Debate Union cooks up arguments for competition


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Photo by Courtesy of Henry Phipps |

Rutgers University Debate Union member Sean Leonard argues against the United States signing the Outer Space Security and Development treaty in Novice Semifinals at Johns Hopkins University.


The Rutgers University Debate Union, ranked the sixth best parliamentary debate team in the country, is preparing for this week’s tournament at Columbia University, where members could take on cases about the Syrian rebellion or hostages in Mali.

The team competes within the American Parliamentary Debate Association and goes head-to-head with top-ranked schools such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Harvard, said Storey Clayton, the team’s coach.

Aside from competing in tournaments, RUDU participates in public debates on campus on topics relevant to the student body, said Clayton, a senior program administrator at the University.

With about 60 members, the team sends out about 10 to 15 students to compete every weekend during the school year.

Competitions are held in a two-by-two format, where topics can range from current events to historical events, he said.

Clayton said he was a successful debate member in high school and at Brandeis University, where he graduated from in 2002.

“My history teacher in high school told me I’d probably be good at it,” he said.

Wanting to get involved in debating again, he started off as a volunteer at the University and soon after got a job at the school managing RUDU.

Under Clayton’s coaching, the team ranked ninth in the country last year, and fifth in the nation for the 2010-2011 school year. RUDU was named the sixth best team in the 2012 North American Parliamentary Debate Championship, he said.

Clayton prepares debaters by improving their speaking styles, teaching them how to think quickly and using arguments that can be applied to almost any topic.

“A lot of it is about thinking in a way [where you ask yourself], ‘Why are things the way they are, and what’s the logic behind it?’” he said.

Consistently placing high, Clayton said the debate team brings honor and prestige for the University.

“In the last few years, Rutgers has finished well ahead of Princeton and a number of Ivy League schools,” he said.

The tournaments are usually held for two days, Fridays and Saturdays, with each round lasting for about 45 minutes, Clayton said.

Each team is made up of two members and is appointed to either the government, which presents a case for something to be changed, or the opposition, which argues that the case should remain the same, he said.

Chris Bergman, president of RUDU, said he is very proud of his team.

The School of Arts and Sciences senior said what he loves about being on the debate team is that it is the most interesting, fun and rewarding activity he has participated in.

“I have gained very valuable skills, have become more confident and am able to think logically, [which are things] I will use for the rest of my life,” Bergman said.

Henry Phipps, public relations chair for the team, said he enjoys being able to use logical framework to strategically win arguments against opponents.

Phipps, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said The College of New Jersey’s debate team is the debate union’s sibling team and they often practice together.

Unlike other rival schools, the RUDU does not require a tryout for membership. Clayton said the debate team is welcome to everyone.

“We give everyone a try,” he said.

Clayton attributes RUDU’s openness to its many successes.

“It’s hard to know what talents people have before they try it,” he said.

Official practices are held two times a week, but some members meet separately to practice more often, Bergman said.

Students can catch RUDU in action on Sept. 24 at the Douglass Campus Center, where they will hold a debate in honor of this week’s Constitution Day.

“I have very high hopes for this year’s team,” Bergman said. “We have a lot of great talent."


By Natalie Mieles

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