This academic year, the FIRE Debates series brought vigorous debate to college campuses, showing students that debate of any topic isn’t just important for our democracy—it can also be productive, healthy, and even fun.
FIRE launched the series on October 20, 2015 at Texas A&M University, where ESPN’s Jay Bilas and the NCAA’s Oliver Luck argued both sides of the motion “College athletes should be allowed to be paid.”
For the series’ second debate, FIRE partnered with Intelligence Squared U.S. for a debate at George Washington University on the motion “College students should be allowed to take smart drugs.”
The third debate was held at the University of Pennsylvania. Zeynep Tufekci and Zellie Imani debated the motion “Hashtag activism garners attention but is not enough for outcomes.” FIRE was thrilled to have Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, participate in the series as the debate’s moderator.
The FIRE Debates series concluded for the 2015–2016 academic year on May 3 at the University of Chicago. At the final debate of the series, Zachary Elkins, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Clark Neily, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, debated the motion “The Second Amendment should be amended.” FIRE Debates drew hundreds of students in attendance and has garnered over 5,000 views on FIRE’s YouTube page.
FIRE is proud to have partnered with many campus organizations for the debates, including Texas A&M’s Aggie Agora, The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago.
Many of those who watched or attended the debates, including an incoming freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, shared that their opinions on the topic changed. In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Nyazia Bey, a high school senior who will begin her studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, described how the debate changed her outlook of “hashtag activism”:
My initial stance was against the motion—I thought social media was enough to create an outcome. I kind of got swayed throughout the debate to leaning more on the pro side. I feel like social media and hashtag activism is really powerful in the way that … the consumer becomes the creator, but where I saw it fall short was with the actual ground work.
FIRE is pleased that so many college students have attended or watched FIRE Debates in the spirit of seeking out ideas with which they disagree.