April 4, 2020

British National Debate Team stops in Bexley

Since 1922, the British National Debate Team tours the United States in the Fall. This year their first stop was in Ohio. Specifically, Bexley.

Steve Koch, Professor of Communications, explains how he felt a personal connection with the British National Debate Team.

“In 1922 there was a debate professor at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine who went to Oxford and initiated an exchange between the American and British debater’s and ever since that time there has been a National British Debate Tour every fall in the United States,” Steve Koch, communications professor, said. “There is an organization called the English-Speaking Union and this tour is sponsored by the English-Speaking Union of the United Kingdom, and there is also an English-Speaking Union of the United States and they are affiliated. So, the tour itself has this long history.”

Monday, Oct. 14, the British National Debate Team went against the university’s debate team. With the theme Censorship Over Comedy, the hour and a half long debate tested both sides on their ability to think quickly on their feet and provide points strong enough to sway the audience to their proposition.

“I really enjoyed the questions,” Dan Scanio, philosophy graduate from Oxford Brookes University and a member of the British National Debate Team, said. “The people were incredible. They understood the concepts very quickly and were able to identify the real points of clash between it and ask it directly.”

Scanio also has a master’s in corporate law from Durham University, has had bar professional training from The University of Law and was a judge for the London Debate Challenge 2019. 

Alongside Scanio is Niamh Thompson, a graduate of Medicine from The University of Glasgow in Scotland and currently a Junior Doctor working in Emergency Medicine in Glasgow, Scotland. 

Thompson also was a Semifinalist at the European University Debating Championships and Grand Finalist at the Oxford IV. Her team was the first team representing her institution to ever break at an international tournament. Thompson was Adjudicator of major Tournaments for many different Universities. 

“I’ve always been really argumentative, and I realized I could turn my hobby into a slightly more full-time hobby,” Thompson said. “I just thought it’d be fun.” 

The debate included very controversial topics, including how far the First Amendment right goes, if a comedian is at fault for a hate crime committed based off of a joke they made towards that minority group, and ways to legally charge a comedian for a dangerous or inappropriate joke.

When asked why the topic Censorship Over Comedy is so important in today’s society, Thompson described 

“I think the Trump presidency really pushed the issue and I think that difficulty between free speech is continually being challenged, not just at a local level… and whether you support Trump I think we will have made you answer tough questions about whether or not some things that he says sometimes is okay,” Thompson said. “And if it is or isn’t [okay] because it’s comedy or a joke, and a joke or not and how that impact plays out and how whether or not he is responsible for it. I think the debate we had today ultimately asked the same questions we should ask the president and I think that’s why it’s so relevant.”

The British National Debate Team also attended the Democratic Debate held at Otterbein University on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Their tour will take Scanio and Thompson all around the States and will end with them in Baltimore, Maryland right before Thanksgiving.

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