College Students To Debate Obama’s Priorities at Inaugural Event

Feedloader (Clickability)

What should President-elect Barack Obama do in his first 100 days of office? Should he push for universal health care? Intervene in the Israel-Gaza conflict? Put forward legislation to create green jobs?

These questions will be discussed by some of the nation’s top college debaters at The Inaugural Debate Series to take place Monday, January 19 at the National Museum of Natural History.

The event is sponsored by Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in cooperation with the Debate Consortium, a pilot program that partners nationally competitive university debate teams with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) looking to revive their debate programs. The 2007 film, The Great Debaters, a fictionalized account of the 1935 historically black Wiley College debate team's face off against the reigning debate champions of the time, renewed student interest in the activity.

Wake Forest University debater Rohit Nath, left, a senior economics major and soon-to-be law school student, has been busy perusing databases like Lexis-Nexis and keeping up with the news in preparation for the event.

He and teammate Marie-Odile Hobeika, a senior philosophy major, will debate Michigan State University. The Wake Forest duo will argue that Obama should not make energy and climate change a priority during his first days in office.

The four other teams participating include the University of Mary Washington and the University of Southern California who will debate health care and the economy, as well as two schools representing Historically Black Colleges and Universities—Fayetteville State University and Voorhees College— who will debate foreign policy.

For Nath, feelings of excitement are weighing out his anxiety. "It’s definitely not just another debate for me," he says. "More than anything, this is a debate that’s been intended to increase diversity throughout the general debating community."

According to his coach Ross Smith, the director of the 2008 National Championship-winning Wake Forest debate team, the Inaugural Debate Series aims to reengage HBCUs in debate. Smith will be one of several coaches participating in a workshop the weekend before the Series to advise HBCU students and faculty on how to jump start debate programs on their campuses.

Although Obama may not be able to attend, the series is officially on the Inaugural Committee's calendar of events.

"It would be great for him to listen to what we have to say," Nath says. "To be fair though, the point of this debate is not for us to voice our opinions but to have a debate over these issues. I would hope that he listens to the debate and decides what the winning side is based on the arguments presented."

The invitation to the debate will also allow all the debaters to take part in the inaugural celebrations. "We’re honored to be in D.C. during inauguration because it's something much bigger than the debate or anything else that we’re involved in right now," Nath says.

Around the Mall wishes all of the debaters the best of luck.

Get the latest on what's happening At the Smithsonian in your inbox.