4/28 Update: We regret to share that due to the COVID surge and our commitment to help ensure that our graduating students will be able to celebrate Gallaudet Commencement in person, Gallaudet University and the United States Naval Academy have made the difficult decision to postpone tomorrow’s debate about deaf people in the military to this fall. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but hope to see you in our audience this fall. More information is forthcoming.

In the meantime, we encourage you to watch the Second Annual Youth Debate Bowl next month. where two deaf high school finalists will debate the same issue: deaf people in the military. Please follow Gallaudet Youth Programs on social media for more information.

We express our deepest appreciation to the USNA debate program, the Office of Alumni Relations, Congressman Mark Takano’s office, and our three distinguished judges for their ongoing support. We also thank each of you who has expressed interest in this very important topic.

The Gallaudet University debate team, fresh off a top-eight performance in the Social Justice Debates at Morehouse College last month, is now preparing for its second intercollegiate debate of the 2021-2022 academic year. They will compete with – not wholly against – the United States Naval Academy on Friday, April 29 at 6 p.m. in Peikoff Alumni House. The event will be livestreamed.

The debate topic is “Deaf people should be allowed to serve in the United States military.” The affirmative side is required to make the case that on balance, allowing deaf people to serve in the U.S. military is in the public interest of the United States. In contrast, the negative may concede that allowing deaf people to serve in the U.S. military has unique benefits but that the status quo or an alternate solution is more beneficial for the country. 

This debate will be unique in that there will be one debater from each school on each side; in other words, one Gallaudet debater and one Naval Academy debater will argue in the affirmative, while one Gallaudet debater and one Naval Academy debater will argue in the negative. Stern and his counterpart at the Naval Academy agreed that this would be a good way for the debaters to get to know the issues and one another.

Freshman Lorelei Becktel-Lipscomb from East Lansing, Michigan and senior Romel Thurman from Berkeley, California are the Gallaudet debaters. Becktel-Lipscomb will argue in the affirmative with Jason Santiago, a junior political science major from Texas and captain of the Naval Academy’s 2022-2023 debate team, while Thurman will debate in the negative with Kathleen Rock, a senior political science major from Illinois who is captain of this year’s Naval Academy debate team. 

Thurman is co-captain of the team with Lexi Hill from Tyler, Texas. Other team members are Daniel Miers from Columbia, Maryland; Aubrey Moorman from Laurel, Maryland; La Toya Plummer from Landover, Maryland; and Charles Spiers from Rockville, Maryland.

Dr. Brendan Stern, a faculty member in Gallaudet’s School of Civic Leadership, Business, and Social Change and executive director of the Center for Democracy in Deaf America, is head coach. Suzy Rosen Singleton, an attorney and chief of the Disability Rights Office at the Federal Communications Commission, serves as assistant coach.

Says Stern, “The topic asks whether deaf people should be allowed to serve in the military, but does not require that the affirmative show that they would be allowed. In short, the debate will focus on the capability of deaf people to serve and its desirability for the country, but not the political feasibility.”

President Cordano will welcome participants at 6 p.m., and Congressman Mark A. Takano, who represents California’s 41st District, will deliver video remarks. The debate will include opening statements, cross-examination, rebuttal, and closing remarks. The judges will render their decision and explain their rationale. 

Judges for this competition are Faye Kuo, deputy general counsel in the Office of the General Counsel at Gallaudet University; Captain Matthew Testerman, deputy director of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division at the U.S. Naval Academy; and Paul Hayes, Director of Debate, George Washington University.

This is the Gallaudet team’s second foray into intercollegiate competition this academic year. The first was the Social justice Debates March 25-27 at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. The team finished in the top eight, and both Gallaudet debaters won individual awards. In its first year, the team defeated George Washington University in an exhibition debate on the desirability of District of Columbia statehood.

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