Listen to the experts on ACTA's Higher Ed Now podcast

intro-image

College Debates and Discourse

College leaders are applauding the dynamic partnership that ACTA has forged with Braver Angels and the student group BridgeUSA to launch a civil debates program for students on college campuses nationwide. Properly conducted debates can have a depolarizing and transformational effect on students—teaching them to engage respectfully with each other on divisive social and political issues.

What is the College Debates and Discourse Program?

Braver Angels, ACTA and BridgeUSA have forged an acclaimed program that teaches students to honor ideological diversity, foster civil discourse on college campuses, and cultivate student and faculty leaders to carry the movement forward. Braver Angels debates are not competitive, but a collective exercise in thoughtfulness, respect and searching for truth. Conducted with a light parliamentary format and chaired by trained experts, they teach students to express their views, frame persuasive arguments, listen deeply and engage respectfully with each other around issues that are typically difficult and divisive.

We’ve developed a highly collaborative approach with faculty and students to organize debates around topics and resolutions chosen by the students themselves. Each debate has its own unique qualities and is tailored to the particular campus community.

Since 2018, we have launched debates engaging thousands of students from scores of colleges and universities. Remarkably, during the pandemic, the program flourished and grew exponentially as we took debates online to enable many more students and college institutions to participate. At present, we run a hybrid model of on-campus as well as Zoom-based debates, depending on a school’s preferences and local protocols regarding the pandemic.

Our partnerships with college faculty are expanding, as more instructors and professors work with us to incorporate Braver Angels debates, online workshops, and student one-to-one conversations into their curricula and lesson plans.

Conducted on campus or on Zoom, student debates can be scaled as follows:

  • In-classroom (during regular class sessions of an hour or more)
  • Intra-collegiate (one college campus community)
  • Inter-collegiate (across a set multiple campuses)
  • National (drawing participants across the country)

Contact UsRead Our FAQ

Video: The Transformative Impact of College Debates

College faculty, students, and program leaders explain how Braver Angels debates can have a depolarizing, transformative effect on students, teaching them to engage respectfully with each other on difficult and divisive issues.

Schools

The range of colleges and universities we are working with is diverse, including private and public, large and small, religious and HBCU institutions. A partial list includes:

  • University of California – Berkeley
  • American University
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Texas Wesleyan University
  • University of Connecticut
  • Georgia State University
  • Manhattan College
  • Arizona State University
  • The George Washington University
  • Linn Benton Community College
  • Frostburg State University
  • Allegany College of Maryland
  • Carthage College
  • Baylor University
  • Texas Tech University
  • Abilene Christian University
  • University of Texas – Austin
  • Christopher Newport University
  • Texas Women’s University
  • University of Texas – Austin
  • Mississippi State University
  • Yale University
  • Columbia University
  • Texas A&M University Corpus Christie
  • The Fund for American Studies (TFAS)
Podcasts
The Transformative Power of Braver Angels College Debates

Since 2018, Braver Angels has teamed with ACTA to launch civil debates and workshops for students across the nation. College leaders applaud the program’s transformative, depolarizing influence on students as they learn to engage respectfully around highly charged social and political issues. Program director Doug Sprei unpacks the method and magic with college instructors David Dagan of The George Washington University; Mark Urista of […]

April Lawson: Leading Better Angels Debates to Depolarize America

April Lawson is the director and lead architect of debates at Better Angels, a national organization that has surged into the spotlight by effectively teaching citizens to combat polarization and restore civil dialogue across America. April’s leadership informs Better Angels’ partnership with ACTA — and our shared vision to help students build a culture of respectful […]

Manu Meel: Students Bridging the Political Divide

Manu Meel, a rising senior at the University of California–Berkeley who serves as the CEO of BridgeUSA, discusses how students can reform our political culture by bringing constructive discourse back to our college campuses.  

David Blankenhorn: Depolarizing America with Better Angels

ACTA is proudly partnering with Better Angels, a depolarization initiative that has grown explosively and drawn wide media attention since its launch shortly after the 2016 election. We sat down with founder David Blankenhorn to explore how Better Angels brings thousands of conservatives and progressives—and a growing community of students—together in civil debate and dialogue.

Testimonials

This debate was incredible. I really appreciated the different perspectives. This was certainly a pleasure to be a part of, and I think it gave everyone that attended a chance to feel truly listened to and not like we were in a meaningless yelling match on social media.

Steven
Student at Texas Wesleyan University

The Braver Angles Debate style is exactly what colleges should be pushing forward. I have never before felt as comfortable discussing an issue where I was not speaking on the ‘popular’ side. The debate was kept calm and collected; nothing ever went out of hand. I greatly appreciated this debate and hope I can be a speaker in future events of this type. It was a great experience for me and I think it was a great experience for others too.

Bren Routly
Student at Georgia State University

I think all of us have identified the same issue, which is this sort of toxic polarization, non-constructive discourse and just screaming at each other. So this type of debate is super useful for the Berkeley community precisely because of its historical significance. It’s no secret this is a left-leaning stronghold. But having the ability to exchange ideas and gain different perspectives is how we come to solutions. It’s how we engage each other in a way that actually means well in good faith, and try to work towards something that both sides can agree on.

Isaac Huang
Student at University of California-Berkeley

I believe that debates in this parliamentary fashion on divisive topics, like our topic of gun control, are imperative in universities around the U.S. They promote a sense of civil cooperation, civic virtue, and being able to specifically speak for yourself and hear what the other individual wants to say. I would love to see more of these debates on Christopher Newport’s campus, because they’re fun, enticing and engaging. It’s one thing talking with your friends about political discourse, but it’s another thing standing up there and saying, ‘this is what I believe and why I believe it.’

Raqan Z.
Student at Christopher Newport University

We talk about the term ‘political’ debate, and it conjures up adversarial connotations. But clearly this is a political debate that does not have to be that way. And to bring it to a college campus, where intellectual inquiry is supposed to be at the heart, goes to show the power of the university allowing voices to be democratically, politically and respectfully heard. So I think it could bring back a sense of reverence for institutions themselves, because they can be bastions of civil debate as well.

Moriah Poliakoff
Student at Christopher Newport University

What I’ve really enjoyed as an instructor is watching students who have completely divergent perspectives on incredibly controversial issues come together to plan a Braver Angels event where all of those perspectives can be expressed. If you look at the polarization in this country, if you look at what employers are saying about increased conflict in the workplace over really controversial social issues, it demonstrates that these skills are needed now, possibly more than ever.

Mark Urista
Instructor, Linn-Benton Community College

With Civic House, we aim to make the students leaders in their communities and on the GW campus. We came back to ACTA and Braver Angels because the students had such a positive experience in the fall semester planning and implementing their debate. They wanted to be able to do it again and have a different topic and work together as a team. And they were really able to hone their leadership skills and improve on their teamwork to plan this awesome event for GW students and students at other schools.

Maddie News
Student at The George Washington University

I definitely think it was worthwhile. I really enjoyed the debate and felt it was really civil. I feel like civility is lost with a lot of debates and arguments, especially with politics and even simple things like online schooling. It’s really good to talk with other students about how they feel; we all have different experiences in life, and we bring that to our debate. That’s really important to share, especially in hard times like this, where we all learn differently.

Cloe Madden
Student at Linn-Benton Community College

WHO WE ARE

Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More