. Further submissions will not be read.
  • Submissions must include a reference page and proper in-text source documentation. Plagiarism will lead to disqualification and referral to student conduct.
  • There will be two separate submissions prompts for the cover page and the essay. Essay cover pages will be submitted separately from the essay. Only the title of the essay, and not the author’s name, should appear on the first page of the essay itself.
  • The cover page must include the:
  1. essay's title
  2. author’s name
  3. current classification (e.g., First Year, Second Year, etc.)
  4. area of study/major
  5. date the essay was submitted
  6. SMU ID number
  7. Mailing address
  8. telephone number
  9. e-mail address
  • the word count of the essay (excluding cover page and references). 

The Ethics Essay Prize is open to all undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at SMU.


Employees of the Maguire Ethics Center (and the immediate family members of said employees) are not eligible to participate in the contest.


  • Are essays written for course credit eligible for submission?

    Yes, your essay submission can be from any class or from your independent writing outside of class.

  • What citation format should I write in?

    There is no one required citation style, but your style should be professional and consistent. MLA or APA styles are recommended. Please cite all outside sources used, including a "works cited" page if necessary.

  • When are Ethics Essay Prize Winners announced?

    Ethics Essay Prize winners will be announced in early April.

  • How will I know you have received my essay?

    Ethics Essay Prize participants will receive an email receipt upon submission of their essay.

  • Can I read previous essay submissions?

    Although previous winning essays from the Maguire Ethics Essay Prize are not accessible for public download, we invite students to explore the distinguished essays awarded by the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. These essays offer valuable insights into effective writing strategies, persuasive arguments, and ethical reasoning.

  • How will I be notified when winners are chosen?

    Ethics Essay Prize participants will be sent an email in early April informing them if they have earned a prize.

  • I entered the contest and won an award last year; may I enter again?

    Yes! You may enter the Ethics Essay Prize even if you have previously won a prize.

  • Can I use content generated by artificial intelligence tools such as Chat-GPT in my submission?

    • Submissions must primarily consist of original content, with the option to incorporate AI-generated materials when properly cited. AI can produce content that contains inaccurate information, offensive language/images, and biased or unethical representations. What you submit is fully your responsibility across these dimensions. You must provide clear attribution of your sources by following these rules below:
    • Your essay must offer a clear explanation of how you used Generative AI in your writing.
    • All content created by AI in your writing must include a clear citation using a format such as this example:
    • [Chat-GPT-3. (YYYY, Month DD of query). Text of your query. Generated using OpenAI.].
  • Any submissions that utilize Generative AI without attribution can be seen as potential academic dishonesty and will be treated at the undergraduate level within the SMU Student Honor Code and at the graduate and professional level within the honor codes found in their respective school policies.


2023-2024 graduate winners:

  • First Prize: Invisible Ethics and Justified Hypocrisy: The Biopolitical Basis of Anti-Transgender Activism
    • Written by Sara Beth Becker, a Medical Anthropology graduate student. 
  • Second Place: A Mother’s Lessons to Her Sons: The Significance of Learning About Genocide
    • Written by Maria Castaneda Tellez, a Liberal Studies Ph.D. candidate.
  • Third Place: Questioning the Morality of the Realm of Iron Bars
    • Written by Adeeb Abdul Taher, a Computer Science master's student.

2023-2024 undergraduate winners:

  • First Prize: Fake It ‘till You Make It: The Morality of Con Mans
    • Written by Cooper Shapard, a first-year studying Electrical and Computer Engineering. 
  • Second Place: Understood: Is Connection the Ethical Response to a Polarized Society?
    • Written by Anna Kelley Zielke, a third-year studying Dance Performance and Political Science.
  • Third Place: The Struggle with Assisted Suicide, For and Against
    • Written by Andrew McClure, a third-year studying Finance and Philosophy.
  • Honorable Mention: How Just is the Just Transition?
    • Written by Silas Hartman, a fourth-year studying Mechanical Engineering.


Spring 2023 graduate winners: 

  • First Prize: What the Twelve Steps’ 'Design for Living' Can Teach about Ethics, Morality, and the Self
    • Written by Luis Zambrano, a Master of Education student.
  • Second Place: Structural Racialization: Why do we continue to ignore it?
    • Written by Melissa Almonasi-Mulero, a Master of Education student. 
  • Third Place: Worship for the Anxious: Existential Anxiety, Christian Liturgy, and Tillich's Courage to Be
    • Written by Marie Schrampfer, a Systematic Theology Ph.D. candidate.
  • Honorable Mention: Sister, Sister: Racial Tensions and Complacency with Whiteness in American Sororities
    • Written by Carolyn Mason, a Medical Anthropology Ph.D. candidate.


Fall 2022 undergraduate winners: 

  • First Prize: Is overcoming Personal Prejudice an Analogy for Ethical Politics?
    • Written by Zoe Roberts, a third year in the class of 2024 studying Public Policy, Economics, and Human Rights.
  • Second Place: Ethical AI: The Dilemma of Responsibility in AI
    • Written by Daniel Ryan, a third year in the class of 2024 studying Computer Science and Music.
  • Third Place: Oil & Gas: and Ethical Quandary
    • Written by Evan Johnson, a second year in the class of 2025 studying Finance and Spanish.
  • Honorable Mention: On Extractivism and Indigenous Rights: Ethical Considerations of Industry, Consumerism, and the Ethnographer
    • Written by Nicholas Simpson, a fourth year in the class of 2023 studying Health and Society.


Spring 2022 graduate student winners: 

  • First Prize: Nazi War Criminals in the United States and the Fight to Rectify Injustice
    • Written by Ann Marie Dell, Doctor of Liberal Studies candidate
  • Second Place: The Intentionality of Poor Living Conditions on Death Row in the United States
    • Written by Louis Siebrits, Doctor of Liberal Studies candidate
  • Third Place: Climbing into the Canopy: Ecological and Ethical Entanglements in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest
    • Written by Megan Brown, Anthropology PhD candidate
  • Honorable Mention: Setting Retirement on Fire? Communal and Ethical Reflections on Retirement Strategies
    • Written by Danny Sebastian, Religious Studies PhD candidate
  • Honorable Mention: The Pedagogy of Racial Ignorance
    • Written by RL Holmes, Doctor of Liberal Studies candidate