Rutgers University Debate Union hosts tournament for high school students


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Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

The Rutgers University Debate Union hosted its first high school tournament. University students mentored their younger counterparts before they competed in a mock debate near the end of the day.


More than 60 high school students from around the state gathered for the Rutgers University Debate Union's (RUDU) first ever debate tournament on Sunday to discuss topics ranging from pop culture and ethics to current events.

The purpose of the debate tournament, held in Scott Hall on the College Avenue campus, was to provide high school students with an educational and informative experience.

The debate tournament was organized by RUDU in collaboration with the High School Public Debate Program, a new parliamentary debate league in the New England-New Jersey district.

"The aim of holding such tournaments is to allow high-schoolers, especially from low-income areas, access to forensics-speech and debate, which has been empirically shown to improve educational attainment and civic engagement,” said Pasha Temkin, the president of RUDU and School of Arts and Sciences junior.

RUDU is specifically looking to expose high school students to parliamentary debate and recruit potential students for the Rutgers team, Temkin said.

Rutgers offered their space to host the tournament, said Steve Fitzpatrick, the president of the High School Public Debate and the program coach at Hackley High School.

“We recognized that there was a need and interest for high school parliamentary debate to engage high school students in the act of debate and the art of debate, so we founded the league in the spring with the idea of running five tournaments over the course of the year,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick — who has been an educator for more than 20 years — said the debate teaches students public speaking, argument formation and research skills.

“I think it’s so important that any university, that is actually committing itself to be a community institution should go act locally, while training its students to think globally,” Tournament Director Kurt Falk said. “That’s what we do here. We get students from all over the tri-state area and we engage them in the global issues that are going to define their world.”

After the tournament, Falk said he hopes high school students will walk away with more confidence in their speaking abilities. He hopes students will sharpen their critical eyes to the issues that surround them.

“If that happens, this tournament would be a success. It’s competitive, but it’s not about the awards at the end of the day, it’s about the educational opportunity they get from it,” Falk said.

The debate tournament helps RUDU members give back to the community, Falk said. 

In the past, RUDU hosted tournaments open to other college debate teams. The club has also organized several smaller-scale tournaments at local high school locations.

The high school debate league is still relatively new, Falk said, so it is important that the group is able to run the tournament and help develop their skills. 

Having Rutgers University as a keystone of the high school debate league landscape is going to help grow debate in New Jersey astronomically, Falk said.

“We are looking forward to hosting more high school tournaments in the future,” Temkin said.


Thomas Lohan is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.


Thomas Lohan

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