NPR Radio followed Professor Jackson Miller and his students as they went inside the Oregon State Penitentiary to debate with prisoners. The news feature was aired on NPR radio stations throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Miller has been organizing debates between students and inmates for four years. Inmates at the Salem prison, who comprise one of the most active Northwest chapters of Toastmasters International, are honing their communications skills by sparring with Linfield debate students.
“I think some of these guys have fewer opportunities on the inside to get positive reinforcement for arguing about issues that they care about,” says Miller, who teaches in the Department of Theatre and Communication Arts at Linfield College.
Both teams had a mixture of inmates and students, and the debate was about whether violent video games contribute to youth violence.
Linfield junior Megan Schwab says it’s eye-opening to talk with inmates about a shared passion: debate. “They’re discounted people in our society,” she says. “You don’t hear their voices, you don’t hear their opinions.”
Linfield student debaters included Chris Forrer, Samantha Javier, Clara Martinez and Megan Schwab. Student judges included Whitney Brittingham, Austin Browning, Janelle Davis, Reanna Haling and Gabrielle Leif.
Participation in the Linfield College Forensics Program is open to all students.