Debate, diplomacy and exercising the mind

Drive down Fee Lane on the Indiana University Bloomington campus this time of year and you’ll see signs for the camps that attract thousands of teenagers: basketball, tennis, soccer, volleyball, debate. Yes, debate. IU, renowned for its summer athletics camps, also hosts lesser known camps that intensely exercise the mind.

The first Model United Nations Camp sponsored by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs is underway at IU Bloomington this July 4th holiday week.

The first Model United Nations Camp sponsored by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs is underway at IU Bloomington this July 4 holiday week.

For example, the first Model United Nations Camp sponsored by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs is underway this July 4 holiday week in a meeting room at Briscoe Residence Hall. The room is decorated with posters for the IU basketball team, but the campers — all teenagers from around the Midwest — are learning how to find success on the court of diplomacy.

Led by SPEA faculty member Susan Siena and members of IU’s Model United Nations team, the campers take on the role of ambassadors. Sitting behind signs for Paraguay, France, the United States and many other nations, they try to reach accords over issues threatening world peace. At one session, they discuss, sometimes emotionally, how world peacemakers would respond to a Chinese attack on the U.S. Navy in 2015.

In another meeting space at Briscoe, the second annual High School Debate Camp, which attracts about 50 high school debaters for one- and two-week sessions, is underway with IU debate coach and SPEA faculty member Brian DeLong leading a team of instructors. The campers spend hours mastering public policy issues, honing their arguments, polishing their deliveries and finally competing in face-to-face debates as fierce as any tug-of-war.

Participants in the second annual High School Debate Camp at SPEA.

Participants in the second annual High School Debate Camp at SPEA.

From a larger university perspective, there is no debating the value of bringing smart, civic-minded young people to the university in the summer. The hope is that many of these future ambassadors and policymakers will one day call IU home.

To this end, when they’re not engaged in serious debate or discussion, the SPEA campers are taking advantage of Bloomington’s many summer attractions, including swimming at the IU Pool and bowling at the Indiana Memorial Union. In that respect, they’re just like the basketball, tennis, soccer and volleyball campers.

And there is one other similarity: All the campers are hoping to sharpen the skills that result in championship banners.

Note: SPEA Director of Marketing and Communications Jim Hanchett contributed to this blog post. 

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