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The Blue & Gray Press | December 16, 2017

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Debate coach airs on radio

Timothy M. O’Donnell, UMW associate professor of Communications, appeared on the radio show, “With Good Reason”, the only public radio program in Virginia.
He discussed the efforts to recover debate programs at historically black colleges and universities.

O’Donnell is also the director of debate at UMW as well as a respected leader in campaigning to assist historically black colleges and universities in establishing and strengthening their debate programs throughout the country.

O’Donnell’s interest in this topic was sparked by working with the James Farmer Scholars program and learning about Farmer’s debate background.

This program was created to work with area students in honor of James Farmer, a Spotsylvania County resident, celebrated civil rights leader and beloved faculty member at UMW.

The objective of the James Farmer Scholars program is to improve the number of African-American youths who are academically prepared to attend and be successful in the college setting.

On “With Good Reason” he speaks about Farmer’s accomplishments during the Civil Rights Movement. “The most important thing, Farmer’s greatest contribution and the reason why some have called him the architect of the Civil Rights Movement is that he was the one to bring the Ghandian principles of direct, nonviolent action to others” O’Donnell said.

“One of the often forgotten chapters of the 1960s in the movement were the great debates of James Farmer and Malcolm X” O’Donnell said.  Farmer was classically trained to use the different tools that one could effectively use during a debate to have the most successful argument.

One of O’Donnell’s missions is to increase the amount of diversity seen at college debate competitions. In 2009, O’Donnell and the UMW debate program worked with Norfolk State, Hampton University and other historically black colleges and universities to arrange and host a week debate workshop with the hope to restore intercollegiate debate. He also organized the Inaugural Debate Series, which invited HBCUs and other colleges (including UMW) to Washington D.C. to debate Obama’s administration priorities.

The process, however, will take time. When asked if he had seen an increased amount of interest since hosting the 2009 workshop he replied, “Not as much as I would have hoped — growing debate takes high level commitment.  In the case of Fayetteville State, where the chancellor said we are going to build a strong debate program, it happened, almost overnight.  In places where high level administrative support, programs struggle”.