you were the
mayor of a city and you had to decide whether to hire and train
either 50 new policemen or four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,
which would you choose?
God were walking toward you on the street, and suddenly pulled
out a knife and stabbed you, would
it be morally
correct to stab God back?
important, how quickly could you construct an argument for
hiring the Turtles, or for stabbing God?
debaters have had to do just that, although the questions usually
concern weightier matters, such as whether the U.S. should withdraw
from the UN, or whether violent overthrow of an objectionable
government is better than incremental change from within a
month 28 Mount Holyoke College students took
up both meaningful and lighter questions when the College’s
debating society hosted its annual tournament. Mount Holyoke
students did not compete because, as hosts, they were required
and were not allowed to judge their teammates under the rules
hybrid team of Ariana Kelly (above) of Harvard University
and Alan Lawn of Amherst College won the competition.
theme of “Arabian Nights” was
chosen to give the event what organizer Neha Shah ’07
called a multicultural, Mount Holyoke flavor. Debaters were
Arabic food and music, a cappella singers, and a belly dancer.
all, 20 schools sent 54 two-person teams to the event, according
to Shah, who said
she was particularly proud of
the high turnout
because Stanford University, Temple University, and the
London School of Economics all hosted tournaments the same
One of the
participants, Harvard University fourth-year student David
Kimel, called this year’s Mount Holyoke tournament
the best he’s
ever attended. “They really went the extra mile to
ensure that everyone had a wonderful time,” Kimel
food and good parties can make a tournament stand out, but
every tournament has at its core five rounds of
which two two-person teams argue an issue before a student
Though public speaking is just behind dying on most people’s
list of things they’d rather not do, these students
see debating tournaments as the chance to engage in a
really good argument with
someone who likes to argue just as much as they do.
a way, it’s just the formalization of that time-honored
college tradition, the late-night philosophical argument.
But while the latter takes place in a dorm room, with
anyone who happens
to be around, debating tournaments give students the
chance to travel to college campuses all over the country.
Holyoke’s debating society was founded
more than 100 years ago, and is the oldest collegiate
team for women in the U.S.
For new students, the beauty of parliamentary debate
is that anyone can do it; no research or previous
knowledge or experience is required. “We’re
always open to having new people start,” said
novice coordinator Sara Marquis ’07.
each debate, one team, known as the government, chooses
a question that must be within the scope
of a well-read
student. Teams are expected to prepare arguments
on their chosen topics, or cases, in advance, but
aren’t allowed to
research their cases because their arguments must
be rooted not in evidence,
but in logic.
cases involve serious issues, but some teams bring wackier
questions, like the
one about the
come unprepared, and must think up a case on
the spot. Stephanie Robinson ’08 said the best
example she knows of this was the government
team that argued their judge should go on a date
one of them.
a good case might be difficult, but arguing against a prepared
case carries its own
team must construct
its argument while the government is presenting
its case, which requires some pretty fast thinking.
power: if a
debater must argue that the U.S. should withdraw
from the UN, then a thorough knowledge of world
politics is obviously
happens when an opposition team is confronted with a subject
about which its members know
said she ran into that problem at a Princeton University debate,
when the team she faced proposed changes to the
wing it,” said Marquis.