College Debates and Discourse Alliance

What is the College Debates and Discourse Alliance?

Braver Angels, ACTA and BridgeUSA have forged an acclaimed program that teaches students to honor ideological diversity, foster civil discourse on college campuses, and cultivate student and faculty leaders to carry the movement forward. Braver Angels debates are not competitive or performative events separating speakers and audiences. They are immersive and highly participatory, inviting everyone in the room to express themselves freely in a collective search for truth. Conducted in a light parliamentary format and chaired by trained experts, they teach students to express their views, frame persuasive arguments, listen deeply, and engage respectfully around the most challenging political and social issues dividing our nation today.

We’ve developed a highly collaborative approach with faculty and students to organize debates around topics and resolutions usually chosen by the students themselves. Each debate has its own unique qualities and is tailored to the particular campus community.

As of spring semester 2024, we have launched well over 250 campus and classroom debates, engaging ~10,000 students from 90+ colleges and universities. Remarkably, during the pandemic, the program flourished and grew exponentially as we took debates online to enable many more students and college institutions to participate. At present, we run a robust hybrid model of on-campus as well as Zoom-based debates, depending on a school’s preferences and local protocols.

Our partnerships with college faculty are expanding, as more instructors and professors connect with us to incorporate Braver Angels debates into their curricula and lesson plans. Quick resources for faculty:

• Our Curricular Toolkit is available for faculty who want to work with us to implement an engaging classroom debate assignment for students.
• Right-click HERE to download a list of sample debate topics chosen by students and faculty.
• Our new eCourse module for debate chair training is available for faculty and student leaders.

Conducted on campus or on Zoom, student debates can be scaled as follows:

  • In-classroom (during regular class sessions of an hour or more)
  • Intra-collegiate (one college campus community)
  • Inter-collegiate (across a set of multiple campuses)
  • National (drawing participants across the country)

Videos on the transformative impact of college debates

College faculty, students, and program leaders explain how Braver Angels debates can have a depolarizing, transformative effect on students, teaching them to engage respectfully with each other on difficult and divisive issues. Click on the thumbnails to view.

Free Speech in the Crosshairs
ATHENA Roundtable | October 21, 2022 by Nadine Strossen
Dialogue, Discourse, and Democracy
Higher Ed Now | May 22, 2023 by Lindsay Hoffman

We have partnered with nearly 80 diverse colleges and universities, including large and small, public and private, religious and minority serving institutions. The alphabetical list starts below.

  • Abilene Christian University
  • Allegany College of Maryland
  • American University
  • Arizona State University
  • Baylor University
  • Biola University
  • Carthage College
  • Christopher Newport University
  • The College of Wooster
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dakota Wesleyan University
  • Denison University
  • Duke University
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Fairfield University
  • Frostburg State University
  • George Mason University
  • The George Washington University. . .
View All Schools

This debate was incredible. I really appreciated the different perspectives. This was certainly a pleasure to be a part of, and I think it gave everyone that attended a chance to feel truly listened to and not like we were in a meaningless yelling match on social media.

Student at Texas Wesleyan University

I want to express my gratitude and admiration for the work that you do in promoting civil discourse and constructive dialogue among people with differing political perspectives. The students who participated did an exceptional job of preparing and presenting their arguments clearly and concisely—while demonstrating a willingness to listen and engage with opposing viewpoints. Through the discussion, the different assumptions and expectations for the bill by each side emerged. The chair and debate format was instrumental in guiding this encounter and ensuring that everyone had a chance to speak and be heard and respected.

Professor Greg McAvoy
Head of the Political Science Department
University of North Carolina – Greensboro

It was inspiring to see Duke students engage in such a rich conversation about free speech on college campuses, cancel culture, and related issues. I am a huge fan of the work that Braver Angels and ACTA are doing here at Duke University. We’re beneficiaries of that important work. In my nine years at Duke, it was one of the most memorable experiences that we’ve had.

Deondra Rose
Associate Professor of Public Policy
Director, Polis Center for Politics
Sanford School of Public Policy
Duke University

As an instructor, I was exceptionally pleased with the debate. It was a fantastic opportunity to give a large class of 180 students the chance to feel like they were participating in a meaningful debate. The end-of-quarter evaluations also highlighted how much students valued this opportunity. I would happily include this again in my class. Given the impacts on civility and format, I would put the Braver Angels debate earlier in the quarter. Thank you all again for helping my class so fundamentally. It was the highlight of the class and the quarter.

Matt McGarrity, Teaching Professor
Director, Center for Speech & Debate
Department of Communication
University of Washington

We hear from many students that hyperpolarization and negative media coverage are driving them away from politics. The Braver Angels Debate offered them a different model: one in which they could discuss a controversial issue in a safe space. It was so inspiring to see students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, listen deeply and respectfully to each other, and come away energized and enthusiastically asking Salem State to do this again soon.  

Vanessa Ruget
Professor, Politics, Policy and International Relations Department 
President, Northeastern Political Science Association
Salem State University 

The effect of debate on the students as well as the faculty has been thoroughly positive.  For many of the students, the debate marked the first time that they felt comfortable (again, “safe”) in a public setting, not only to speak their minds, but also to listen to opinions with which they disagree. One student expressed after the debate that she had worried about getting “triggered” by the topic, but the open, encouraging, and collective style of the debate put the student as ease. Everyone who participated in the event unanimously agreed that they would like to have another Braver Angels debate and hoped that this would become a regular event at Molloy University. We also would like to expand the debate beyond the Honors Program to the entire student-body as well as to include local area high school students.  

