The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Wiley wins debate with SMU

The historically black Wiley College debate team, famous for its 1935 defeat over USC, battled with SMU Wednesday. (Andrew Arndt / The Daily Campus)

Wiley College debated against SMU Wednesday to eager response. Thirty people in the O’Donnell Auditorium sat in reverence as the teams waged rhetorical war on one another.

Fuss and anecdotes bounced off the walls. Words flowed in suites of thick noise and hard data.

Forget the topic – this debate was a test in showmanship.

Both teams worked the crowd, but ultimately Wiley triumphed 20 to 13. However, SMU Director of Debate Dr. Ben Voth didn’t seem to mind.

“I’m kind of one of the worst coaches in debate when it comes to the whole winning thing,” Voth said.

“The first and most important win is that all participants and all observers imagine a world where we can tolerate different points of view.”

It may seem odd for a coach to place free thinking over winning, but not when it comes to competing against Wiley.

Wiley, a predominantly black college, is famous for out-debating University of Southern California in 1935.

News of a historically black college defeating a, at the time, historically white opponent inspired SMU to take a chance.

Wiley was invited over for a debate that year. Despite the invitation, the moment where two private Methodist colleges overcame race and met as equals didn’t happen until 2009.

Wiley’s success and influence are all due to the power of civil discourse. This remains true today despite evidence of the contrary.

Debate has changed over the years. Today, YouTube videos inspire debate in the comments section. More often than not there are numerous verbal spats or trolling. These posts pay little attention to logic or grammar. This, more often than not, is the usual Internet debate.

“We don’t fully appreciate [debate] today,” Voth said. “We’ve become a culture of amusement more than I’d like.”

Wiley Director of Forensics Dr. Steve Medina places some of the blame on priority.

College debate teams have notoriously short shelf lives.

Some see a debate team as inessential to academia. Students suffer the consequences when missing out on this invaluable skill, according to Medina.

“Debate stimulates critical thinking and creates advocacy,” Medina said. “We change because of the ideas exchanged between people. If we lose the ability to exchange those ideas, change becomes stagnant.”

However, rhetoric still plays its part improving the world. The revolutions in South Africa and the Middle East are the effect of good rhetoric, Wiley senior Ailey Pope said.

“Young people were the ones who generated that change,” Pope said. “But they generated that change through the power of words, the power of debate.”

The effect Wiley had on race relations speaks to the importance of good rhetorical skills.

James L. Farmer Jr. was one of the members of the historic 1935 debate team. Farmer later adopted the role of the “hands and feet” of the Civil Rights Movement.

“If you can’t argue,” Voth said. “You can’t build your dream.” 

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