Resources for... William & Mary
William & Mary W&M menu close William & Mary

W&M's annual Raft Debate set for March 14

  • Who will win?
    Who will win?  W&M's annual Raft Debate asks professors to defend their respective disciplines.  
Photo - of -

The 2019 Raft Debate, a much beloved William & Mary tradition, will be held at the Sadler Center in Chesapeake ABC, on March 14 at 6:30 p.m.

Sponsored by the Office of Graduate Studies and Research, the Graduate Center and the A&S Graduate Student Association, the debate is free and open to the public. 

During the annual event, three survivors of an imaginary shipwreck — a scientist, a social scientist and a humanist — achieve a delicate balance between comedy and lecture as they debate the value of their respective discipline for the rest of humanity. Only one of these professors can return to civilization in the life raft. A fourth faculty member, a devil’s advocate, joins the survivors and argues sarcastically that none of the academic disciplines are worth saving.

The winner of the debate is chosen by a judge based on audience reaction.

This year’s survivors representing their disciplines and the fate of humanity are:

Humanities: Associate Professor of Religious Studies Annie Blazer

Blazer’s courses cover religion in America from the colonial to contemporary period. In particular, Blazer's courses investigate the relationships between religions and American culture, paying attention to race, class, gender, and sexuality. Blazer's first book, Playing for God: Evangelical Women and the Unintended Consequences of Sports Ministry, was released in July 2015. The book is an ethnographic exploration of the religious experiences of Christian athletes in the U.S. Blazer’s current research project investigates the effects of gentrification and re-urbanization on religious communities and focuses on the East End of Richmond, Virginia. She has been the recipient of the Alumni Fellowship Award and serves as a Reveley Interdisciplinary Fellow.

Social Sciences: Assistant Professor of Economics John Lopresti

Lopresti is an economist with a focus on issues in international trade. His work explores the connection between theory and empirics, with an emphasis on the policy and welfare implications of trade. Specifically, his research examines the effects of trade over the past quarter century on individuals, businesses and communities and the ways in which these groups have adjusted to disruptions caused by globalization. His home is in the economics department, but he is also a member of the International Relations Program, and teaches international trade policy in the Master of Public Policy Program. He was the 2016-2017 Tang Fellow in Economics.

Natural and Computational Sciences: Associate Professor of Biology M. Drew LaMar

LaMar is a mathematical and computational biologist specializing in mathematical modeling, software development and faculty development. He enjoys co-advising students working on biological problems with a highly interdisciplinary focus and working with biology faculty to incorporate quantitative and computational techniques into their teaching. Student research projects include using algebraic topology to understand the dynamics of neuronal networks and using mathematical models to predict the effect of demography and plant traits for milkweed on population growth. LaMar is co-director for the mathematical biology track of the Computational and Applied Mathematics and Statistics Program, co-principal investigator and director of cyber infrastructure for the National Science Foundation-funded QUBES virtual network of mathematics and biology educators and an Edward Coco Faculty Fellow.

The Devil's Advocate: Provost and Professor of Classical Studies Michael R. Halleran

Halleran has served as the university’s provost since 2009. As the university’s chief academic officer, Halleran is responsible for all academic and research programs, academic budgets, institutional planning, space allocation and faculty development. He played a leading role in implementing the William & Mary Promise, which increased access, affordability and predictability for in-state students, while providing more resources for university priorities. He established the Creative Adaptation Fund for curricular innovation, has expanded e-learning across the campus and, with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, created the W. Taylor Reveley, III Interdisciplinary Fellows Program.

Halleran helped establish a Confucius Institute in partnership with Beijing Normal University, and has overseen a major rise in international students on campus and the success of the joint-degree program with St. Andrews University, Scotland. The provost office’s faculty hiring and diversity initiative has increased the diversity of the faculty.

Halleran attended Kenyon College (A.B., 1975) and received his graduate degrees in classical philology from Harvard University (A.M., 1978; Ph.D., 1981). His teaching and scholarship have focused on ancient Greek language, literature, intellectual history and mythology, and his publications (articles, books and translations) are primarily on Greek tragedy, with a particular emphasis on the protean playwright Euripides.

The judge will be played by Virginia Torczon, dean of Graduate Studies and Research, Arts & Sciences.

For more information, visit the event webpage or contact Chasity Roberts at