Gallaudet, George Washington University Debaters Take On D.C. Statehood

The newly-formed Gallaudet University debate team will hold its first-ever ASL-English intercollegiate debate tonight against George Washington University. The two teams will debate the proposition “Statehood for Washington, D.C. should be granted.” This historic event will be on Facebook Live beginning at 7 p.m. 

The debaters are:

Gallaudet University

  • Thalia Guettler, a freshman Sociology major from Frederick, Maryland
  • Lexi Hill, a sophomore History and Government major and English minor from Tyler, Texas

George Washington University

  • Shawky Darwish, a junior Philosophy and Political Science major from Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania 
  • Rush Patel, a sophomore majoring in International Affairs (Security Policy Focus) and Political Science (Public Policy Focus) from Macon, Georgia

A coin toss determined that GWU would argue the affirmative and Gallaudet the negative. 

Roberta J. Cordano, President of Gallaudet University, and Paul J. Wahlbeck, Dean of GWU’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, will welcome the debaters. Debate team members Romel Thurman (Gallaudet) and Anisha Sahni (GWU) will serve as co-moderators. 

The judges are Eugene D. Kinlow, Director of the Office for Federal and Regional Affairs for the Executive Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia; Heather Artinian, Attorney, Latham & Watkins LLP; and Fred Lawrence, Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, Phi Beta Kappa Society, and Distinguished Lecturer. Georgetown University Law Center. 

The Gallaudet University debate team, the first in the university’s 157-year history, launched in the fall of 2020, with generous support from the Office of the Provost. It is housed within the Center for Democracy in Deaf America (CDDA), and embodies the core values of Gallaudet University and the mission of the CDDA to develop healthy democratic skills and habits of deaf individuals by fostering disagreement, debate, and civic engagement through American Sign Language and English. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down the team. Head Coach Brendan Stern, a faculty member in the Department of Government and Public Affairs, and Assistant Coach Adam Bartley, a staff interpreter with Gallaudet Interpreting Service, conducted tryouts across two semesters and worked with bright undergraduates who signed on to be trailblazers in bilingual debate.

The Fall 2020 team included Dahlia Hernandez (Education), Lexi Hill (History and Government), Nthabeleng McDonald (Psychology), Aubrey Moorman (Government), Nykol Pratt (Biology), Catalina Romera (Social Work), Jocelyn Saravia (Art and Digital Media), Julie Shoeman (Social Work and Government), Claudia Smistek (Biology) and Romel Thurman (Physical Education and Recreation). They participated in several debate events, including one on whether voting is a moral duty and another on the merits of the Electoral College. They also took a course on debate and rhetoric. This spring, Thalia Guettler and Joseph Palagano joined the team. 

The team, captained by Lexi Hill and Romel Thurman, has been diligent in sharpening its skills and deepening their command of rhetoric, beginning with coursework on debate and continuing into several “first of its kind” events. 

A live-streamed “Stories and Speeches in Sign” event featured the student debaters using ASL story and poetic forms, as well as traditional public speech to persuade the audience of their positions on controversial topics of their choice such as “Deaf people should be allowed to serve in the military” and “Reparations should be made to the descendants of enslaved persons.” 

On the heels of that event, the students watched the Social Justice Debates, an annual intercollegiate debate series founded by Morehouse College and George Washington University. They then dove right into the work of preparing for tonight’s debate exhibition event against George Washington University. 

Please join us tonight at 7 p.m. for the Gallaudet-GWU debate, the culminating activity of the Gallaudet debate team’s spring season.

Students: Like and follow the Center for Democracy in Deaf America Facebook page for information about the third round of tryouts and upcoming events and programs in the summer and fall. 

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