By Ronald Hanaki
The Frederick Douglass Debate Society held its third annual debate tournament at East Stroudsburg University last Friday.
This year, the topic was the following: should hate speech be allowed on college campuses?
Each debate team had to be prepared to take either the affirmative side (for allowing hate speech on campus) or the opposition (banning hate speech on campus).
A total of six schools sent 23 teams of two debaters to the competition.
Dr. T Storm Heter ran the tournament and also served as the coach for ESU’s debating teams.
Heter said, “Each year, we’ve been growing.”
“It’s great. We have a nice network of political science and philosophy students who have come to help us out,” said Heter.
“It’s really about empowerment. Students are put in the driver’s seat. They do the research and speaking. Then they are given the opportunity to compete,” said Heter.
“A lot of them compare it to sports. It’s just great to see them being enthusiastic and intellectually willing to compete,” said Heter.
The consensus among the debaters was that making the affirmative case was harder than the opposition.
“The affirmative is difficult,” said Heter. “They have to design a policy and defend it.”
“There is a different burden on the opposition,” said Heter. “They just have to poke holes in the affirmative.”
“There are also laws like the First Amendment that favor the opposition,” said Heter.
ESU had four teams competing in the tournament. Two of those teams featured students who participated in last year’s tournament: Alex Parise and James Coppa.
Parise is a senior political science major who reached the semifinal round last year.
“I’m just argumentative,” said Parise.
“It’s a balanced topic in my opinion,” said Parise. “It can be argued from both sides adequately and evenly.”
Parise said, “We did a lot of independent research and did practice rounds with the other teams.”
Parise was paired with Christian Colon. Colon is also a senior political science major and is headed to law school in the fall.
“I debated in high school and loved it. I like that they decide the winner based on intellectual prowess,” said Colon.
Parise and Colon shared their personal thoughts on the topic between their rounds.
“I don’t believe censorship is really the proper answer,” said Parise. “I don’t want to support hate speech, but I think censorship consumes everything it touches.”
Colon demurred. He said, “There definitely needs to be a form of censorship for certain areas on campus.”
“For example, the KKK cannot have a table outside the student union,” said Colon.
Parise then interjected, “Don’t they have a right to be private in public?”
Colon stated, “That’s the whole conundrum we face in the debates.”
The team of Parise and Colon made it to the final round where they were pitted against the second ESU team of James Coppa and Eli Downie.
Coppa, a junior sport management major, participated in last year’s tournament at Millersville. But he admitted that he felt much more prepared and confident the second time around.
“I lean toward opposing hateful speech,” said Coppa. “Words can be misconstrued because they have different meanings and because of the social context.”
“As a campus, we should come together and celebrate our diversity instead of bottling things up,” said Coppa.
Downie is a senior criminal justice and political science double-major.
He said, “I am more towards opposing the banning of hateful speech.”
“I’m all about conversation and discussion,” said Downie. “I want to know if you don’t like me so I can figure out why and address the issue.”
The two teams reached the final found where the team of Coppa and Downie argued for the affirmative, and the team of Parise and Colon argued for the opposition.
Both teams expressed anxiety about debating each other.
“We know each others’ arguments so well,” said Coppa. “It will come down to who presented their argument better. The opposition is easier to argue, though.”
Downie closed for the affirmative.
“My name is Eli Downie, and I am a victim of hate speech. I am telling you this not because I want to be coddled and told that everything is okay. I am telling you this because I want you to see a face of a person that hate speech has affected. This may be a debate for some, but for me, this is real,” stated Downie.
Downie asked, “My question to you all: who do you want PASSHE to be as an institution? Do you want to be a relic of the past, or do you want to evolve with the progression of inclusiveness and innovative ideas?”
“You cannot bring on positive change using the same failed methods. Hate speech will continue to be a thorn in our side until we do something about it. This is our call to action,” stated Downie.
“The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching stated that out of the 335 colleges that they surveyed, 60% of colleges banned hate speech, and 11% were in the process of implementing the ban on hate speech,” said Downie.
“Look, let us not be anchored to the past,” said Downie. “We need to change for the future.”
Downie asked, “How many instances like the massacre at the Pulse night club have to occur before we ban hate speech? We need to make the change.”
Colon closed for the opposition.
“The PASSHE system should not ban hate speech on all its campuses for the reasons of which I will reiterate and of which my partner has outlined previously,” said Colon.
“It is a violation of First Amendment rights of the individual. It is a marketplace of ideas at a university. It was founded for the explicit purpose of free knowledge of all areas,” stated Colon.
“It doesn’t actually solve the problem, and it stops the discussion inside of the environment of an academic institution,” said Colon. “The logistical question has still not been answered–of which administrative duties and the bureaucracy and the redtape would take to handle such matters.”
“There is legal redundancy as many institutions across the United States–as they have mentioned–have already implemented some form of speech codes against violations or harassments. There is no ideal solution to the rise of racial incidents on college and university campuses across our nation,” stated Colon.
“Court rulings and legal analysts have established that most university hate speech polices–to one degree or another–violate First Amendment rights of freedom of speech,” said Colon. “The code does not fall under the fighting words doctrine.”
“Institutions of higher leaning have an obligation to encourage intellectual discourse. Many have taken the stand that the best way to combat hate speech is not by regulating it, but by encouraging more speech and discussion,” stated Colon.
“I need freedom–a vocabulary and speech–so that you can go out and protest peacefully if you want to,” said Colon. “You want to put on a white hood–but let believe know that I will not talk to you or Facebook-friend you or attend your place of restaurant or wherever you are because I do not want to associate with you.”
“But the only way I know this is because I must listen to you say it,” said Colon.
“The only way Martin Luther King was able to go to Selma–to Birmingham, Ala. was to hear this word,” said Colon. “That word signaled a fire, but that fire can only be lit by the freedom to utter that utterance.”
“I want you to boldly speak as your right as an American citizen of this country. That’s what the First Amendment affords us. That’s what the Constitution of America affords us,” stated Colon.
After the debate, the judges took a few minutes to deliberate before declaring a winner.
First prize was awarded to the team of Coppa and Downie.
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