The Art of Arguing

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - 13:34
By Lindsey Whitmore '07

The Mount Holyoke Debating Society hosted more than 30 schools from all over the East Coast on March 3 and 4 at its annual tournament. This year the event, themed "That 70s Tournament," drew teams from schools ranging from Harvard and Yale to Bowdoin, Brown, and Bates. The debaters converged at Mount Holyoke for a weekend of arguing, socializing, eating, dancing, making connections, and pushing the limits of speedy and intense intellectual debate.

"These tournaments are so great because of the exchange that takes place between students in different colleges, said junior Louis Dennig, a varsity debater at Bates who has been coming to the Mount Holyoke tournament since his freshman year as a novice. "It's so interesting to see how people from other schools respond to your arguments, and how that differs from the way people respond at your own school," Dennig said.

Months of preparation go into planning the tournament, in which Mount Holyoke debaters, as hosts, can't participate. Everything is carefully and meticulously planned, from finding MHC students willing to open up their dorm room floors to coordinating the 45 pizzas ordered to feed everyone after the first two intense rounds of debate Friday night.

"I love hosting the tournament," said Sandhya Kumar ''07, the debate team chair for two years. "So many facets of the weekend are great--especially seeing everyone buzzing and socializing between rounds. It's such a combination of the intellectual and social and we're happy to have everyone coming out for it this weekend."

The party on Friday night is also a highlight, featuring a strict debaters-only guest list. "It's my favorite part of the weekend," said Neha Shah '07,tournament director. "It's a great way to get to know people from other schools in a nondebate, nonformal setting."

The intellectual components of the weekend are certainly not to be overlooked. Teams consisting of two debaters each constructed arguments and counterarguments within seconds, on topics ranging from the issue of privatizing Amtrak to whether or not Lois Griffin should divorce Peter Griffin on the popular television show Family Guy.

Five preliminary rounds began the tournament. Each round was judged by MHC debaters, as well as volunteering Speaking, Arguing, and Writing mentors, who all underwent rigorous training on parliamentary debate procedure and style by seasoned debate team officers. Based on their performance in these first five rounds, the top eight teams then battled it out in quarters and semis, and ultimately, the final round.

The top novice and varsity teams of the weekend were both Brown-Brandeis hybrids, meaning the teams each contained one student from each school. Runners up in both novice and varsity teams were from Harvard, and the top varsity speaker award went to Yale's Joshua Jackson.

"It speaks of the great camaraderie and collaboration between American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) schools that hybrids are so successful," Shah said. "Last year's winning team was an Amherst-Harvard hybrid."