On Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Southwestern Library, students will participate in the preliminary rounds of the Brooks Prize Debate, a long-time tradition at Southwestern that was revived last year. The topic for the preliminary rounds will be “Resolved: A democratic society has an obligation to provide adequate health care for its citizens. Teams of two will compete against each other in the debate, with one team arguing in favor of the resolution and the other team arguing against it.
This past spring the Brooks Prize Debate was revived in the Southwestern tradition. The Brooks Prize was originally started in 1878 at Southwestern University and was considered one of the most important events on campus in the years following. In the summer of 2008, Matthew Maschino researched the archives of the tradition in the A.Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center, and with help from Sarah Gould, reinstituted the long-lost tradition. The debaters will use the same desks their predecessors used 130 years ago. Maschino received permission from Special Collections to borrow the desks, which have been residing in the library.
The Brooks Prize Debate was originally started by a competition between the two men’s societies, the Alamo and the San Jacinto, on campus. It was named after alumnus Richard Edward Brooks in 1904. Between the years of 1878 and 1927, the Debate was a very important event that gave Southwestern state-wide and national recognition. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended one year, as well as William Jennings Bryan, who was the Democratic presidential candidate nominee in 1896, 1900 and 1908.
The men’s societies intended for the debate to revolve around controversial issues that were important both nationally and internationally. Some of the topics were about women’s suffrage, the railroad, the telegraph and Hawaii. This year’s topic deals with healthcare, while the spring 2009 topic was about multinational corporations.
“I think debating encompasses the intellectual experience that Southwestern wants to create for its students,” Gould said. “To have a campus wide debate that is celebrated not only by alumni, faculty and staff – people who are here all the time – but also by students who are in and out will be such a priceless treasure for Southwestern. I hope that it stays around for a long time because it is the epitome of the Southwestern experience to not only engage in this debate but also to celebrate it and what it means.”
The Brooks Prize Debate will be a very important and essential feature of this year’s homecoming celebration. Alumni will have the opportunity to view the students and witness the revival of an important feature of Southwestern’s past. It is hopeful that the Brooks Prize Debate will continue to provide a Southwestern tradition and a platform for inquiry and discussion into relevant topics in people’s lives.