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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Meet the 2023 Life Raft Debate competitors

UB’s 12th annual debate has professors battling to prove the merit of their disciplines in a post-apocalyptic scenario

Joseph Costa won the 2022 Life Raft Debate, representing the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Science.
Joseph Costa won the 2022 Life Raft Debate, representing the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Science.

Which discipline would you trust to rebuild civilization in a post-apocalyptic world?

UB students will vote on which of six professors — each representing a different field of study — they’ll bring with them to create a new society during the university’s 12th annual Life Raft Debate on March 6 from 6-8 p.m. at the SU Theatre.

The professors will debate the significance of their studies in a fictional end-of-the-world scenario to win the final seat on a life raft.

Here’s what to know about the candidates:

Martha Bohm

Bohm is an associate professor in the architecture department and the associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Architecture and Planning.

With a focus on sustainable design and a background in earth and planetary sciences, Bohm aims to design buildings with a “more sustainable and resilient relationship” to the environment.

“I love the question that the debate is centered around, about surviving a nuclear disaster apocalypse and we’re setting off to build a new world,” she said. “That’s what architects do — we create visions for new futures… create places with meaning and value.”

She aims to move away from the traditional model of architecture, where the vision of a new future is often held by a “male white architect.” She wants to prove to the students that architecture can be “fresh, innovative and forward looking,” despite the discipline’s long history.

Chad Lavin

Lavin is an English professor in the field of political theory and will be defending political theory during the debate. He is interested in the way language is used in how it “provides people with purpose” and in struggles over power.

He aims to show students the history and influence of political theorists, from those who have helped dictators control their civilizations to those who have been “good at humiliating” them, as well as the “craft of language” and the stories that are used to form a civilization.

Cecilia Martinez Leon

Leon is an associate professor of teaching at the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the director of the Engineering Management Program.“There’s a saying that failing to plan is planning to fail…and IE’s [industrial engineers] do a lot of planning because we like to anticipate things before they occur, so we’re not caught by surprise.”

She aims to “bring the latina flavor” and prove that her discipline acts as the “glue of the other disciplines,” making processes better and more efficient.

Noemi Waight

Waight is an associate professor of science education in the Department of Learning and Instruction. Her research is broad, spanning from social justice to the nature of technology. 

“The future needs science educators to tackle some of the most crucial problems of the world, which focuses on food insecurity, climate change, [etc.]” she said. “Science education is going to be instrumental for those thinking about these issues and coming up with solutions for these issues into the future.”

She aims to showcase science education to the UB community, a “small but mighty” field. 

As a woman of color and a self-described differently-abled individual, Waight applauds the life raft debate as a platform for students to be able to see diverse range of disciplines and people. She hopes to see a more “tangible” award to benefit the students, such as creating a scholarship for a student to be able to work with the winning competitor. 

Joseph Costa

Costa won the 2022 Life Raft Debate, representing the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Science. He credits his win last year to his discipline being “incredibly practical” for the life-or-death scenario presented.

“At the very least, I provided an immediate practicality,” he said. “The understanding of the human body, how it’s put together, how it functions… It’s kind of difficult to ignore not just the practicality in the short term, but also the long term.”

He will be acting as the devil’s advocate to convince UB students that all of the professors should not be offered a seat on the raft. While he prefers to not reveal his full strategy, he intends to use his background in speech and debate to recognize the weaknesses in the other faculty members’ arguments. 

Mark Frank, representing the Communication Department, did not respond in time for publication.

Jasmin Yeung is a features editor and can be reached at



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