The Atkins Center for Ethics 2020-2021 Essay Contest

The Atkins Center for Ethics is an initiative made possible through a gift from Michele Atkins, a Carlow graduate, and her husband, Patrick Atkins, Ph.D. The goal of the Center is to develop students as ethical leaders and to promote civil discourse on moral and social issues facing our country and the world today. In that spirit, the Center sponsors an essay contest each year for high school students focusing on an issue of ethical concern.

All essays should specifically address this year’s topic.

Topic: “Who Goes First? Making Hard Decisions in an Unequal World”

While the coming months may see the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, mass production could take many more months. In these circumstances governments, businesses, and hospitals must make tough decisions: who goes first? Who should get vaccinated or receive needed supplies first?

What rationale can be used to make such decisions and what factors are ethically relevant? COVID-19 disproportionately affects people 60 and older as well as those with preexisting medical conditions. Should age or prior health be relevant factors? It likewise disproportionately affects minorities and the economically disadvantaged, exacerbating long-standing structural and societal factors, such as unequal access to healthcare, safe working conditions, and more. Are race, gender, citizenship, or economic status therefore relevant? Should those designated necessary workers — including healthcare workers and emergency responders, but also gas station attendants, fast food workers, and grocery store clerks — be given early access? Since few individuals cleanly fit into any one of these, what should be done when real individuals cannot be neatly classified into exclusive camps or categories?

In light of these layered complexities, how would you distribute a vaccine? What triage policies would you implement and how would you personally justify those policies ethically?


WHO: Open to all students enrolled in 11th or 12th grade classes.

WHEN: Essay must be submitted online to the Atkins Center for Ethics on or before the contest deadline of January 15, 2021.

HOW: Contest rules for eligibility:

  • Essay must be 800-1200 words in length, not including citations and bibliography.
  • Student must respond to the topic questions in an articulate, clear, and organized manner.
  • Essay must be the independent work of the student.
  • Essay must be submitted as a PDF or Microsoft Word document.

CRITERIA: Essays will be judged on the basis of a thorough and well-organized response to the prompt and the ability to explore and discuss the ideas and ethical concepts that support his/her position. No particular ethical perspective will be imposed on the entrants. Students are encouraged to express themselves freely. Judging will be conducted in stages: (1) initial screening of submissions that all rules are met and selecting the top 20 essays; (2) judging the top 20 essays by a committee of Carlow faculty members.


A cash prize of $1200 will be awarded to the winning student. A cash prize of $600 will be awarded to the second place entry and a $200 prize will be awarded for third place. The Essay Contest prizes will be awarded by the committee solely on the basis of merit. No additional commitment is required.

Click here to submit your entry for the 2020-2021 Atkins Center for Ethics Essay Contest!