“The Great Debaters” from St. John’s University’s NAACP

St. John’s University’s chapter of the NAACP and the Debate Society held a debate about affirmative action last Thursday, Feb. 17 in the Donovan Community Room to bring out student views on the topic. 

The title of the event on campus was inspired by the 2007 movie “The Great Debaters,” and drew about forty student audience members.

Affirmative action is a legal policy used to help groups that have been systematically discriminated against, especially in the workforce. The policy provides education and employment opportunities that were previously unavailable to them. 

Tackling the controversy behind affirmative action were St. John’s students Catarina Goncalves, Ifeoma Ukwubiwe, Nelson Kezoh, and Korey Pace. 

Goncalves, and Ukwubiwe argued in favor of affirmative action while Kezoh and Pace presented arguments about the anti-affirmative action side.

Ukwubiwe, a senior said during the debate that affirmative action does not solve the institutional and systematic problems within our society.

Goncalves, her partner felt that regardless of one’s personal beliefs it is important to be able to argue from an opposing standpoint.

As a team, they focused on the racial side to affirmative action arguing that for the African American community, affirmative action can be viewed as reparation for slavery and that this impacts stereotypes of minorities in a negative way.

Kezoh and Pace, the opposing team, argued that affirmative action ultimately encourages racism and that anti-discrimination laws are put into place to combat the issue already. 

Kezoh, a freshman was neither completely for nor against affirmative action and stated that the policy needs to be modified.

The judges of the debate included members and moderators of both the Mock Trial team and the Debate Society.  After a question and answer period between the debaters and the audience, the judges deliberated together to come to a consensus about the winner.   

In the end, the anti-affirmative action team of Pace and Kezoh were declared the winners.

Tahir Boykins, a judge and member of the Mock Trial Team said that they not only gave the most convincing arguments but that their conviction for their arguments made them more persuasive. 

Of the 40 students that attended the debate, about 15% of them were swayed to change their stance on affirmative action after watching the debate.

The debate hit home for Erica Mancinas, a sophomore. Being from Arizona, Mancinas said she feels as though affirmative action was not only highly prevalent in her community but also greatly needed to advance the minority groups that had been marginalized in the workforce. 

Phoebe Montas, the vice president of the STJ NAACP chapter, said she hopes that the debate will eventually reach out to a larger audience and become an annual STJ event.