Space for public debate opens at USC Annenberg

Kyle Kawaguchi | Daily Trojan

On Tuesday night, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism hosted a naming celebration for its newly minted debate space, the Sheindlin Forum. Housed within Wallis Annenberg Hall, the forum is named for Judge Judith Sheindlin and her husband, Jerry Sheindlin, both of whom were present for the ceremony.

Annenberg Dean Willow Bay opened the event by introducing Sheindlin, popularly known as Judge Judy, the star of the Emmy Award-winning show.

Bay thanked the Sheindlin family for the generous gift, noting that the forum would not only create a dedicated space for the Trojan Debate Squad, but also encourage students to engage in civil discourse through a new Annenberg Debate Series and the Sheindlin Debate Fellowship to support graduate students pursuing public advocacy.

“Universities have a unique opportunity and distinct responsibility to encourage this civil exchange of ideas,” Bay said. “There is no better place than Annenberg to create rigorous and informed debate.”

As she took the podium, Sheindlin presented her perspective on the importance of respectful debate by drawing parallels between disagreement in the public sphere and differences in entertainment preferences.

She emphatically noted that using violence and intimidation to prevent healthy debate because of ideological differences was not a productive solution.

“Some [viewers] agree with me and some don’t, but no one is going to come into your home and rip your TV off the wall simply because they don’t agree with me,” Sheindlin said.

Sheindlin specifically selected Annenberg to receive her gift because of her belief that it must set a standard for the rest of the country. Saying she was shocked by recent instances of students preventing speakers from sharing their ideas at university campuses, Sheindlin took it upon herself to designate the forum as a place for civilized debate.

“What will destroy the spirit of this country is fear of expressing an opinion that is different,” Sheindlin said. “What will destroy this country is the death of civilized discourse.”

The judge and television star ultimately encouraged her audience members to hold themselves to a higher standard of discourse and critical thinking.

“A closed mind is a small mind, and Annenberg doesn’t produce small-minded people,” Sheindlin said.

Sheindlin then turned the microphone over to Gordon Stables, professor of communication and former director of the Trojan Debate Squad, who stressed the importance of respectful dialogue.

He kicked off the Annenberg Debate Series by moderating a discussion between Ashkan Soltani, former chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission, and Jeremy Philips, general partner at Spark Capital, about the future of regulating online platforms such as Facebook, Google and Amazon.

While Soltani advocated for reframing the perception of information and privacy in the digital age to build better policies, Philips argued for free speech and insisted that consumer education and competition between major corporations will hold institutions accountable for respecting user data.

The ceremony and debate were followed by a reception attended by Provost Michael Quick, who echoed Sheindlin’s hope for the future of constructive discourse.

“The way we go forth in this world is to rigorously debate and do so in a civil manner,” Quick said.