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The 2019 Huang Fellows Debate

The Huang Fellows Debate Whether Criminal DNA Should Be Stored in a National Database

When many envision a Memorial Day weekend, barbecues, pools and board games fill the imagination. Instead, the Huang Fellows took a different approach to our long weekend; one of points, clashes, and rebuttals. We partitioned ourselves into our respective teams, holed up in the various corners of 300 Swift, to prepare for our motion:

“Should DNA samples be collected from every person arrested and stored in a national database for use in criminal investigations?”

Split our teams, we set about our work (with a short break where we all came together for our weekly viewing of ABC’s The Bachelorette).

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When our team first assembled, we instinctually leaned towards choosing the negative –it seemed self-evident that allowing police access to our genetic material was a perilous suggestion; we hypothesized that it would exacerbate pre-existing racial disparities, targeted policing, and the swift evasion of informed consent reminded us all of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis study. So when we were chosen to be the affirmative, we put our personal beliefs aside, and set ourselves upon the proposition.

For our team, this debate became an exercise in open-mindedness. With our beliefs suspended, we all ventured into the abyss of research papers, opinion pieces and structural analyses, only to find that the core of our statistics and evidence would come from much closer to home –a paper published in Science and Society’s very own Journal Of Law and the Biosciences. As we reflected on arguments of racial policing, recidivism and the nature of justice, we found ourselves not just suspending our personal beliefs, but rejecting them entirely.

On an academic level, the lessons of intellectual flexibility, of gracious disagreement and logical inference will touch every part of our summer, the next four years, and the rest of our lives.

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Personally, I see our success in the debate as a function of starting with the opposite position –we understood it, we embodied it and we believed it. Thus, when we had to come up with counter-arguments, and counter-counter arguments, the process was that much easier. We were taught, through first-hand experience, that discourse relied on holistic understanding of the arguments of all parties involved, and I believe that this teaching has had bled into all of our seminars and dinner discussions thus far. When we entered the increasingly homely halls of the North Building, we espoused a position diametrically opposite to our original one.

I’ve neglected the debate itself intentionally-in my humble opinion, the actual debate and its outcome was the least important part of this process. The weekend we spent together brought a set of relative strangers closer together, through the shared meals seasoned with policing jargon. On an academic level, the lessons of intellectual flexibility, of gracious disagreement and logical inference will touch every part of our summer, the next four years, and the rest of our lives.


Ishaan Kumar, Huang Fellow ’22

Ishaan KumarIshaan is from London, England and is planning on majoring in Philosophy, with English and Chemistry minors.