Debate team ranks 12th in nation


The Rutgers University Debate Union feels it has seen success many times over the past year since the arrival of debate coach Storey Clayton.

Under his guidance, the team has become a nationally ranked program, Clayton said. As of last week, the RUDU was ranked 12th in the country.

"Our seniors are making a lot of waves," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be in the top 10 for most of the year."

The team is part of the American Parliamentary Debate Association, which consists of more than 50 collegiate debate programs, according to the RUDU website. Included in this league are the Ivy League schools, Johns Hopkins University and the College of William & Mary.

"It's really exciting because these are some of the premiere schools on the east coast," Clayton said. "It's really exciting for a plucky state school to go up, compete and succeed."

Although the team has been performing well in competition, their track record is not because of strict entry standards.

David Reiss, president of RUDU, had no experience debating in high school and joined the team based solely on the interactions he had at meetings and in practice rounds of debate.

"I just showed up," said Reiss, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

RUDU members are not required to attend every meeting, only the ones before a tournament they would like to compete in. No experience is required to join.

The actual art of parliamentary debate is one of the drawing points for many RUDU competitors.

Unlike formal debate, roles are assigned in parliamentary debate. One side is the "government," and the other side is the "opposition," Reiss said.

The government team decides a topic for each round, while the opposition remains out of the loop until the debate begins, he said. Teams go back and forth with arguments and rebuttals for the length of the debate.

But the rigid structure of parliamentary debate does not always reflect the topics that are discussed.

Sometimes the topics will be straightforward, Reiss said. They will bring up current issues such as foreign policy, the legalization of marijuana or the repealing of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Other times there will be some off-color debates.

When Reiss first joined RUDU, he brought up the dilemma of whether it was right for a parent to let their child know that Santa Claus does not exist.

"I love the issues that are just funny cases," said Brian Canares, a University graduate student.

Some students involved in RUDU cite the organization's preparation for the real world as their main inspiration for debating.

"Every job in the world is looking for people with great communication skills," Clayton said. "No one is born knowing how to be a public speaker. It's something that everyone has to learn. Everyone can benefit from debating."

Students see their work with the debate union pay off in the classroom as well.

Reiss said his ability to write in his classes improved from his experience with RUDU and knows it will help him in the future.

"My ability to write an essay is so different now," he said. "I've gotten so good at formulating arguments on my feet. That's why I do it."

RUDU Vice President of Public Relations Krishna Kavi said the organization gives her a new forum to talk about issues.

"I can discuss things here that I'm not able to discuss with a normal person on the street," said Kavi, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. "I learn so much every weekend, every tournament. You never know what side you're going to be on, so it helps you see both sides of an issue."

For Canares, the experiences that come with the debate team offer much more.

"I like the people that are here. Some of my strongest friendships have come from the debate union," he said. "It's a very good environment, and it's the kind of place I really want to be. Everything that is applicable to real life, I've taken away from debate."


Mike Davis

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