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Dispatch from the SMU vs. Wiley Debate on Martin Luther King's Dream.

SMU and Wiley debate the progress following the anniversary of "I Have a Dream."

One of the largest crowds in the history of public debate at SMU gathered on the evening of August 28 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, which was originally presented during the historic civil rights March on Washington in 1963. To pay tribute to that event, the debate team from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, argued against SMU’s debate team on the question of whether America is faltering on King's dream in 2013. Wiley defeated SMU’s team on a 3-0 decision.

Wiley debate coach Chris Medina brought two freshman debaters, Lyle Kleinman and Nathan Leal, who passionately argued that King’s dream is not being met. SMU was represented by Rahfin Faruk and Alex Zier on the negative side, who argued that America continues to lead at home and abroad on the expectations of King's dream. The debate in 241 Umphrey Lee was so full that audience members stood in the hallway to listen and take pictures of the historic event.

The debate was unique among the many national “I Have a Dream” commemorative events for also remembering James Farmer Jr., a Marshall native and Wiley graduate who was one of the most important civil rights leaders in the nation. Prior to the debate, SMU and Wiley students read from a letter sent by Farmer to participants at the March in 1963. Farmer was scheduled to be among the major speakers at the event 50 years ago but was in jail for civil rights activism in Louisiana. Farmer served on Wiley’s debate team during the 1930s, and always credited his debate experience and education at Wiley with helping shape his decisive leadership in the civil rights movement. While judges were deliberating the debate’s outcome, Dr. Ben Voth, the director of debate at SMU, explained to the nearly 200 guests that Farmer promised his father upon graduation that he would "destroy segregation."

The debate was judged by three local area experts: Nicole Serrano, director of the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance, an award-winning service organization promoting debate among DISD schools; David Coale, a top Dallas area attorney who won the national collegiate debate championship while a debater at Harvard; and Michael Sorrell, the president of Paul Quinn College, who brought a large delegation to the debate.

The debate was part of a long-standing relationship between SMU and Wiley, which began in the 1930s and was re-established when both schools’ debate programs were reborn in the fall of 2008. Nearly 80 years ago, SMU had invited Wiley, a historically black college, to the Dallas campus for a debate, but it had to be cancelled. That debate finally took place in the spring of 2009. In January 2009, mere days after the inauguration of the nation's first black president, SMU also traveled to Wiley for a debate – the first with a predominantly white college ever held on Wiley’s campus.

SMU's debate teams are coached by Tim Glass, director Ben Voth, and assistant director Chris Salinas. The speech and debate program is part of the Division of Communication Studies at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. For more information, contact Dr. Ben Voth at bvoth@smu.edu.

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