UAA’s debate team competed against Stanford in an exhibition match at the UAA Fine Arts Building on Thursday evening, March 29. Members of the standing-room-only audience in the recital hall pounded their tables and shouted “hear, hear” to support speeches on an emotional topic. UAA’s Drew Cason and Brett Frazer proposed a motion to abolish the imposition of additional penalties for crimes deemed to be “hate crimes.” Stanford’s Michael Baer and Faris Mohiuddin spoke in defense of hate crime legislation.
Coach Steve Johnson reminded the audience that the goal of academic debate is to defend the position assigned to them; the arguments made don’t necessarily represent the person making them in this format. Nonetheless, Johnson says the real-world benefit that reasoned argument can provide is important. In his introduction, Johnson put it this way:
"Our public discourse of late seems to treat participants as targets for slander and character attacks, our leader’s commitments as fleeting as an image on an Etch-a-Sketch and the rights of minorities as dependent upon the personal convictions of an even smaller minority. I’ll be honest. I sometimes feel that teaching skills of reasoned discourse is a bit like tending a candle in the dark."
On Thursday, the audience seemed to appreciate the effort. People crowded doorways and sat in the aisles to listen in. Some came forward to offer floor speeches – an abbreviated statement for or against the proposition. When the event ended, the debaters were given a standing ovation.
Mohiuddin says the scene at UAA – with the engaged audience encircling the stage - was impressive. He says his last debate, at a university world championship event in January, probably remains the most impressive atmosphere he’s debated in so far. “This is probably a close second,” he said of Thursday’s exhibition.
This wasn't the first time the accomplished debate teams have met. At the World Universities Debating Championships in Manila, Philippines, in January, UAA earned 64 points, edging out Stanford, who had 63. Yale took first place.
At the event’s conclusion on Thursday, Johnson asked the audience to voice their opinion on which side best defended their stance. The volume of yeas was nearly equal to the volume of nays. Johnson declared Stanford the winner.