By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — It’s debatable whether changing topics from Black Lives Matter to “social movements based on identity” will soften civil discourse Saturday at Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church.
However, that was the decision by some organizers of “The Great Debate – Nashville” scheduled for college students during one of two debates starting at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, in Gordon Memorial at 2334 Herman St.
“When we met with the Vanderbilt coach, we were to debate ‘Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter,’” Tennessee State University Debate Director Sean Allen said.
TSU and Vanderbilt University students are to debate a similar, but differently worded topic. It is: “Social movements based on identity are necessary,” according to Allen and M.L. Sandoz, Vanderbilt’s director of forensics.
“We’ll be talking in more general terms of identity politics,” Sandoz said.
The women’s march, a day after the inauguration Jan. 20, is an example of identity politics displayed by a social movement, she said. Race and sexual orientation are examples of politicized identity.
Race, religion and place of origin, or heritage, identifies constitutionally protected classes of people, although nobody calls St. Patrick’s Day parades a political statement by leprechauns. However, the “Day Without Immigrants” is clearly a demonstration of a social movement based on identity.
Kaylee Kohlmaiern and Apurva Kunte, both juniors at Vanderbilt, volunteered to represent their school at Saturday’s debate, Sandoz said. Allen said sophomore Tomele Williams and senior Barbra Dudley are TSU’s debate team at Gordon Memorial.
The church on Herman Street is near Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. Debate coaches recognized geopolitical aspects of the location, Allen said.
“We are going to face a relatively black audience and were uncertain as to which side we would defend,” the TSU educator said, knowing results of a coin toss could make his team argue against Balck Lives Matter. For some, that may be a “heavier burden …so we settled on ‘social movements based on identity are necessary.’” Several debate topics were considered.
The event is historic since the schools haven’t faced each other in debate and it has a larger purpose; “build a bridge between TSU and Vanderbilt,” said Allen, who’s from Texas. “From what I understand, there’s a friendly rivalry between the two universities and we’d like to make this an annual event.”
Asked about debate judges naming a winner, Sandoz replied, “It’s going to be an exhibition debate, not a competition. I think the winner will be the audience which will see how civil discourse can take place in our society, how important civil discourse is … and how it can contribute to effective decision making and better understanding of issues.”
An historic view, she said, is looking at feminism, and the right to vote.
“Suffrage was a social movement,” Sandoz said. “We’ll be talking in more general terms of identity politics.”
Before the collage debate, Pearl-Cohn’s team faces McGavock High School’s team. Their topic to resolve is whether civil disobedience is still necessary in our democracy.
Students build confidence, improve critical thinking skills and oral communication when engaged in debate on current events from all perspectives, said the Rev. Charles L. White Jr., senior pastor at Gordon Memorial, the church co-hosting the debate with The Reclamation Center located at the church. Studies consistently show that college debaters are great leaders and that participation in debate improves academic performance of students in general.”
The Great Debate – Nashville is free and open to the public.