January 11, 2016

SIU team competes in world debate championships

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Debate Team went on the road and over the sea early in January to compete in the World University Debating Championships in Thessaloniki, Greece. 

More than 400 teams from 160 universities in 70 countries participated in the debate championship. The SIU teams finished higher than past SIU teams, finishing ahead of teams from Harvard, Duke, Columbia and Brandeis Universities, and ahead of teams from universities in Berlin, Munich, London, Vienna, Stockholm and others. 

It was an impressive list of teams, Todd Graham, director of the debate program, said, noting that 15 of the top 20 ranked university debate programs in the United States were present. He thinks the world debate format may be the wave of the future for collegiate debate in the United States. 

“It’s important to begin learning now this style, since it is the fastest-growing form of debate in the world, including in the United States,” he said. “For the past 30 years, SIU has always been ahead of the curve in debate. We’ve adapted to changing formats and styles, and I intend to continue that approach. We want to be on the forefront of the largest form of debate in the world, and we still are – we’ve won three consecutive national championships. But if many universities shift to this WUDC style, I plan to have SIU out in front and competitive as soon as possible.” 

In the style of debate to which SIU teams are most accustomed, two teams of two debaters each oppose each other on an assigned issue, with one team in favor of a given policy and the other opposed, resulting in a winning team and a losing team for each individual debate. In the WUCD debates, four teams of two debaters each compete, with two teams aligned on opposing sides of the issue. The judges rank the teams first through fourth place, depending not only on how well the teams argue their assigned topic but also how well they contribute to the debate without contradicting the team with which they are temporarily partnered. SIU currently competes in this format only every few years. 

The SIU debaters found the experience enlightening, both the form of debate and the environment of it. “Although learning this type of debate was challenging, it was worth it in the end to see how well we adapted and how impressed the adjudicators were by our performance. I'd say we did pretty well -- beating SIU's previous record at Worlds was a huge accomplishment,” Ariana Arnone, a senior communication studies major from Chicago, said. “Debating at the world championship was such a rich, diverse experience. It was amazing to meet so many other students from so many different countries who share a similar passion for debate.” Arnone’s debate partner was Zach Schneider, a post-graduate student majoring in computer science. 

Arielle Stephenson, a junior from Torrance, Calif., majoring in economics, agreed, saying, “It allowed me to appreciate and recognize the diversity and education that we share around the world.”

Her debate partner, Bobby Swetz, a freshman from Chicago majoring in economics with an international focus, said, "The tournament was profoundly educational and exposed me to a variety of perspectives and cultures."

“I am so proud of our performance at this tournament, it's a really big deal,” Arnone added. “We would not have done this well absent amazing coaching, university and administrator support, and such dedicated, strong teammates.”

The team has participated in the world championships twice before, once in Germany and once in Ireland. Graham noted that in the United States, on international issues debaters focus on U.S. policy. That’s not necessarily the case in the world championships, and that’s an extra challenge for the debate team. Not only do they have to be well-versed in current topics of international importance, but they also have to be prepared to argue from a point of view with which they may not be immediately familiar.

“We reached our goals,” Graham said. “Our goal was to perform better than previous WUDC competitions and we succeeded in that goal, finishing in the top half of the competition. I was pleased with our performance.”

The SIU debate team readies itself now for the intense second half of the collegiate debate season, with national championships on the horizon in March with both the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (where they are reigning champions) and the National Parliamentary Debate Association Nationals.