Students from New Brunswick, Newark debate covered identity


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Photo by Enrico Cabredo |

Jenny Kurtz, director of diverse community affairs, argues against Newark’s debate team for the Rutgers University Debate Union.


The Rutgers-Newark Debate Team came to the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus last night to face off against the Rutgers University Debate Union on issues surrounding concepts of identity.

The debate was part of Project Civility, a two-year series of programs aimed at promoting respect among students at the University, which began in fall 2010 after Tyler Clementi’s suicide.

Debate teams considered whether “covering” or disguising one’s identity, was a necessary part of society and whether it could be detrimental to the individual’s civil rights.

Laura Banti, a logistics coordinator for the event, said the night did not aim to find a resolution to the issue, but was intended to promote new ideas and perspectives on how concepts of covering affect society.

“What is really nice about this debate is that it brings [the issue to] the forefront [with] the two strongest arguments for each of the sides. It doesn’t actually give someone the answer. It makes each individual reflect,” said Banti, a Graduate School of Education student.

RUDU took the “free choice” position in the debate, with members claiming that people should be allowed to choose their own identity.

Bhargavi Sriram, RUDU vice president and School of Arts and Sciences junior, said people should not feel forced into an identity.

Sriram said forcing people to embrace certain identities does not help others become more accepting. Instead, it pressures individuals into an obligation that may be against their personal civil rights.

The Rutgers-Newark Debate Team argued from the position that “covering” is detrimental to both society and civil rights.

Elijah Smith, a Rutgers-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration first-year student, felt “covering” involved a performance of something different from who a person truly is.

“I’ve covered many parts of my identity. … I covered a wristband I had on, but why did I cover? What about this was disrespectful … hiding so [as to] not reveal who we really are leaves the problem unsolved,” he said.

Zach MacCord, member of the Rutgers-Newark Debate Team, said dominant identities in society attempt to marginalize other identities, and when people resort to covering, they concede to societal pressures.

“You should be able to stand up for your identity and be proud of it,” said MacCord, a Newark College of Arts and Sciences junior. “It hinders minority identities from co-existing.”

But RUDU member Kyle Bomeisl disagreed and said people should have the ability to strip away from their identity, as it is detrimental to be stuck in one character.

“Identity is only meaningful when you have a choice, and people need the choice to escape and be judged on the quality of character and not their supposed identity,” said Bomeisl, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “We never get to change because people try to group each other.”    

Newark debater Carlos Astacio, a School of Public Affairs and Administration sophomore, said individuals choose to uncover themselves for others to accept them, but this move only benefits oppressors.

Senior Dean of Students Mark Schuster countered this point, saying people should take into consideration that some individuals are not ready to be uncovered.

“I think it’s unrealistic. You are forcing an unrealistic identity. … They should be able to go at the pace that people are made to feel safe,” he said. “By uncovering, you create an unsafe place that people feel they will be bullied.”

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