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

2023-24 Theme: Disability Ethics

Disability–whether understood as embodied, social, or functional–is a critical aspect of human diversity. This year’s Rezendes Ethics Essay competition invites you to consider “Disability Ethics” within this expanded understanding of what “disability” means. Once we understand disability as a matter of what makes us human, what ethical questions and frameworks follow from there? For some scholars, disability challenges the notion of autonomy by reminding us that we are all interdependent; for others, disability challenges the binaries that human beings often live by (abled/disabled, body/mind, individualism/community).
We encourage you to reflect on questions related to DIsability Ethics through a philosophical lens. You might, for example, consider whether there is an epistemological or intrinsic distinction between ability and disability. To what extent does the very notion of “disability” imply that there is a standard of “normalcy” against which all humans are measured? How (or by whom) is “normalcy” determined? To whose benefit? With what consequences? In what ways should we
consider disability an intrinsic feature of a person, and in what ways should we view disability as projected onto a person by others/by socio-political structures? These questions are merely examples of how you might begin to approach the topic. Feel free to venture out and come up with your own questions, constructing essays according to the following guidelines:

● Identify and describe a problem, along with the ethical issue at stake
● Present an argument that shows how the ethical issue should be resolved.
● Engage with an ethical theory to reach your resolution (for example, social contract
theory, posthumanism, bioethics, environmentalism, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics
or feminist ethics)
● Respond to prospective objections to your argument.

2023-24 Rezendes Ethics Essay Competition Timeline

Monday, December 4 12:00 PM:  401 Colvin Hall

            – Preliminary info-session/ethics workshop, Pizza

Friday, February 2 2:00 PM: Colvin Hall 107 – Zoom link:

            – Focused workshop on paper-writing, ethics and questions from prospective essay writers.

Friday, February 26: 11:59pm submission deadline

Friday, March 27: Finalists’ essays due.

April 18 (3:30-5pm): Rezendes Lecture date and public announcement of winners.

Winning approaches from past years include:

2023 – Theme: Climate Justice: Our Ethical Responsibilities Towards Our Planet

George Horvat (Chemistry)

The Ethics of Artisanal Cobalt Mining for Green Technologies

2022 – Theme: The Ethics of Self Care

Elaine Thomas (Business Administration in Management)

When We Cannot Care for Ourselves:Ethics, Interdependence, and the Moral Danger of the Self-Care Message

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.

Submission Guidelines

  • Essays must be submitted electronically by Friday, February 16th, 2024 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.

Additional Information