What's the point of a panel debate?

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Over the past week I have organised two debate panels on two different subjects which affect our students here at Derby. But what is the point of a debate? Does organised arguing have a purpose or does it just get everyone heated?


Personally, I had never experienced a debate until I came to university. I saw college debate teams on American TV shows and films and never really understood the point. So when we were given money from HEFCE (the higher education funding council for England, now you see why we use the acronym) to host a series of panel debates, I was keen to measure the impact of the debates by polling the attendees before and after the event.


The first debate was about homophobia within our sports teams, asking the question ‘is university sport inclusive?’ We had a fantastic set of panellists from various sports teams and some who didn’t participate at all which meant the discussion was really diverse. We talked about the individual, club and union responsibilities when dealing with homophobia and talked about some attendees personal experiences which really gave the event a humbling reality. The event ended giving us all ideas as to what we can do to improve the experience of all our participants. We will be working to include awareness training in the annual committee training and the members who attended will be implementing measures within their clubs too. The feedback after the event showed more people than before the event agreed that university sports are inclusive of LGBT students but a common theme of communication was highlighted. I am now working with our marketing team to disseminate the information better about the inclusive sessions and events our teams partake in.


The second debate was about sexual harassment on campus, discussing the #metoo campaign and what the aftermath of that campaign should look like. This panel was made up of a mix of internal and external speakers such as the Derbyshire Police and SV2 who added professional context to the discussion. We discussed everyday harassment which is completely intolerable as well as more serious incidents and what support is available. The polling before and after showed the same result as the first panel, where we saw more people agreeing after the debate that the University and Union are doing enough to prevent harassment on campus. The same idea of communication was raised in this panel, our students thought the support available was brilliant but they didn’t hear about it until in the panel and they believed we should shout about it more! So that’s what we’re going to do, we are going to signpost more frequently to the student support services.


Overall the panels were a great success and the student feedback we gained was invaluable. If you attended one, we hope you took something from it too. In my opinion, if the panel debates help at least one person then they are a success. Panel debates are not always about winning or choosing a side but in fact about educating each other and widening others perspectives on issues. The object of the debate isn’t to change someone’s mind and make them think the way you do because everyone has the right to make their own decisions, but it is to consider another perspective. It is a knowledge exchange, not a knowledge argument and from these panels we have seen just that.


It has been a pleasure debating these topics with you all and I look forward to more in the future!


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