The John M. Rezendes Annual Ethics Essay Competition

All current undergraduate students at the University of Maine are invited to submit an 8- to 10-page essay that focuses on ethics, broadly construed. Papers on any topic of ethical concern are welcome, but see below for suggested focus. Please view other requirements and guidelines below.


  • First Prize: $3,200
  • Two Finalists: $500

2020-21 Theme: Deconstructing Systems of Oppression

We encourage you to consider ethical issues related to the theme “Deconstructing Systems of Oppression.” Some sample approaches might include, but are not limited to: What important ethical concerns surface through racial justice movements? How do we examine the ethical implications of the American treatment of indigenous peoples? What ethical issues are present in the prison-industrial complex and the nature of modern incarceration? What is the relationship between social accountability and gender identity and/or sexual orientation? How do economic systems of oppression impede access to healthcare? What ethical role does the government play in any of the aforementioned systems? These prompts are merely examples of how you might approach the topic. Feel free to venture out and come up with your own questions.

Student participants should construct their essays according to the following guidelines:

  • Identify and describe a problem, along with the ethical issue at stake
  • Present an argument that shows why it is an ethical issue and how the issue should be resolved.
  • Engage with an ethical theory (or some ethical theories) to reach your resolution (for example, social contract theory, bioethics, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics or feminist ethics)
  • Respond to prospective objections to your point of view

Winning approaches from past years include:

2021 – Theme: Deconstructing Systems of Oppression
Stephanie Tillotson (Spanish)
“One Vision, One Language”: Deconstructing Systemic Language Discrimination in the United States and an Ethical Perspective on the English Only Movement

2020 – Theme: Ethics and Food Systems
Patrick Hurley (Ecology and Environmental Science)
“Zombie Fields: Ethical Concerns of Pollination in Industrial Agriculture”

2019 – Theme: Advocacy and Accountability
Meghan Frisard (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Zoology)
“Help, I’m Trapped: Ethical Patient Advocacy in the Age of TRAP Laws”

Click here for further winning essay examples!


Any paper related to issues in ethics will be considered. All undergraduate students at the University of Maine registered during the spring semester in which the contest is held are eligible, including those who will be studying abroad.

2020-21 Rezendes Ethics Essay Competition Timeline

  • Monday, December 7, 2020 12 PM EST, Zoom – Preliminary information session and ethics workshop
  • Friday, February 5, 2021, 12 PM EST, Zoom – Focused workshop on paper-writing, ethics and questions from prospective essay writers
  • Friday, February 19, 2021 by 11:59 PM – Essays due via Google Form (see below).

Submission Guidelines

  • Essays must be submitted electronically by Friday, February 19th, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST.
  • No late submissions will be accepted.
  • No works of poetry or fiction will be accepted.
  • The following format must be used:
    • Submissions must be typewritten in 12 pt font, double spaced with one-inch margins saved in .doc or .docx format.
    • Submissions must be 8-10 pages maximum.
      • Note – reference and cover pages do not count towards the 8-10 page maximum
    • Submissions must include a reference page and proper in-text source documentation (MLA, APA or Chicago styles)
    • Only the title of the essay, and not the author’s name, should appear on the first page of the essay itself.
    • The first page of the document must be a cover page with the author’s name, title of the essay, local address and phone number, email address, year in school and major.
  • Submissions will not be returned.
  • No student may win the first prize more than once.

Click here to submit your entry!

Additional Information