By Jane Handa ’21
This past September William & Mary students confirmed that they are informed, passionate, and ready to engage with hot-button issues as an overflow crowd showed up to debate foreign policy. William & Mary’s Global Research Institute sponsored a debate hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Society (AHS) and the John Quincy Adams Society (JQAS) that focused on the ideal American foreign policy strategy. Dr. Robert Lieber, professor at Georgetown University, argued for robust engagement, while Dr. Eugene Gholz, professor at Notre Dame, argued for restraint. Boasting a crowd of over 100 people, the debate sparked a lively Q+A that ended with many hands still in the air.
Guest speakers with moderator, Sue Peterson.
JQAS encourages a policy of restraint as the United States conducts its international affairs, while AHS argues that engagement is the best way for the U.S. to interact with the rest of the world. When asked to reflect on the event powered by these student-run organizations, event moderator and GRI Co-Director Sue Peterson said, “I am so impressed by the AHS and JQAS students who brought these two world class scholars to campus to debate such an important and perennial issue. No matter which side you’re on—whether you’re an engager or a restrainer—this event was interesting and informative.”
Opening statements from Dr. Gholz and Dr. Lieber and an opportunity for rebuttal were followed by a question and answer session where students could ask the participants about their points of view. Students noted that no matter what they believed, the debate got them thinking. Laura Kirk ’23, commented, “I came in thinking I would agree fully with one position. I definitely agreed and disagreed with parts of both arguments, and it really challenged my thoughts about the world.” Another student, Franchasca Johnson ’23, remarked that, “It really brought a lot of my beliefs into question. I thought it was interesting to see how the speakers interacted and responded to one another. Overall, it was a very enlightening experience.”
A large crowd came out for the debate.
Students also thought that the debate gave them a better idea of what foreign policy looks like in the real world, and that the debate brought what they do in class and applied that to actual policy. Cassie Nestor ’21, said, “I thought the debate was a very intriguing way to think about where you want the world to go, and who you want leading the charge, but more importantly how you want leaders to act. A lot of times, especially in government class, we learn about problems and solutions in paradigms, and this talk broke that idea.”
Applying research to real world problems — a theme across research conducted by student-faculty teams at the Global Research Institute — continues to resonate with students interested in all angles of foreign policy and international relations. As always, W&M students can be counted on to be eager to learn about and discuss ideas, something the community can look forward to at the next debate.