By Miranda Pepe
The presidents of two higher education institutions from different parts of the country – both of whom are communications scholars – were recently discussing the lost tradition of lively discourse and the expression of opposing ideas.
They soon realized that they could bridge the 800-mile gap between their institutions and breathe new life into civil and civic discourse. What resulted from their conversations was The Great Debate at the University of West Georgia, featuring students from UWG, Westminster College in Pennsylvania and the Jamaican Association for Debating and Empowering (JADE).
UWG’s President Dr. Brendan Kelly opened the debate by sharing what The Great Debate represents for all participants and the audience.
“The Great Debate is what we consider a celebration of higher education and discourse in American society,” said Kelly. “Discourse creates and shapes cultures and human communities. As an institution of higher education, it is critical for us at the University of West Georgia to teach emerging professionals about the tools, instruments and theoretical frameworks of discourse, in addition to the skills needed to build argumentation and debate.”
The topic of the debate revolved around whether social media is beneficial in the United States as a democratic society. UWG’s debate team was joined by a JADE student to take the affirmative side. The opposing side consisted of students from Westminster College and a student from JADE.
Dr. Kathy Richardson, president of Westminster College, and Dr. Randy Richardson, adviser for the Westminster Speech and Debate Society, were in attendance, eager to support their students and partake in an evening of contesting thoughts.
“One of the great reasons I was excited for the Great Debate was because at this point in human history, it is so refreshing to see bright, young people engage in spirited debate in a way that is civil and civic,” said Dr. Kathy Richardson. “This evening was a great example of the outcomes of a liberal arts foundation.”
As the debate began, the room was filled with captivating words, interaction among peers and audience participation. Kelly explained that debate is a great opportunity for students to engage in a powerful activity that has brought generations of people together.
“This debate will truly be a celebration of the ideals, practices and tradition of discourse,” Kelly said. “Dr. Mike Hester, our director of debate at UWG, has dedicated his life to teaching and engaging in these concepts, and the same can be said for Dr. Randy Richardson from Westminster College. We are privileged to have these two individuals leading our students in this first-choice debate experience.”
The Great Debate concluded with final replies from each side and a round of applause for debaters and audience participants. Dr. Michael Hester, UWG debate director, said debate, like social media, is an important part of our society that can be used in positive ways when it is cultivated well.
“Debate teaches empathy and how to understand someone else’s point of view,” concluded Hester. “Debate is powerful. It can be used to tear others down, or we can use it to educate ourselves about the world. Not only does debate involve learning, but it also involves meeting students from across the country and around the world, like we did at The Great Debate.”
All students at UWG are invited to join the UWG Debate Team to engage in more educational conversations with peers and develop professional skills.