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At first Ithaca-Qatar debate, teams argue tobacco funding

At the first Cornell intercampus debate Nov. 4, three students from Ithaca flew to Doha to debate three medical students from Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar (WCMC-Q). The team from Ithaca argued the proposition that "medical research institutions should not accept tobacco industry funding."

"It's nice to have intercampus exchanges like this," said Rodney Sharkey, professor of literature and debate coach at WCMC-Q. "They reinforce our shared objectives of quality education, which implies advanced skills in critical thinking."

Faculty and students from both campuses watched the debate -- in Ithaca, they attended via live videoconference, offering questions and comments in real time on a lecture hall's screen. Five judges -- including Pablo Del Pozo, professor of medical ethics, Dr. Basim Uthman, professor of neurology, and Jeffrey Harmon, academic assistant, all at WCMC-Q, were on hand.

Members of the WCMC-Q debate club were chosen before the event through a series of heats overseen by Sharkey. Afaf Osman, Mohamad Abdulhai and Adam Shurbaji, all of the medical class of 2014, formed the opposition.

Representing Cornell Ithaca were animal science senior Lyla Rudgers; Leah Salgado '12, an interdisciplinary studies major with an interest in rhetoric; and junior Emily Zhang, majoring in government, economics and French. They were chosen for their exceptional past performances and their upcoming participation in the world university debates competition.

"When we debate on a circuit in the states, it's a very similar kind of debating style, and we implicitly agree upon principles," said Zhang. "Whereas when you debate people from the other parts of the world, say, in the Middle East, opponents challenge certain things that we would find fundamental, and that debate gets onto a very different level."

The Ithaca team's main argument explored how tobacco companies might choose funding targets in a biased way to guard against negative stigma around cigarettes. WCMC-Q's team argued that funding from any source is beneficial for society and should not be turned away.

"The cool thing about debate is that it forces you to look at things from a different perspective, in a different way, and I think that that's one of the reasons why it's such a valid activity," said Salgado. "So you learn a lot more about different cultures and issues than you would normally. I think it gets rid of a lot of the stigma associated with areas of the world and with people from those areas."

In the end, the team from Ithaca was declared the winner.

Emily Alp is a senior editorial specialist at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.

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Joe Schwartz