“I think it will be an excellent learning experience and I don’t underestimate the debating skills of the Hardee team,” USFSM debate team member Sami Araboghli said of the challenge, set for April 17.
Eight team members, their coach, Dr. Jessica Grosholz, and two judges, Dr. Fawn Ngo and Dr. Jean Kabongo, will travel an hour to Hardee, a 1,500-inmate, maximum-security institution 20 miles west of Wauchula in Hardee County.
The hour-long debate will occur inside a secure multi-purpose room before an audience of select inmates and Hardee guards and other staff. The debate’s topic: Whether to reinstate the draft.
Conscription to fill vacancies in the U.S. Armed Forces was last implemented between 1940 and 1973. The draft ended when the United States moved to an all-volunteer military. The debaters will argue whether reinstating the draft would benefit the military and American society as a whole.
As is customary, neither the students nor inmates will know which position they’ll take – for or against the issue – until just before the debate starts. Each team consists of four debate members. USFSM is taking two teams to Hardee.
Dr. Grosholz, an assistant professor of criminology, said she has no doubts about the inmates’ debating skills and notes that they’ve had the advantage of time to assemble a team, research the topic and run practice drills.
They still have one hurdle to overcome, though, she said. The inmates lack research materials behind bars. Although they have access to a prison library, the volume of material at their disposal is limited. As a result, they might be forced to rely on family and friends providing information in person or through the U.S. Mail to supplement their library research.
By comparison, the USFSM team is getting a late start. The team members met for the first time this week to discuss the topic after the inmates selected it a month ago. Next week, they’ll hold drills to become accustomed to the debate format.
Dr. Eric Hodges, a political scientist and military veteran, and Dr. Zacharias Pieri, an interdisciplinary social sciences instructor, provided the students with information about the topic and debate tips. Additionally, Katie O’Connor, coordinator of service learning, offered tips about public speaking.
Araboghli said his recent campaign for Student Body president could prove helpful as well. He narrowly lost the election to Barry Callahan, but the experience debating fellow candidates and talking with students sharpened his communication skills.
Whichever side wins, Dr. Grosholz said she hopes the experience boosts the students’ self-confidence and opens their eyes to the ability of education to transform lives, even behind bars.
In addition to helping organize the event, Dr. Grosholz and Dr. Kabongo, an associate professor of business, visit Hardee once a week to teach business skills to 14 inmates. The professors say that teaching entrepreneurship may improve their behavior while incarcerated and ease their transition into society after their release.
“Although we focus on individual business ideas, the lessons taught during the program delve more into valuable life skills that can prove beneficial even if they never start their own business,” said Dr. Grosholz. “It’s more of an entrepreneurial mindset that we’re trying to get across. We want to show them the advantages of being independent and that it’s OK to fail and start over.”
On Monday, the group will graduate from the 10-week program. Each of the inmates will receive a certificate of completion and a book by Joseph Robinson, a former inmate turned entrepreneur. This ceremony will represent the second such graduation from the program.
“I believe that the public has a misconception about the intellectual abilities of incarcerated people,” she said. “After working with inmates (at Hardee) since September, I have no doubts about their ability to succeed in this debate. They will definitely challenge our students.”