Praise for a good debate


I attended the debate between professor Teresa Collett and professor Dale Carpenter on Monday, Oct. 3, which dealt with the question of same-sex marriage and the law. It was an excellent evening. Both debaters were in fine form. They articulated powerful arguments, then turned around and critiqued each other back into the ground. On entering, my worry was that, with an event as long as ninety minutes, I would be ready to leave long before the end. On leaving, my only regret was that it had not gone longer. There was much more to be said, and much more to be learned. I hope all in the audience gained an appreciation for the rationality, good-heartedness and concern for all members of our society that animate both sides of this too-polarized debate. I further hope that, if no minds were changed in such a short time span, that at least tonight opened new possibilities for further conversation.

However, I don’t wish to comment on the content of the debate or its winner. I leave that to current students and faculty. Rather, I’m writing about the climate surrounding the debate. It was remarkable. The format was perfect for the college setting, permitting eloquent elaboration without degenerating into lecture. The questions, both from the moderators and from the students, were uninterested in scoring cheap rhetorical points; but neither did they shy away from entering difficult and revealing territory. (The question on miscegenation was particularly memorable.) The moderators themselves maintained a perfect air of neutrality, timing was transparent, and the debaters, while permitted to go a little over their time, were prevented from filibustering. Above all, the audience was absolutely silent and absolutely respectful, making themselves known only to ask for paper or to relay fresh questions to the moderators.

After the debate, I learned that it had been sponsored by the Luann Dummer Center for Women and heavily promoted (and I’m given to understand, partly facilitated) by Dr. Carvalho’s other student group, the UST Allies. I ran into a number of friends, including two fellow alumni, who only heard about it because of the Allies’ efforts. I must confess I was taken aback. A number of years ago, I gained a (very) minor level of notoriety around campus over a disagreement I had with Allies in the pages of the Aquin, the school newspaper at the time. Briefly, a similar event was staged but with a very different climate — one which, in my opinion, was disrespectful, silencing and deeply hostile to certain understandings of homosexuality and related issues. Much more recently, the simple event of Ms. Maggie Gallagher (of the National Organization for Marriage) coming to campus for a private Archdiocesan meeting precipitated a noisy confrontation on South Campus (not to mention hundreds of tense TommieMedia comments). Tonight, by sharp contrast, these organizations tolerated professor Collett saying publicly what Ms. Gallagher said only privately. In fact, they went further — they invited that speech and even promoted it.

Suffice to say, I’m deeply impressed — so impressed, in fact, that I felt compelled to write a letter of kudos. An Allies that is willing to engage with and listen to the proponents of natural marriage is an Allies that is signalling great intellectual confidence in its arguments. As professor Carpenter formidably demonstrated, they have fine reason for such confidence.

Thank you, Dr. Carvalho, students of the Luann Dummer Center, UST Allies and our moderator, Dr. Hatting, for an excellent evening. You set a tone and a caliber to which most student-organized events at UST can only loftily aspire.

James Heaney ’11

One Reply to “Praise for a good debate”

  1. As a 2009 alumnus myself, I am in full agreement with my good friend, James Heaney. I support the marriage amendment, and I was glad to hear that the debate was civil and respectful. I pray that debate on this important issue retains this civility and respect over the next 13 months leading up to the vote.

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