Life Raft Debate; screenshot from

Imagine there is an asteroid on a collision course, headed towards planet Earth. On the quest to save humanity, a settlement on Mars has been established, but there is only one empty seat remaining on the last shuttle to our new home. Stating their cases are representatives from a wide variety of academic disciplines, all arguing that they are the ones who will be most beneficial to take along in the final journey. Who would you choose? This is the question UBC Okanagan’s annual tradition of the Life Raft Debate will ask you to consider on Thursday the 21st of January.

The debate has seen many forms in the past--including the zombie apocalypse edition of 2020--and the unique opportunity to discuss the significance of an academic discipline in a non-academic setting has drawn hundreds of participants to this event. The organisers from the Society of Scholars feel that the general spirit towards the virtual event this year may draw similar numbers.

Durvan, an undergraduate student and a member of the planning committee, tells us, “With the current limitations, we have been forced to adapt, and I’m very optimistic about subsequent Life Raft Debate editions, because this year’s debate is exploring a new, online paradigm, which I hope will be incorporated in future in-person Life Raft Debate editions in really cool ways. This makes the 2021 edition Life Raft Debate all the more exciting and special.”

This year’s lineup includes newcomers, Dr. Sandy Hilton from Management, Dr. Sally Stewart from Health and Social Development, and Dr. Robin Young from Biology. Along with them will be 2020 defending champion, Dr. Ray Taheri from Engineering, as well as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr. Lesley Cormack, representing History and Sociology. Dr. Bryce Traister, from English, will act as devil’s advocate, arguing that none of the debaters should be able to make their way onto the shuttle. The evening will be hosted by long-time participant of the debates, and 2019 defending champion, Dr. Stephen McNeil.

On how she feels about her chances this year, Dr. Young says, “I feel pretty good. What we’re talking about is survival in a hostile environment. Biology is, by definition, the study of life, and survival”, especially with the importance of epidemiologists and scientists coming to focus this past year. She states, “So to me, it's not really about whether Biology is worthy of being included, but whether I can effectively defend my discipline, and convince our audience of what I already know to be true about Biology.” When asked about her peers on the panel, she stated that she does not think anyone is a “sure win”, but that Dr. Ray Taheri and Engineering might do well - “they are the reigning champions after all”. Alternatively, she does entertain that “there’s a compelling argument that our Devil’s Advocate, Dr. Traister could make for leaving all of us behind, and working things out without all of us stuffy academic types.”

As one of the organisers, Durvan seems to be quite confident in Dr. Young as well, stating that she might be a bit of a dark horse amongst the competition. However, he also seems to be confident about Dr. Sally Stewart’s chances, stating that he thinks she “is very likely to make it to the shuttle, since nutrition is definitely going to be something people will worry about, being in a completely new environment, with a new lifestyle. The interdisciplinary nature of her field (with social/community and health science aspects) is also an advantage.”

A remarkable feat of organisation and planning, this year’s debate will take place over Zoom, and is a product of combined efforts from the University Relations team, communications from AVP students, and other student communities, not to mention the panel of debaters and host, Dr. Stephen McNeil.

This annual tradition has always been one that unites all parts of the student population to consider the faculties that we are members of and their role within absolutely absurd situations for a night of good fun. As Dr. Young puts it, “We spend so much time wrapped up in our own lives and classes (especially these days) that it’s good to have an excuse to come together in the spirit of friendly competition and camaraderie. Our community has struggled to come together in recent days, for obvious reasons. I hope that this gives us all some much needed joy and fun, and reminds us of what we love about the UBCO community.”

The 3rd Annual Life Raft Debate is presented by the Society of Scholars with support from alumni UBC and the UBCO Ice Cream Club and will be held on Thursday, January 21st 2021 from 7 to 8:30pm PST. Visit the Life Raft Debate website to register and learn more.