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College Spotlight: Wiley College

 

The 1935 Wiley College debate team rose to prominence in the United States in 1935 with wins over perennial powerhouses.
The 1935 Wiley College debate team rose to prominence in the United States in 1935 with wins over perennial powerhouses.
COURTESY WILEY COLLEGE

Debaters do more than compete

In 1935, Professor Melvin Tolson led the primarily black Wiley College debate team to defeat the national champions from the University of Southern California. A 2007 film, starring Denzel Washington as Tolson, recaptured that debate, but the opposing team was changed to Harvard University. The silver screen portrayal of the Wiley team was coupled with a $1 million gift from Washington to revitalize the college's debating legacy.

That legacy has become a part of the Marshall, Texas, school's annual Ethical Student Leadership Conference. Over the past seven years, 3,500 students have participated in the event, which is designed to equip future leaders with a value-based framework for making decisions.

In 2012, the Wiley team engaged in an exhibition debate against USC during the conference. In January, the Wiley team debated a Harvard team during the same event. Engaging in debates helps future leaders stay informed on contemporary issues, strengthens critical thinking skills, clarifies opposing viewpoints and enables participants to articulate their positions persuasively.

"Wiley is proud of its affiliation with The United Methodist Church, and we have a lot of programs that sustain and enhance the spiritual life of the next generation of Christian leaders," said Haywood L. Strickland, president. The annual, four-day conference "provides an opportunity for students across the county to engage in dialogue with distinguished theologians, renowned leaders and ethical scholars."

Founded in 1873 by the Freedman's Aid Society, Wiley College serves anyone pursuing a college education in a Christian environment. Primarily, however, it has served African Americans and other minorities.

The Rev. J. Richard Peck