Howard Ponzer
Professor and Philosophy Department Chair
Molloy University

The Braver Angles Debate style is exactly what colleges should be pushing forward. I have never before felt as comfortable discussing an issue where I was not speaking on the ‘popular’ side. The debate was kept calm and collected; nothing ever went out of hand. I greatly appreciated this debate and hope I can be a speaker in future events of this type. It was a great experience for me and I think it was a great experience for others too.

Bren Routly
Student at Georgia State University

I think all of us have identified the same issue, which is this sort of toxic polarization, non-constructive discourse and just screaming at each other. So this type of debate is super useful for the Berkeley community precisely because of its historical significance. It’s no secret this is a left-leaning stronghold. But having the ability to exchange ideas and gain different perspectives is how we come to solutions. It’s how we engage each other in a way that actually means well in good faith, and try to work towards something that both sides can agree on.

Isaac Huang
Student at University of California-Berkeley

I believe that debates in this parliamentary fashion on divisive topics, like our topic of gun control, are imperative in universities around the U.S. They promote a sense of civil cooperation, civic virtue, and being able to specifically speak for yourself and hear what the other individual wants to say. I would love to see more of these debates on Christopher Newport’s campus, because they’re fun, enticing and engaging. It’s one thing talking with your friends about political discourse, but it’s another thing standing up there and saying, ‘this is what I believe and why I believe it.’

Raqan Z.
Student at Christopher Newport University

We talk about the term ‘political’ debate, and it conjures up adversarial connotations. But clearly this is a political debate that does not have to be that way. And to bring it to a college campus, where intellectual inquiry is supposed to be at the heart, goes to show the power of the university allowing voices to be democratically, politically and respectfully heard. So I think it could bring back a sense of reverence for institutions themselves, because they can be bastions of civil debate as well.

Moriah Poliakoff
Student at Christopher Newport University

What I’ve really enjoyed as an instructor is watching students who have completely divergent perspectives on incredibly controversial issues come together to plan a Braver Angels event where all of those perspectives can be expressed. If you look at the polarization in this country, if you look at what employers are saying about increased conflict in the workplace over really controversial social issues, it demonstrates that these skills are needed now, possibly more than ever.

Mark Urista
Instructor, Linn-Benton Community College

With Civic House, we aim to make the students leaders in their communities and on the GW campus. We came back to ACTA and Braver Angels because the students had such a positive experience in the fall semester planning and implementing their debate. They wanted to be able to do it again and have a different topic and work together as a team. And they were really able to hone their leadership skills and improve on their teamwork to plan this awesome event for GW students and students at other schools.

Maddie News
Student at The George Washington University

I definitely think it was worthwhile. I really enjoyed the debate and felt it was really civil. I feel like civility is lost with a lot of debates and arguments, especially with politics and even simple things like online schooling. It’s really good to talk with other students about how they feel; we all have different experiences in life, and we bring that to our debate. That’s really important to share, especially in hard times like this, where we all learn differently.

Cloe Madden
Student at Linn-Benton Community College

To a new college student who is considering attending a Braver Angels debate, I would say through a format like this, you can learn about what the other side thinks, in a way that you can’t on social media. You’ll probably be surprised at how much you have in common with them and how much more reasonable they are than you might have thought beforehand. And it’s not only an opportunity to learn about the topic, but also to increase your confidence in being able to think and articulate yourself better about the topic. It’s just good practice in all those areas. So it enhances your education, as well as helping to bridge divides in our country.

Susannah Cray
Student at Linn-Benton Community College

I was honored to be able to prepare an opening statement for the Braver Angels debate at Magdalen College. My debate partner and I had prepared for several days beforehand, ready to conquer the other team with our “superior” arguments in favor of social media censorship. When I walked into the room, however, I was surprised to find that the chairs had been set up in a common circle, not divided into two opposing halves. After both teams had presented their opening statements, the other students and faculty were invited to not only ask questions, but also offer their own thoughts and points. When arguments in favor of the opposing side were encouraged, we were no longer two opposing teams, but friends seeking wisdom together. I was excited to offer a few contradictory thoughts myself. My peers provided valuable answers with perspectives that I had not considered. This closely mirrors the Socratic seminar-style classes at Magdalen. At the end, the once-opposing sides had been dissolved, leaving behind a circle of common understanding. Everyone left the debate with increased knowledge of the topics discussed, and greater respect for the perspectives of others.

Daniel Spears
Student at Magdalen College

I found the Braver Angels debate to be a very fruitful and enjoyable experience. Unlike a traditional debate format, I felt that no one was just a spectator; there was a real sense of everyone trying together to reach a common understanding of the issue.  Many students got to weigh in, and we heard many different valid and insightful perspectives. I learned that most issues are more complex and nuanced than they first appear, and that someone can legitimately disagree with you without being simply ignorant or ill-willed. After the event, everyone seemed really positive and the vibe was very energized; students were excited to get the chance to have a non-judgemental, but also very real, exchange of ideas, and many of them were eager to have a second debate!  I think that the work of Braver Angels is very important, since it allows students to experience how debate can be spirited, while still being respectful and productive.

John Milliken
Student at Magdalen College


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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