Rutgers Debate Union ties with Harvard, behind Princeton, Brandeis


The Rutgers University Debate Union ranks third in the American Parliamentary Debate Association, following Brandeis University and Yale University.

The results from their latest competition leave them tied with Harvard University, and in high morale.

Ashley Novak, president of the debate team, said the high rank is causing students to push themselves and run practice sessions outside of scheduled practice time.

“It’s a very good position to start at. We’ve never been this high this early in the year,” said Novak, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “To start off this high is a good sign, because that means we have more potential for going upward.”

Novak said Rutgers had never before made it past the preliminary round for this particular competition, the Johns Hopkins University tournament.

Deepta Janardhan, the novice mentor for RUDU, has been running events to help train novice debaters gain experience for competing with the team, Novak said.

Since the team finished last year in third place, she said their goal is to move up to second or first. 

Rachel Moon, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said effective coaching is a part of the reason why the team is doing so well this year.

“Coaching is definitely a very big part of it. … They’re always around to help us write cases or to perfect our cases in general and also to make sure that we have good presentation when we’re debating,” she said.

Moon said the fact that RUDU does not hold tryouts or cut members from the team has contributed to their success. 

“We don’t do tryouts because [our coach] believes that that’s really the way that you build a strong team, even if they’re not very good at debate at first,” she said.

Storey Clayton, head coach of the debate team, said by making cuts, other schools might let go of students who may not necessarily have previous debate experience but may end up being hard workers. 

“Hard work is kind of the equalizer, because it doesn’t matter where you go to school or what your reputation is. As long as you put in the work and build the skills, you can be better than those schools,” he said.

By not cutting anyone, Clayton said the team gives everyone room to improve at their own pace.

“I actually think that’s one of the reasons we are contending to beat some of these sort of higher profile teams — because they let go of a lot of their talent, and we try to foster everybody,” he said.

It is difficult to evaluate who will be a good debater before they are on the team, because while talent is part of it, so is hard work. Clayton said some students might be great public speakers, but do not want to put in the commitment required to improve.

He also said the team’s morale is especially high right now, because they had not performed particularly well at the tournament in previous years.

“To be the only team to put three teams in the top 10 is a really good kick start for the year,” he said. “We knew this year was going to be special but this is probably exceeding already our expectations, so that’s exciting to get off on the right foot.”

Clayton said the students have worked incredibly hard and are now very motivated to move forward.

“Our realistic goals for the year is to try to contend for the number one ranking and the national championship,” he said.

It is no certainty that the team will move up in ranking, but Clayton said they have a legitimate shot.

“When you have a school like Rutgers consistently beating teams like Princeton, you know, finishing ahead of Harvard last year and contending to beat Yale, that’s really exciting,” he said.


By Sabrina Szteinbaum

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