Debate

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

“…Thus I advocate for the global suicide of humanity as a solution to anthropocentrism…” I dropped my pen, frozen in shock and hilarity. Surely this was a joke; although I had only attended a few debate tournaments, I had never encountered anything so radical. Mildly flustered, I stumbled over my words trying to explain to the judge how nonsensical my opponent’s proposition was; I had scoffed at the apparent ridiculousness but couldn’t quite articulate why this was so appalling. When the judge announced the decision in favor of my opponent, I was in disbelief—I couldn’t fathom how anyone could vote for such an obviously facetious argument—until he explained his decision. I realized that my opponent wasn’t seriously arguing for global suicide, but was merely using it as a starting point for discussion: he was provoking us to think, and think critically.

Debate is far more than just an activity: it’s a universe, a space for advocacy, change, discussion, humor, a microcosm of the political world. Debate offered a space in which I could role-play as a policymaker in my tattered hoodie and basketball shorts and tackle real-world social issues while sipping a Coke.

The progressive nature of the debate space allows it to accommodate a variety of arguments, ranging from micro-political advocacies to criticisms of representations. Debaters so frequently discuss the pressing issues of our time and thoroughly interrogate proposed solutions. Congressional bills, revisions to international law, consulting the Ministry of Magic, and every other imaginable policy option had a place. For every argument justifying a potential policy, there was another criticizing it, exposing its concealed social problems. I learned about everything from ableism to colonialism and began to understand the permeating effects of these “-isms” on our society. My participation in this wonderful activity was a taste of reality that brought me out of the cave; it was a rude awakening, opening my eyes to the harsh sunlight until I craved more, no longer wishing to be blind.

I remember the 2015 March/April topic was “Resolved: Just governments ought to ensure food security for their citizens.” I initially perceived the topic as heavily skewed—how would anyone argue that food security is immoral? Sure enough, debate slowly unraveled the intricacies intrinsic to such complicated issues. By debating with others who had approached the resolution from different angles, I was exposed to arguments I hadn’t previously considered, such as disadvantages to the plan arguing that increasing food production is unsustainable or interpretations of the topic advocating for security from humans for the plants and animals that constitute food.

Fundamentally, debate is about challenging others’ beliefs, but through my debate experience, I challenged my own preconceived notions of society. Debate revealed to me the concealed darkness and complexity of the world of today and taught me that a multifaceted approach to problem solving is necessary; social issues must be deconstructed and critically examined from multiple perspectives before a solution can be reached. Debate woke me up from my naïve slumber and provided me an avenue for political experimentation. The debate space was effectively a trial site for policy action, and I was an eager beta-tester. Debate taught me that pure idealism fails in practice, that one man can’t change the world, but together, we can teach the world to change itself.

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