Debate Team Competes in World Championship

Jessie Markovetz

During winter break, Colgate’s Debate Society participated in the World Universities Debating Championship at Assumption University in Thailand. During their 10-day stay in Thailand, the debaters were involved in several rounds of debate and brought Colgate University their best finish in recent memory.

Until just four years ago, Colgate University hadn’t had a Debate Society on campus since the early 1970s, making this trip to the World Championship especially sweet. Debate Society Vice President sophomore Mike Schneider was one of the students who was selected to represent Colgate in Thailand.

“We had a rigorous try-out process within the team for the spots; about 25 people tried out for the 8 spots,” Schneider said. “[Debating] Rounds were judged and the people with the highest scores went.”

The World Universities Debating Championship is the world’s largest debating tournament and is hosted at different universities around the world by the World Universities Debating Council. The Council is responsible for the policy, procedure and judgment of the teams. The competition had very strict policies on debating procedure and format. Teams are split up into pairs of two, and go through nine preliminary rounds, getting matched up with better teams as the rounds progress.

“You have 15 minutes to prep the motion, and you need enough material for a seven minute speech,” Schneider said. These “motions” cover every topic imaginable and teams are randomly asked to take the “proposition” or “opposition” side.

Anywhere between 150 to 350 teams participate in the tournament from countries all over the world and over 1,000 individual debaters were recorded in some instances.

“Everyone has to debate in English,” Schneider said. During the first nine qualifying rounds, teams are randomly assigned, regardless of their native language. After these rounds however, teams split up in the main draw of English speaking debaters, and an ESL – English as a Second Language – draw to eliminate the disadvantage to non-native English speakers. A champion team is then chosen from each draw.

“We put up our best performance since the group was re-started,” Schneider said. “Our best speakers finished in the low 200s out of about 1,000 debaters.” This remarkable finish for such a newly reinstated group made this tournament one of the highlights of the season. However, the Debate Society competes in many other tournaments against rival schools and even flew to Oregon for the United States National Championships.

“[The trips are] very intellectually stimulating, but we have a lot of time to have fun,” Schneider said.

The Debate Society has grown from approximately four members who re-started the group in 2003, to just over 30 students who regularly attend meetings. Every Monday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m., the Debate Society holds an ongoing tournament for members to practice their techniques and hone their skills. Their meetings prepare participants for large-scale competition and allow students to have a good time discussing everything from politics to Colgate policy. In order to become a member of the Debate Society, “All you have to do is show up to practice,” Schneider said.

Upcoming events include a debate between Colgate University’s College Democrats and College Republicans as the primary race begins to heat up. Environmental groups on campus will also be getting involved on the debate scene.