By Roman Orsini
The War of the Words IV debate took place in the Social Sciences Atrium on Tuesday, April 22, between members of the Philosophical Society and the Society for Parliamentary Debate. The event — which was moderated by philosophy professor John Sisko and judged by dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Benjamin Rifkin — featured a number of philosophical and whimsical topics, making for a lively discussion.
The topics for debate included dreams vs. reality, duct tape vs. WD-40, punishment vs. rehabilitation, fight vs. flight and a bonus round of hide vs. seek. The debate teams submitted topic pairs to Sisko, who then chose the final five.
Individual debaters were given one minute to argue the team’s position on each topic, then rebut the opponent’s argument. Following rebuttal, additional students from the floor commented on the issues.
The set of both serious and silly topics was thought provoking and entertaining. As part of his pro duct tape stance, senior psychology major Sean Modri showed a duct tape man bag made by his sister. Unlike WD-40, you can build with duct tape, he said.
For his rebuttal on fight vs. flight, pro-fight debater and freshman business major Patrick Degnon suggested his opponent live up to his pro-flight stance and flee the Atrium — which he briefly did. Degnon’s quip won an award for best rebuttal.
The segment on punishment vs. rehabilitation dealt with issues of morality and statistics from the criminal justice system. The discussion was informative and challenged high levels of incarceration in America.
When the debate ended, Rifkin announced the Philosophical Society as the winners. Individual awards were also given in areas such as creativity and rebuttal, along with Barnes & Noble gift cards.
War of the Words is a biannual event that began in 2012 under the direction of Sisko. The program emphasizes the importance of verbal communication and persuasion as qualities of leadership. Sisko’s interest in developing such programs started a few years ago, when he accompanied a group of honors students to a research conference in Maine.
“At the conference, one otherwise stellar and well-prepared student turned red and nearly began to cry upon taking the podium to present in front of 40 complete strangers,” Sisko said. “That is when I came to see the need for such programming.”
In keeping with the intent of these programs, Sisko and assistant professor of political science Daniel Bowen, launched the Demosthenes Prize this year, a competition for students addressing public policy issues.