The 2016 Southern Illinois University Carbondale Debate Team of Bobby Swetz, a freshman from Homewood, and Arielle Stephenson, a junior who transferred to SIU this year from El Camino Community College, has had a successful first year as a debating duo, placing second in the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) championships, held March 19-21 at California State University, Long Beach. (Photo provided)
March 23, 2016
Debaters finish one win away from national title
CARBONDALE, Ill. – The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Debate Team finished second in the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) championships, marking the sixth time in nine years SIU has advanced to the championship debate, winning four of those years.
The tournament, held March 19-21 at California State University, Long Beach, is one of two national championship collegiate debate tournaments in which SIU typically competes.
The team of Arielle Stephenson, a junior student who transferred to SIU this year from El Camino Community College, and Bobby Swetz, a freshman from Homewood, was, according to Todd Graham, director of SIU’s debate program, “the talk of the tournament.”
Graham noted that 165 teams competed in the national championship tournament. SIU placed second to a team from William Jewell College.
“There are no divisions in debate,” Graham said. “As you can expect, there are excellent teams from smaller institutions as well as from large.”
He described himself as “super proud” of the Stephenson and Swetz team.
“Arielle and Bobby exceeded all expectation we had for them at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I told everyone this was a rebuilding year, since we lost our national champion debaters from previous years to graduation, and Arielle and Bobby were so young. When they heard me telling people that, well, I think I made them mad.”
At any rate, he said the team redoubled its research and practice times. Graham said he stopped talking about “rebuilding” at that point. “That was when I knew we had something special,” he said.
The duo is already looking to next year. “I know Dr. Todd really wanted to continue our final four streak,” Swetz said. “I wanted to continue the SIU streak of winning a championship for a fourth, record-setting year. Arielle and I were one win away, so I guess we’ll just have to start a new streak next year.”
“Bobby and I have contrasting debating styles, and we complement each other well,” Stephenson said. “In any given debate, the judge will appreciate at least one of our styles, which gives us an advantage over our opponents.”
“We get a different topic, or resolution to debate, for each new debate round, with about 20 minutes to prepare once the topic is announced,” Graham said. “It’s tough, and the topics were quite diverse this year. Bobby and Arielle had to debate either side of topics ranging from the Fair Labor Standards Act, to whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, to topics concerning statehood for Puerto Rico, United Nations Security Council, government access to telecommunication companies’ encryption protocols and even whether or not we should increase our ice-breaking fleet.”
Graham is a recent recipient of the Quintilian Award from Point Loma Nazarene College for a long-standing devotion to collegiate debate who demonstrates a leadership role in debate and a commitment to education. He is also a presidential primary debate analyst for CNN.
SIU has won a national championship in debate in each of the last four decades -- 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1996, 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2015.