Rollins Takes Home a Win at the Great Debate

The annual Great Debate highlights the College’s commitment to global citizenship through culturally relevant topics of international importance.

From left: James Payne ’20 and Kelsey Eelman ’20 From left: James Payne ’20 and Kelsey Eelman ’20

Each year, Rollins hosts the Great Debate, a competition welcoming teams from international communities to debate topics of cultural interest. The event is part of an exchange initiative spearheaded by Eric Smaw, an associate professor of philosophy and faculty advisor for the Rollins debate team, to further discussion of issues facing young people around the world. This year’s debate, which took place on September 25, explored the topic of reparations for slavery. Representing Rollins were philosophy major Kelsey Eelman ’20 and economics and philosophy double major James Payne ’20.

In addition to the Rollins College Debate Team, participants included members of the Jamaican Association for Debating Empowerment (JADE) and debaters from Grove City College in Pennsylvania. More than 400 people showed up to watch the highly anticipated event, including Rollins faculty, staff, and students, as well as students from area high schools. 

The debate was presented in the American Parliamentary style, and sides were determined via coin flip with Rollins arguing in favor of reparations.

“In terms of the topic, I felt as if we were debating something that actually meant a lot and had a great impact on how people were going to view this issue,” says Payne. “The topic felt important and timely, given the social and political landscape we’re dealing with right now.”

Among the judges this year were Anthony DiResta from Holland & Knight law firm and educational activist and consultant Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of activist Oliver Brown (Brown v. Board of Education). The judges evaluated the debate based on argumentation and defense of position, rhetorical persuasiveness, and statesmanship.

Rollins ultimately scored a victory over the other teams, but Payne said the event was less about winning and more about highlighting Rollins’ commitment to global citizenship and the value of civil discourse.

“It was just a great evening,” he says. “Students got to see what debate really looks like, and they also got to experience a lot of the ceremonial aspects associated with debate since it started. Channeling that 800-year history and putting it on display is very special, and it’s important to demonstrate that people can disagree with one another, but those disagreements need not devolve into personal attacks or platitudes.”

The Rollins debate team is hard at work preparing for two Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl competitions later in the fall.