News Release

An Exercise in Civic Discourse: Honors Program Hosts Intercollegiate Debate with Braver Angels

An intercollegiate debate held in the Ballroom

On Thursday Feb. 22, Southern Virginia University’s Honors Program hosted its first intercollegiate debate, welcoming Washington and Lee University, the Virginia Military Institute, and Mountain Gateway Community College to campus. Chaired by Doug Sprei, who leads Braver Angels’ College Debates and Discourse Alliance, students from each institution debated the topic, “Should Americans Receive Universal Basic Income (UBI)?”

Braver Angels is a grassroots movement that addresses political polarization. In collaboration with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and BridgeUSA, Braver Angels created the College Debates and Discourse Alliance to encourage college students to participate in civic discourse that invites thought and participation in an encouraging and welcoming environment.

“Our program is about equipping schools to become self-sustaining hubs of discourse, bastions of free expression, where no person’s opinion cancels out another,” Sprei said. “That’s the spirit of what we’re going for.”

The debate was held in a light parliamentary format, with Sprei as the moderator and four preselected student speakers from Southern Virginia, Washington and Lee, and Mountain Gateway Community College delivering brief speeches. Following the speakers, the moderator invited the audience to present their own thoughts and questions on the topic. 

“You don’t have to be an expert debater to enjoy this,” Sprei said. “This is something that the Discourse Alliance wanted to open up to all students, even the shy ones, to make them feel encouraged to speak. People are respected as the speaker and as the questioner, so they’re free to elevate their conversation without having to worry about what others think of them.”

“I love being able to express my opinions in a place where I know I’m not going to be judged and where I know people are listening,” said Joanna Porter (‘25), a Southern Virginia University student and one of the pre-selected speakers. ”It’s just so much fun, and I love hearing what everyone has to say.”  

During the debate, students shared their perspective for or against establishing UBI nationwide  for the United States, giving arguments from personal experience and data on places where UBI has been established. A middle position was also presented that proposed the privatization of UBI in America.

“It helps the imagination to see people treating each other respectfully across a divisive issue—people you don’t even know,” Director of the Honors Program John Armstrong said. “It restores one’s hope for society.”

“These debates allow people to speak respectfully to each other on issues that divide public opinion,” Armstrong continued. “It’s also fun for Southern Virginia students to discuss an issue with students from the three other local colleges.”

Intercollegiate debate at SVU

This was the second Braver Angels intercollegiate debate that Southern Virginia University has participated in. In November 2023, the Virginia Military Institute—which was designated as a  “Community of Practice” college by Braver Angels—invited Southern Virginia University and the other neighboring institutions to participate in an intercollegiate debate in partnership with the College Debates and Discourse Program.

Braver Angels founder, David Blankenhorn, also attended the debate prior to speaking at the university forum on Feb. 23.