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College Debates

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.


College Debates with Braver Angels, ACTA, and BridgeUSA

  • Braver Angels provides a proven debate methodology and programs that teach students to engage with respect and civility.
  • ACTA brings myriad connections to college leadership and faculty, along with publicity and media expertise.
  • BridgeUSA has a wide network of chapters on college campuses, led by students dedicated to civic engagement.

When the program launched in 2018, student debates were held in-person on college campuses. After the onset of the pandemic, the program shifted online with great success. In 2020, more than 800 students participated in debates and events, along with faculty and college administrators.

Student debates are configured in the following formats:

  • Intra-classroom (organized for one classroom, often built into an instruction plan)
  • Intra-college (organized within one student community)
  • Inter-college (organized across multiple institutions)
  • National (students and faculty join on their own from anywhere)

Campus communities that have staged debates include:

  • American University (on site) – Topic: Is Health Care a Human Right?
  • Eastern Tennessee State University (on site) – Topic: Gun Carrying Rights
  • University of California-Berkeley (on site) – Topic: The Future of People’s Park
  • Christopher Newport University (on site) – Topic: Banning Assault Weapons
  • American University (on site) – Topic: Is Health Care a Human Right?
  • Eastern Tennessee State University (on site) – Topic: Gun Carrying Rights
  • University of California-Berkeley (on site) – Topic: The Future of People’s Park
  • Christopher Newport University (on site) – Topic: Banning Assault Weapons
  • Arizona State University (on site) – Topic: Building the Southern Border Wall
  • Mississippi State University (on site): Topic: Confederate References and Paraphernalia
  • Linn-Benton Community College, Oregon (online) – Topic: Free College Tuition
  • National Intercollegiate Debate (online) – Topic: Defunding Police Departments
  • North Carolina State University (online) – Topic: Reforming Greek Life
  • Yale Political Union (monthly online national debates began on September 8)
  • Texas Wesleyan University (online) – Topic: Removing Confederate Monuments
  • The George Washington University – Topic: Term Limits for the Supreme Court
  • Southwestern University (online) – Topic: Voting Rights/Electoral Process

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Contact Us

Doug Sprei

Director of Multimedia and Campus Partnerships, ACTA

dsprei@GoACTA.org

April Lawson

Director of Debates and Public Discourse, Braver Angels

april@braverangels.com

Manu Meel

Chief Executive Officer, BridgeUSA

manumeel@bridgeusa.org

Video

The Transformative Impact of College Debates

Podcasts

Debate at Christopher Newport University in Virginia on assault weapons and gun carrying rights.
Debate at University of California–Berkeley about the future of People’s Park.

Students and faculty from The George Washington University debate term limits for the Supreme Court.

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, 10/1/2020



I think it would be helpful to have this kind of debate on more college campuses. It’s important more than ever to foster discussion and for it to happen in an intimate setting where you have to actually address the people you’re debating, and where you are confronted with opposing views that force you to think about your own.

—Student at Christopher Newport University



Braver Angels is the perfect program for giving us a concrete framework in which to think about talking with people with differing political views. The enthusiasm our students brought to this work demonstrated that there is a real hunger among young people to pursue these dialogues. ACTA’s support in organizing students and building capacity has created the possibility that GWU students will initiate and host their own debates in the future, to the great benefit of the campus community.

—David Dagan, Associate Professor of Politics, The George Washington University



Many colleges and universities are now recognizing that they have an indispensable role in teaching students how to engage in civil discourse. This should be a college-level outcome that all students are expected to meet. 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, Communications Instructor, Linn-Benton Community College


Interested in organizing a debate for your college community?

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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.

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