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In previous years, the University of Plymouth Debating Society would meet every Thursday on campus, across two rooms, on the second floor of the Roland Levinsky Building. Inside, members would sit facing each other from opposite sides of the room, forming the opposition and proposition to engage in passionate debates on a variety of topics.
Topics would often range from current affairs and politics to more light-hearted topics such as popular culture and film or TV. Members that were unsure whether they agreed with the proposition or opposition would sit in the audience able to ask questions of either side.
Members were not locked into these three stances once a debate had commenced however, as debates picked up pace and opinions were expressed, members could freely move physically from one side of the room to the other should the argument of one side present itself as more convincing.
Through a combination of weekly debate sessions, post-debate trips to the pub, evening meals and the occasional spot of clubbing – the society helped its members to form long-standing friendships and romantic relationships pre-COVID.
In March 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic that had rapidly been spreading around the world took hold in the UK and we entered the first lockdown – understandably ending the ability for student groups to host face-to-face activity.
Now, months later, the Debate Society has transitioned to operate fully online through Zoom. During semester one of the 2020/2021 academic year, Debate Society successfully attracted more than sixty members and has been able to continue offering its members weekly engagement and has been helping to lift student spirits during the pandemic.
Operating online originally presented a challenge, members could no longer physically move from one side of the room to the other to show which stance they were taking and members could no longer indicate their intention to take the floor to speak without talking over each other.
Keeping everyone muted in the online environment and only speaking in turn, took away the rich environment that Debate Society had spent several years cultivating. Through trial and error, however, a hybrid system of using the chat function to indicate the position and desire to speak came to form and the society was able to maintain the atmosphere for which it has become popular for.
During the first lockdown and throughout the summer of 2020, the society continued to operate online, outside of term-time, to provide University of Plymouth students isolated and separated from friends throughout the UK a safe space and regular social engagement from the comfort of their bedrooms.
So far in the 2020/2021 academic year, the society has hosted a number of themed digital events in addition to their weekly sessions including a fancy-dress Halloween debate, a cheeky Christmas tipple and an impromptu hat party.
If you’re keen to make new friends this semester, check out the UPSU Sports Clubs and Society pages to find out what is on offer to you!
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