By Kaitlin Mayhew
UMW was one of six college debate teams to gather on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration to debate President Barack Obama’s policies in an inaugural debate series.
The debate team argued healthcare policies as a part of a three debate series at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium on Monday.
The debate series was sponsored directly by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and was an official inauguration event.
Another event sponsor was the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The curator, John Davis, was directly involved in planning the debating event along with Timothy O’Donnell, UMW debate coach, and Jeff Poro, author of the story that became the 2007 movie “The Great Debaters” starring Denzel Washington.
Poro was amazed by the successfulness of the event, and proud of its historical significance. He could hardly believe such an event that included so many nationally competitive debate teams had come from an idea that he, O’Donnell and Davis had dreamt up.
“It gives me chills,” Poro said. “When I first walked in that door it hit me. This is real.”
The three not only planned the event, but founded the Debate Consortium, another sponsor of the debate series that connects schools from all over the country that are interested in debate, and helps historically black colleges and universities restart their debate programs.
“Over the last three decades or more, the number of historically black teams has dwindled to the point where there are none,” Davis said.
Fayetville State University and Voorgees College, two historically black universities who have joined the consortium were present at the Inaugural event debating alongside their nationally competitive peers.
Both Fayetville State University and Voorgees College made their first appearances in competitive debate on Monday. They are currently working with other colleges and universities including UMW to create permanent debate programs to benefit their students and curriculums.
“We are very excited,” Dr. Janice J. Hayne, vice chancellor for Student Affairs at Fayetville State University, said. “What we hear from employers all the time is that they are looking for students who can articulate well and debate is a great way for students to learn that.”
The representative debaters from UMW, sophomore Terrell Taylor, and junior Kevin Kallmyer debated at the University of Southern California in a heated debate over policies on healthcare and the economy. Wake Forest University, the 2008 National Champions and Michigan State University were also present. Other issues discussed included Obama’s policies on energy and climate change, and foreign policy.
“I thought the event was great,” Kallmyer said. “Terrell and I really enjoyed it.”
College debaters like Taylor and Kallmyer have an average of seven days to prepare for debates such as the Inaugural Series, as well as in many cases researching for other upcoming debates at the same time.
“Debate is a research driven activity,” Taylor said.
Travel is another aspect that makes debate a particularly challenging activity physically, since many national tournaments are held at universities throughout the U.S.
“I was in California as of last Sunday,” Kallmyer said. “It’s tough. But it’s part of the routine and you get used to it. It’s part of the reason debate is challenging but I’ve come to decide that anything that makes an activity more difficult is probably a good thing.”
But the early hours of and long days don’t dissuade Taylor or Kallmyer from participating in this age old extracurricular.
“I can’t wait to do it again,” Taylor said, almost immediately after his debate had finished.
The UMW debate team is currently ranked 12th overall on the national level. The team and their coach are very active in the college debate scene as well as the Debate Consortium. UMW was the host for all the colleges and universities who came into town for the inaugural debate, and held a workshop and reception for all the teams at the “mansion” or the creative writing and debate building on William St.
“We are indebted to [UMW] and the leadership of your coach. Without their help, this would not have happened,” Davis said.
For more information on the debate, see “UMW Fosters Debate in Washington” page 7.