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Winning Debates by Clubbing Baby Seals

April 9, 2009

by The Forum
Winning Debates by Clubbing Baby Seals

The Claremont Colleges Debate Union competed over the weekend at the 2009 US Universities National Debating Championships. Five of the nine Claremont teams attending the event won awards at the tournament; in fact, Claremont won more awards than any other college or university attending the tournament. They did it with style too. Nick Hubbard (Pomona '11) told the audience “my opponent’s arguments are cute and innocent, much like a baby seal. I will be clubbing their case with my own arguments.” That they did.

The team of Charlie Sprague (CMC ‘10) and Raymond Lu (Pomona ’11) placed ninth. The teams of Cassie Gurrola (CMC ’11) and Holly Poole (Scripps ’09), Nick Hubbard (Pomona ’11) and Joe Witte (Pomona ’11), and Jacinth Sohi (CMC 11’) and Adriane Holter (Pitzer ’12) were ranked among the nation’s top twenty.

This tournament was held in the British Parliamentary (BP) debate format, the most popular style of debate internationally and the fastest growing debate style in the US.  Over 124 of the best teams from universities across the US and around the world entered the tournament, including both undergraduate and graduate students. The tournament was hosted by the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont.  The BP format resembles a structured political debate and has four teams of two speakers in each debate.  Two of the teams are asked to support a motion announced fifteen minutes before the debate begins and the other two teams stand in opposition to that motion.  Although each speaker delivers a seven minute speech, every team and speaker has a unique role in the debate.  The teams are ranked first through fourth in each round based on the substantive quality of their arguments and the effectiveness of their delivery.

Claremont student are trained to score well on all fronts by the Claremont College Debate Union, a 5C organization run by CMC’s Director of Forensics, John Meany. In the season leading up to the national championships, individual speakers and teams from the Claremont Colleges have distinguished themselves at national and international competitions.  For example, Charlie Sprague was the top speaker at two consecutive invitational tournaments leading up to the national championship; Holly Poole and Cassie Gurrola placed second at the Pan Pacific Championship; and Elizabeth Schmitz-Robinson CMC 11’ and Jaron Abelsohn CMC 11’ were semi-finalists at the national open.  The tournament also represented a continuation of the Debate Union’s impressive historical record: for 17 consecutive years, Claremont debaters have placed in the top ten in the nation.

We're told the tournament experience produced a number of entertaining moments.  Holly Poole observed one of her fellow debaters threaten an airline representative and watched TSA retaliate by subjecting that debater to a special search.  Charlie Sprague and Raymond Lu were compelled to defend the motion, “This house would abandon stimulus packages for balanced budgets.”  This was a challenging position as it forced them to rationalize the disastrous economic policies of the currently reviled former President Herbert Hoover.  In another round concerning seal hunting, an unidentified debater made the audience erupt with laughter when she said that commercial hunters “harpoon the shit out of seals.”  The grand final round was a very impressive debate, which was won by an accomplished team from Harvard University.

All things considered, this was an impressive and entertaining performance by the Claremont College Debate Union. Well done, guys.

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