Tennessee State University was founded in 1912 and Vanderbilt University was founded in 1873. For the past 105 years, these two institutions have educated students less than three miles from each other, and yet the schools’ forensics teams have never formally debated one another.
However, that all changed on Feb. 25 when The Great Debate took place at Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church.
As the first debate between the two universities, the event easily drew the community’s attention. Participation of 101.1 The Beat’s Adrian “A.G” Granderson as MC, and WTVF News Anchor Vickie Yates as moderator made it a special event. Still, it was the spirit of competition and local rivalry that drew the crowd and motivated participants.
The debaters’ responsibility was to resolve whether or not social movements based on identity are necessary. Tennessee State University students Mel Williams and Barbra Dudley argued the affirmative, while Vanderbilt students Kaylee Kohmaier and Apurva Kunte argued the negative.
Mel Williams defined social movement as “organized political actions for a specific goal” and said how they are necessary for social change. To negate this, Vanderbilt’s Apurva Kunte focused their argument on issue-based movements versus those based on identity. Kunte argued that people who are not a part of the movement will get grouped in because of identity, such as when BlackLivesMatter was blamed for the shooter who killed police offers in Dallas last year.
In response to this, TSU’s Barba Dudley said that a controversial issue will always bring backlash, and you cannot let this criticism and ignorance affect the overall movement. She went on to say that the difference between a social issue and movement is that the movement is necessary to fix the issue. Dudley’s debating style was passionate and she brought the crowd to their feet, at which point The Vanderbilt Debate team requested five minutes of prep time before responding.
At this point, Vanderbilt’s Kaylee Kohmaier stood to reaffirm the negative position by pointing out that Tennessee State University’s team did not prove that movements based on identity are necessary, only that social movements are.
In TSU’s closing argument, Barba Dudley gave an ardent speech about how “the issue IS the identity” and therefore cannot be separated. Her passion once again brought the crowd to their feet, but in the end the judges were not convinced. In the 1st annual debate between Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt one by two points – 41.5 to 43.5.’
Still, supporters of both teams were not disappointed. One crowd member summed up the way everyone was feeling by saying “we usually see the athleticism [of both universities], but today was about intellectualism, so thank you to the students.”