Henry Taylor wins UB's Life Raft Debate

Henry Louis Taylor Jr. speaking.

Henry Louis Taylor Jr. holding the oar, his prize for winning the eighth annual Life Raft Debate. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

by Tyler Madell

Published February 21, 2019

If you could take one expert with you on a life raft to a post-Apocalyptic survivor community, which would it be?

Winning this year's Life Raft Debate, Henry Taylor convinced a panel of students that an urban planner would bring vital knowledge for rebuilding society, more so than a chemist, community health expert, literary scholar, or political scientist. 

The annual UB Honors College and Experiential Learning Network sponsored Life Raft Debate imagines a parallel universe where climate change renders Earth uninhabitable and UB students and faculty must build a spacecraft to start a new society on Mars. When the spacecraft is completed, the survivors realize that of the six professors and the disciplines they represent, only one will fit aboard the spaceship. 

The audience then answers the question: Which professor and discipline are worth saving?

Given his years of experience studying the crippling effects of inequities that define urban spaces, Taylor articulated the vital role that planning would have to take in this new society in order to ensure these inequities not be repeated. 

He said, “The survivors can and must do better, but this will require imagining a different, but possible world: a society that is more just, equitable and inclusive than the old one. It will require having the capacity and the tools to design, plan and build that ultimate world.

“Urban planning is not only essential; it is indispensable. My discipline is preeminently positioned to play a leading role in building such a just society.”

Nikolaus Wasmoen a visiting assistant professor in the Department of English, spoke about how his scholarship preserves the legacies of past artists and writers.

“You should save me because I’ll help you save who you’ve been and save all the people you have not been,” he said. “I’ll show you how to come to terms with imperfect memory, fragile records and to shore up the memories you cherish the most."

Other competitors in the debate included Michelle Benson, associate professor in the Department of Political Science; Sharonah Fredrick clinical assistant professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures; Joseph Gardella Jr., SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; and Jessica Kruger, Clinical assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior.

Using smart phones, audience members voted on who should be saved. After a close contest, Taylor emerged as the winner.