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Warren Debate Union Prepares for Campus Public Debate

By Michael Taplin

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi community members can listen and engage in competitive arguments surrounding Mississippi’s political system on Monday (Nov. 8), when the Warren Debate Union presents its Democracy Debate.

The event, at 5:30 p.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union, Room 323, is free and open to the public. 

UM undergraduates will be working to spark valuable discussion regarding how ballot initiatives play an important part in our democracy, said Jacob Justice, assistant professor of speech communication in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. 

“Students will be debating the role of ballot initiatives and how it empowers voters,” Justice said. “We wanted to pick a timely topic that can educate the community by helping them understand issues in Mississippi.”

The topic correlates to two medical marijuana measures from Mississippi’s November 2020 ballot, Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A. Initiative 65 was an indirect-initiated constitutional amendment that received enough signatures but did not get onto the ballot immediately. However, it was sent to the Mississippi Legislature for approval or an alternative amendment, resulting in Initiative 65A.

James Hirsch, a senior public policy leadership and economics major from Kansas City, Missouri, is among the debate participants. He said he is excited to engage in the topic and address the community with open-ended discussion about the presented arguments after the actual debate. 

“This debate is more about community dialogue rather than competition,” Hirsch said. “Although students will be debating one another, our goal for the audience is to spark a public dialogue about the topic and understand the current events.”

Debating trending topics not only benefits audience members by hearing two-sided arguments that are properly researched; it also gives the debaters confidence, creativity and a challenge. 

“Debate has helped me find my interests, gain more confidence by thinking on my feet and grow as a speaker,” Hirsch said. “I am proud to participate (in this program) and further important conversations.”

The Warren Debate Union challenges students of all majors and backgrounds to think critically and improve their communication skills through debate and public speaking. 

Justice said he is thrilled to be leading the team for the first time. A first-year Ole Miss faculty member, Justice’s background is filled with debates, starting as a junior in high school and continuing through college into his professional career. 

“This is a rewarding program that I love being part of,” Justice said. “It is a win-win. It brings me excitement watching students speak intelligently and have impressive knowledge on various topics, and the students get into their discussions and enjoy the challenge.”

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