Honors Students Start Civil Debate Podcast

From the “Love and Heartbreak” episode; left to right, Ava Nargentino, Laura Yusupova, and Olivia Sippel. Photo Courtesy of Sara Vala.

In an era of extremism and heated debates, people are now more desperate than ever for civilized, honest conversations. This is where The Honors Program Table Talk Podcast comes in, a podcast of respectful dialogue, contemporary topics, and college students’ perspectives, all headed by third-year Honors student and journalism major, Olivia Sippel aka DJ Lil Sip.

Its origins extend further back into last Spring semester, in an Honors Seminar course called “Debates in U.S. History”. The class, led by Honors Program Director and Digital Media & Journalism professor, Pat Sullivan, explored a variety of topics that may not have been taught in traditional history courses, with the overall idea, according to Sullivan, of “critical thinking and a commitment to inviting and valuing disagreement.”

One major point that Sippel took away from it was how “a lot of the times when heated conversations are brought up, a lot of people shut down and they automatically are like ‘I don’t want to talk about this,’ if you have a different opinion from them,.” she said. This isn’t an issue isolated to one area; it’s a global issue that includes SUNY New Paltz. Sippel sought to remedy that problem with her own solution by creating a platform where honest, mediated conversations can be had about current events and hot-button issues. Eventually, Sippel was given the idea to collaborate with WFNP.org to host her own show, every Wednesday at 3p.m., where she dons the name DJ Lil Sip and starts those conversations.

A typical show would begin with a general explanation, in which Sippel will read some definitions relevant to her topic and highlight any issues that’s currently trending. She does this to give whoever listens in “the same information that everyone else is starting out with.” Sippel explained that many of these arguments arise from people being on different pages, which is why it is crucial for everyone to start discussing with the same base understanding.

Once the conversation begins, Sippel is ready to keep it going until the hour’s up. “My role on the podcast is really just to serve as the person that just makes the conversation flow, and if I ever see that there’s a hiccup in the conversation or like, we’re about to basically just go silent, I’m there to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” Sippel said. She continued to explain that she is always aware of where the conversation goes and what questions to ask to either engage the other guests or move the discussion forward, leaving no room for dead air and ensuring that people are comfortable.

Sippel shared that research behind the background information and guided questions varies topic to topic. “It took me a half an hour,” she said regarding both her first episode and latest episode “Love and Heartbreak”, whereas for the Climate Change and Fast Fashion episodes, she put in, “an hour and a half to two hours.” Most of her research involves fact and source checking, ensuring that everything is correct and relevant to the discussion. Sippel also takes the time to read through her pieces, ensuring that everything flows smoothly audio-wise. When it comes to the ideas themselves, Sippel said “I’m the type of person that everything interests me.” Having this platform allows her to delve deep into topics she’s interested in and gain new or different perspectives from her guests.

Regarding the future of the podcast, Sippel has a few goals. “I hope to gain a wider audience of listeners,” she said, along with wanting “people to be open to the fact that like they’re going to be recorded and it’s going to be posted and it’s a new platform that they’re not used to- to be in the radio station for the first time.” Her main goal however is to “just start conversations about topics that a lot of students don’t want to have conversations about …” With these goals, Sippel wants to let listeners and future potential guests know that she is “open to all opinions and any conversations.”

 This sentiment includes podcast ideas and conversation topics. Pivoting back to the Honors Program, she also expressed that “One of the main reasons I also started this is because I wanted honors students to know more honors students.” She strives to build connections between Honors Students and provide them with a platform to connect with one another.

Pat Sullivan discussed the advantages of being an Honors Student, highlighting one of the greatest advantages being “…the other students.” With a wide variety of Honors Seminars and Designated Courses, as well as access to different trips and events, Honors Students are given many opportunities to connect and learn alongside one another. Sippel offers another platform of connection for Honors students, by an Honors student.

As for future episodes, Sippel has a few ideas. Not only does she wish to explore current events, but also topics that pertain to her own life as a college student. As a full-time student working 32-38 hours per week, she wants to touch upon the topic of working through college, and its impact on students. Another topic idea speaks to college and adult transitional periods, and the newfound responsibilities that come with those. For now, there are no plans to slow down, as Sippel keeps moving forward, coming on air each Wednesday for all of SUNY New Paltz to tune in and learn.

For updates regarding future episodes, check out the Honors Program’s Instagram page @nphonors.

Anyone interested in joining the Honors Program must apply through their webpage. “…Our admission process is holistic,” said Sullivan. Anyone who has further questions may contact her at sullivapat@newpaltz.edu