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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

An Ongoing Debate

Sunday night's debate between leading conservative intellectual Dinesh D'Souza '83 and GovernmentProfessor Roger Masters provided an example of the potential for productive public discourse at Dartmouth.

Masters and D'Souza faced off on whether racism is a big problem in American, an issue that affects every member of the Dartmouth Community. The true value of this debate was not in designating a winner and a loser, but in increasing public discourse on this controversial topic.

The fact that nearly every seat in 105 Dartmouth was filled 30 minutes before the debate began indicates that the Dartmouth community is hungry for this type of intellectual discourse. Two factors contributed to making the event so appealing: The debate involved well-known speakers, and the topic was extremely controversial, especially in light of the recent O.J. Simpson verdict.

Also, students composed a majority of the audience, a refreshing change from the usual faculty-dominated audiences at speeches. Most of the 20 to 30 speaking events held each term are attended by fewer than 50 students.

Sponsors of speaking events should also focus future events around controversial issues, such as racism. Because race relations is a topic that affects everyone, the debate attracted a broad range of the student body. Members of nearly every community on campus were among the audience. The debate was an important step in bringing what is largely an unspoken controversy into the open.

The College and student organizations should learn from the success of Sunday night and continue to bring such high-profile speakers to Hanover in the future. Because of Dartmouth's isolated location, most students' only opportunity to take part in such discourse is through the College.

But ultimately, the sponsors of speeches and debates cannot be held responsible for an event's success. An important part of a student's education is participation in intellectual discourse outside of the classroom. The initiative to take an hour out of the day must rest with all students. If Sunday night's debate is any indication of the willingness of Dartmouth students to take this initiative, it is an encouraging sign.

Debate on controversial topics such as racism should not end once the speaker sits down and the auditorium empties. Debates and speeches are not ends in themselves; they should be springboards for further dialogue within the Dartmouth community. Only then will the true purpose of public discourse be realized.