Described as a "delicate balance of comedy and lecture", the annual Raft Debate features four W&M faculty members from diverse disciplines, stranded on a desolate island with only a one-person life raft for escape to civilization. Which faculty member should survive for the sake of humanity? Based on the volume of applause, the audience chooses the sole survivor as the professors cajole, plead, pontificate, and resort shamelessly to props and costumes.
The quirky event originated in the mid-1900s and was revived during the 2000s by the Graduate Center, the A&S Office of Graduate Studies and Research, and the A&S Graduate Student Association. Faculty participants represent the Humanities, the Social Sciences, or the Natural and Computational Sciences. The Devil's Advocate, who argues sarcastically that none of the academic disciplines are worth saving, has on rare occasion emerged victorious.
The 2016 Raft Debate
Representing the humanities, Elena Prokhorova, a Russian Studies and Film/Media Studies professor, captured the Raft Debate for 2016.
This year's survivors representing their disciplines and the fate of humanity were:
Humanities: Associate Professor Elena Prokhorova [Russian Studies & Film/Media Studies]. Born in the Soviet Union and educated in the US, she is interested in the historical and cultural forces that shape our everyday experiences, social relations, understanding of selves and others. Her primary research focuses on the media and popular culture. She has published on the history of Soviet cinema and television, post-Soviet media and ideology, as well as a variety of genres of visual culture and the "work" they do in society. Prokhorova was a recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Alumni Fellowship Award at the College. Her courses range from Russian and world cinema, to memory and mythology of WWII's Eastern Front, to the Russian language. She enjoys traveling, Vietnamese food, and occasional coding.
Social Sciences: Assistant Professor Marcus Holmes [Government]. Prof. Holmes studies international relations and specializes in diplomacy. He is particularly interested in understanding under what conditions personally meeting face-to-face with a leader from an enemy state can result in cooperation or exacerbate conflict. While a social scientist, Holmes is sympathetic to the natural sciences and even draws upon social neuroscience and biology to make many of his arguments. He runs the Political Psychology and International Relations lab in which his students conduct independent and group research projects at the intersection of international politics and psychology. Holmes is also an avid marathoner and ultra-marathoner and hopes to complete a 50 mile race soon.
Natural and Computational Sciences: Professor Rowan Lockwood [Geology]. Prof. Lockwood is a paleobiologist who specializes in the effects of climate change and mass extinction in the fossil record. She and her students use data from fossil shellfish to predict how biodiversity in the oceans will respond to future changes in temperature, harvesting, and ocean acidification. In the past three years, she has published in Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, been awarded two National Science Foundation grants, and been invited to present her work at the 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston. Lockwood has won several prestigious awards during her career, including a British Marshall Scholarship, Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence, and was named one of the top 300 professors in the U.S. by Princeton Review.
The Devil's Advocate will be played by Associate Professor Ryan Vinroot [Mathematics]. Prof. Vinroot joined the William & Mary Mathematics Department in 2008. His research is in representation theory and combinatorics, which is the math more like Dungeons & Dragons, rather than anything useful or applied. He's pretty sure that's why he was asked to be the Devil's Advocate.
The Judge will be played by Virginia Torczon, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, Arts & Sciences.