In past years, an audience of robed professors and eager students gathered in Tiedtke Concert Hall, anticipating one of the most spirited Rollins traditions: a charged debate between the Rollins Debate Team and a guest international debating society.
Due to COVID-19, the annual Great Debate has not taken place since Fall 2020, when the Rollins Debate team reclaimed the prestigious Rollins Cup.
The traditional event has been in place since 2007, when Dr. Eric Smaw inaugurated the Rollins Debate Team with the help of former Provost Dr. Roger Casey.
When asked about the launch of the team, Smaw said, “I realized that we were a liberal arts college without a debate team. That sounded peculiar.”
The team has competed against societies from locations in Africa, England, India, Jamaica, and more. It also hosts debate exhibitions at high schools, middle schools, universities, and colleges across Central Florida with guest international debate teams.
In addition to being the faculty advisor of the debate team, Smaw is the chair of the Department of Philosophy & Religion. His favorite class to teach, “Zombies, Serial Killers, and Madmen,” revolves around the legal and moral responsibilities of murderers with diminished mental capacities.
Many of the 15 current members of the debate team are double majors. Together, they make up a skillful smorgasbord of varying disciplines that gives the team diverse knowledge.
Training to compete in academic competitions regionally, nationally, and internationally is one of many facets of the team. Members of the Rollins Debate Team are advised on their academic courses, co-curriculars, and professionalism. They are also paired with mentors in the fields that they aspire to enter.
“Our presumption is that all of the members of the Rollins College Debate Team will be looking to go on to graduate school, to law school, to medical school, to do Fullbrights, or Gates, or Rhodes scholarships,” said Smaw.
The total number of hours each member dedicates to the team per week depends on the student. However, there are four required hours of practice each week.
One such student is Anna Monroe Haber (‘23), the team captain. She has been a member since her freshman year.
Haber said, “Joining the debate team at Rollins College has been a transformative experience. Through a combination of education, outreach, and internalization of the liberal arts virtues, I feel prepared to enter into the professional world.” She feels that “debate has changed the way I look at the world around me.”
What topics do students study to prepare for all of these events? Smaw said, “Everything.” Debates could center on topics ranging from the US Constitution, the United Nations, or abortion. Lecturers join practices to provide expertise on specific topics.
The Rollins Debate Team has acquired an extensive list of accolades since its inception, but Dr. Smaw said there is one thing the team lacks: “We would like to see Rollins College establish scholarships for the debate team.”
Just as the school doles out scholarships for athletic teams, Smaw said that there should be academic scholarships for these devoted debaters.