The Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue

1837 - 1914

Phi Gamma House
Emory University was founded in Oxford, Georgia in 1836. The next year, the Phi Gamma Literary Society (Phi Gamma house pictured left) was formed followed two years later by the Ignatius Few Literary Society. Modeled after the literary societies of British Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, the Phi Gamma and Few Societies were organized around the practice of the forensic and literary arts. Students in these societies held weekly debates in their halls on the old Oxford campus. All students attended the debates, and diaries of the day describe the subjects and content of some of these events.

1919 - 1950

Nolan A. Goodyear and Debate Images from the 1920s
Emory relocated to Atlanta in 1919, and the literary societies continued their tradition of public debates. Under the direction of Theology and Speech Professor Nolan A. Goodyear (pictured left), an intercollegiate debating team emerged from the weekly meetings of the societies.

The decade from 1925 to 1935 was a golden era for debate at Emory. The team competed successfully against its college rivals at Duke, Princeton, and Harvard. Teams from British Universities, Oxford, Ireland, London, and Cambridge visited the campus almost every year to participate in audience debates that filled the spacious Glenn Memorial sanctuary.

During World War II, travel restrictions limited the intercollegiate dimension of debate. Professor Goodyear retired, and the literary societies dissolved. After the war, the debate team was revived under assistant professor of speech George A. Neely. The United States Military Academy also began to host the first national collegiate debate championship tournament known as the National Debate Tournament or N.D.T.

1950 - 1972

Glenn Pelham Photo
In 1950, Alben W. Barkley, a graduate of Emory debate and former United States Vice-President, granted permission to the Emory debaters to name the debate team, the Barkley Forum. In 1951 the Barkley Forum hosted its first high school debate tournament, a tournament first won by Woodlawn High School of Georgia. In 1959, Cairo High School, coached by Glenn Pelham, won the Barkley Forum for High Schools.

In 1960, the Barkley Forum membership asked the same Glenn Pelham, who would also serve two terms in the Georgia State Senate, to coach the Emory University debate team. He accepted, and the Barkley Forum went on to become one of the most successful debating organizations in the country. In 1967, Emory won its first national title in academic debate when Susan Cahoon, Mark Frankel, Joe Longino, and Bill McDaniel brought home the DSR-TKA national championship. Since 1967, Emory debate has won over twenty national championships.

1972 - 2015

1970 Yearbook Debate Page Image of Melissa Wade
In 1972, Glenn Pelham retired and one of his most successful debaters, a third seed at the National Debate Tournament, became Director of the Barkley Forum. Melissa Maxcy Wade took over the program from her mentor and began a new era in debate at Emory. The Wade era saw the Barkley Forum grow in membership, achieve record-setting success, and expand community service to unparalleled heights.

2015 - 2021

Ed Lee
Upon Melissa’s retirement in 2015, Ed Lee III, who began his debate career as a high school student with the Atlanta Urban Debate League, took over leadership of the Barkley Forum.  In addition to sustaining the competitive success of the competitive intercollegiate debate team during this era, the Barkley Forum has expanded its mission to include more opportunities for students on Emory’s campus to be involved in dialogues on difficult topics, a practice that harkens back to the founding of debate at Emory in 1836.   To better represent all the facets of the Barkley Forum, the name of the organization was officially changed in 2017 to The Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue. 

2021 - Present

Mikaela Malsin
In 2021, Emory and Barkley Forum alumna Mikaela Malsin ('10) was selected to be the Director of Debate as Ed Lee moved into a role with the Emory College of Arts and Sciences as Senior Director of Inclusivity while maintaining a senior advisory capacity with the Barkley Forum.  Mikaela continues to lead the Barkley Forum to thoughtfully engage in Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue in service to humanity.