Students revive 19th century debate society

The Enosinian Society, a debate club founded more than 180 years ago, is enjoying its rebirth this year at GW.

The group, which encourages discussion among students on a range of topics from foreign policy to domestic laws to campus issues, has sprung up again this semester after lying dormant since the 1970s. The group was founded at GW in 1822.

“Our main goal is to foster a high level of discourse at GW,” said senior Sarah Wheaton, the publicity director for the Enosinian Society.

The organization has Greek origins, and its name loosely translates to mean “to contend.” The organization predates its contemporary at Georgetown University, the Philodemic Society, by eight years.

Junior Aaron Connelly, who is studying this semester at the University of Oxford in England, revived the group this summer in the hopes of restoring formal, traditional debate on campus. The group is modeled after the debate society at Oxford University, the Oxford Union.

“This summer I was thinking about the debates my roommates and I used to have freshman and sophomore year,” Connelly said in a phone interview from England. “They would get heated and usually took place late into the night. I realized that this isn’t really an uncommon thing at GW, and that debate shouldn’t be limited to late night dorm room discussions.”

After an enthusiastic response from e-mailing some of his closest friends at GW, Connelly organized the group over the summer, and it now holds regular events on campus.

“I found a Web site about the Enosinian Society and was really struck by it, because it’s one of the only truly genuine traditions at GW,” Connelly said. “I thought this society could be the cure for the lack of discourse on campus, and that it exemplified what universities should be all about: the free exchange of ideas.”

On Tuesday night at the Elliott School of International Affairs building, the group hosted a debate on the relevance of nation-states – states that derive sovereignty from people that share common traits between GW professor James N. Rosenau and Georgetown University professor Robert J. Lieber. Students also engaged in the debate.

The group’s first meeting was in October and featured a debate about the role intelligent design – an alternative to evolution – in scientific textbooks. While future topics are not finalized, possibilities include discussions on the role of U.S. high courts and domestic policy issues. The group is also considering campus-related discussion topics such as the future of Square 54.

The group’s leaders said they are pleased with attendance. Almost 70 students came to the first meeting, and about 30 attended Tuesday’s.

“With a discussion society that covers new topics at each meeting, you run a risk. Varying topics will cause the audience to fluctuate as well,” said senior Dan Foster, speaker of the society.

The society’s Executive Board stresses that the group’s perpetuation hinges on student participation.

“To be a member, a student has to speak at least three times throughout the semester,” said senior T. Neil Sroka, Enosinian Society administrator and former Hatchet editor. “Because we plan to induct new members at the end of each semester, and the group just started up again this semester, we technically don’t have a lot of membership yet, but turnout at the meetings so far has been good. We want to make the group as inclusive as possible.”

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