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Tavis Smiley Tavis Smiley: IU Debate Alumnus 1982-1986 Tavis Talking

Smiley was a high school standout debater who transitioned to Indiana University Bloomington under the auspices of acheiving something great. He did that and more. Debate served as one important catalyst in Smiley's life, improving his public speaking, argumentation, and political advocacy skills. With every public presentation, speech, and show that Tavis takes part, a little bit of hoosier debate shines through.

"Joyce Oatess, now chairperson of Maconaquah’s English Department, taught Tavis Smiley in English and psychology courses. A member of the debate team, Smiley “loved to argue” any issue, Oatess said. But Smiley always ended on good terms with whomever he was debating, she added. 'He would never damage your friendship.'" (http://www.iuk.edu/~koocm/apr04/Tavis.html

"A member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Smiley attended Indiana University on a debate scholarship, no doubt; but surprisingly was an average student.  "I enjoyed the intellectual rigor of going back and forth with professors. I was never turned on by the actual process of doing the coursework I just enjoyed being around people who were smarter than I was and learning and growing.   I did a lot of that during my college years."  Yet despite his modest account of his college career, Smiley was more than average.  While honoring his scholarship as a member of the debate team, he also served actively in student government and worked for both the chancellor and vice president of the university as well as the mayor of Bloomington, IN."(http://www.black-collegian.com/issues/1999-08/tsmiley.shtml)

Tavis Smiley Show: Interview with Faith Ford

Ford: Did you do debate?
Tavis: I did debate in college. I went to Indiana University on a debate scholarship; I did speech team in high school, which - I got pretty good at that. And then I got a debate scholarship as a result of that to go to Indiana University. So I was on the debate team at IU for four years.
Ford: I bet you were good, too.
Tavis: Oh, very good. Very good.
Ford: I wouldn't have wanted to go into a room and compete with you.
Tavis: No, you don't want to debate me.
Ford: No, no.
Tavis: You really don't want to debate me.

Quotations from What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America

Tavis What I know for sure


“I had a generous scholarships from being on the debate team. (p. 165)

“I joined the IU debate team my freshman year and began traveling to tournaments, arguing the intricate points of policies such as GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade". (p. 144)

"Traveling with the debate team to the major universities in Ohio, Michigan, and Nebraska, I argued esoteric policy issues, reading for the first time in my life magazines like Time and Newsweek, competing and sometimes besting guys from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale."  (p. 147)







Tavis and the Advancement of National Political Discourse

All American Presidential Debates

In 2007, Smiley made television history as the moderator and executive producer of the All-American Presidential Forums on PBS, the first primetime television Democratic and Republican presidential debates with panels exclusively comprised of journalists of color. (http://www.tavistalks.com/tavis)

All-American Presidential Forums on PBS: Democratic Candidates

All-American Presidential Forums on PBS: Republican Candidates

Examining a political debate

Interview of Denzel Washington about The Great Debaters




Indiana University

Brian DeLong SPEA #323 1315 E. Tenth Street Bloomington, IN 47405-1701
Phone: (812) 856-7585

Last updated: 15 April 2011
Comments: brdelong@indiana.edu