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Miley Cyrus performance is fuel for campus debate series

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Nov. 8, 2013

Can the controversial gyrations of Miley Cyrus help teach civil discourse?  

The Emory community is invited to find out at "Miley Cyrus: Wrecking Ball or Much Ado About Nothing: A Debate on Cultural Appropriation," a campus debate inspired by Cyrus' much-criticized performance at the 2013 VMA awards that will explore issues of cultural appropriation, feminism and racial stereotypes.  

Hosted by The Barkley Forum and Eagles Speak, a student organization dedicated to encouraging civil dialogue on campus, the free event is scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. in the Harland Cinema at the Dobbs University Center. It's the second in a series of monthly campus debates introduced this semester to model and promote civil dialogue around controversial issues.  

The new debate series was launched by Emory's Division of Campus Life in response to concerns about issues of race, gender, privilege and sexual violence that were raised during campus-wide forums held during the 2012-2013 academic year. At the same time, Eagles Speak was chartered to work in collaboration with other student groups to promote a campus culture that "produces and honors civil and civic dialogue," says Ed Lee, Eagles Speak advisor and director of debate for The Barkley Forum.  

For the first time, The Barkley Forum — Emory's nationally recognized, award-winning debate team and community service organization — will take a lead role in helping guide the series of topical community dialogues, says William Newnam, Barkley Forum associate executive director.  

"This is part of our effort to contribute to the campus, to model what civil discussion, dialogue and disagreement can look like," Newnam says. "While we've always done ad hoc public debate presentations, this is our first year of being proactive, to make things happen on a predictable and regular basis."  

Miley Cyrus' controversial VMA performance was selected as a focus, in part, because of the widespread media sensation that it created, prompting deeper discussions about "what she was actually communicating about culture in a multicultural society," Newnam says.  

"Was she appropriating African American culture? Was she shedding a bad light on it? Was she making the black female body look bad? What happens when pop culture and class collide?" he asks, adding, "There was much more to this than what you saw on YouTube."  

The debate, which is open to faculty, staff, students and the general public, will feature Emory students from various campus organizations. There will also be an opportunity for audience questions.  

The debate program is being held in conjunction with the first annual "Cultureshock," a celebration of unique identities on the Emory campus and the overall identity shared by Emory students, scheduled Saturday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. in WHSCAB.  

Sponsored by the College Council, Cultureshock will feature guest speaker Maulik Pancholy, a comedian and actor who has appeared on the television shows "Weeds" and "30 Rock."