MCLA’s Debate Club: Our first competitive experience

Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve been heavily involved with MCLA’s Debate Club. I took the club over as its President in my sophomore year, and at the end of this semester, I’ll finally have to say goodbye to the only Debate team I’ve ever known. 

But, not before we were finally able to enjoy something we’ve wanted for years: competition. 

A subject briefly touched by my predecessors was finally realized. This past weekend, myself and our Vice President, Alec Maclean, went to Boston University and engaged in public discourse with some of the finest debate teams across the country. 

No, I mean, some of the FINEST in the country. We ended up taking on two separate teams from Harvard (yes, THAT Harvard), we faced off against a team from Berkley University, the University of Chicago and a team from Tufts University. 

Before I go in depth on how they went, it should be known that the tournament Boston University hosted was utilizing the format established by the American Parliamentary Debate Association. Under this format, you have two teams: the Government and the Opposition. The Opposition team goes in totally blind; they are not told the topic ahead of time, and essentially have to debate it on the spot. The Government team establishes the topic. The way it goes is the “Prime Minister” (the leader of the Government team) gives a speech of up to eight minutes, where they present the topic and construct their argument. For example, if a Government team wanted to argue that marijuana should be federally legalized, they would begin with something along the lines of “This House believes the USA should federally legalize marijuana” and would spend the rest of their time constructing their argument; adding why they believe their resolution should be affirmed. After the Prime Minister speaks, the Opposition’s Leader of the Opposition speaks and constructs a counter argument. They will either say something along the lines of “Marijuana should not be federally legal because….” And would then offer reasons why the resolution Government offered is not feasible, or they might say “We believe that Marijuana is beneficial, but to make it federally legally violates the states’ rights to establish their own law”- an argument which technically could be construed as supporting the sentiments of the Government, but actually suggesting that a different course of action be taken to meet the same goal. After the Leader of Opp goes, the Member of Government goes to further construct their case or address points the Opposition made. Afterward, the Member of Opposition essentially does this with the Government’s team. Upon the MO being finished, the debate shifts into a rebuttal round- new ideas may be brought up, but new points may not be. In other words, you could not say “The number of deaths caused by those under the influence of marijuana is a miniscule rate” unless you or your team had already said so or referenced death by marijuana beforehand. Instead, you might say “The Opposition made a point that mainstream marijuana usage poses a lethal threat, to which we note that the number of deaths caused by marijuana….” 

Starting off with our dealings with Harvard: they went about as well as you’d expect, and we unfortunately lost both bouts. We had the unfortunate disadvantage of being the Opposition team both times; a situation Harvard sufficiently took advantage of in both times. The first Debate, the Harvard Government team proposed the argument that paper money should be removed from circulation. Let me tell you, the two girls on Harvard’s teams were insanely good. Seeing as how they’re a Harvard team, it was of little surprise, but in the heat of the moment, they were good. Not only did they perfect the actual structure of the debate itself, but they did so with authority. I can vividly recall sitting there, waiting on my turn to speak, thinking “Holy shit, if this isn’t perfect, they’re gonna rip me apart.” And rip me apart, they certainly did. That said, it’s not like we embarrassed ourselves. Think of it like this: our team was like a nice, refreshing summer breeze on a nice day. Their team was like a huge tornado, with radiant slush falling from the sky. 

Our second meeting with a different Harvard team came the next day. Again, we were the Opposition team. Their Government team wasn’t as oppressively amazing as the one we encountered prior, but they were absolutely still talented in every respect. What they lacked in downright ruthlessness, they made up for and then some with their topic of selection. Let it be known that, in 15 minutes, I learned more about the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative than I think would’ve been possible in multiple hour long classes in professional schooling. The topic took myself and our partner by surprise; neither of us are exactly experts in the Chinese government. We fought nobly, and made it decently close, but the lack of background knowledge on the topic ultimately lost us the fight before it begun. 

After our first encounter with Harvard, we took on a team from Tufts University. This debate was likely our most frustrating, as we were the Government team this time. Our topic was the notion that vaccines should be made mandatory for children across the US. Unfortunately, we covered every avenue of debate so well that we made the debate “unwinnable” for the Opposition team, which ultimately caused them to walk away with the win. The debate essentially devolved from the initial topic into “the MCLA team screwed us, let’s appeal to the judges.” 

The last Debate of day one saw us as the Government team against a team from Chicago University. Our topic was the thinking that minimum wage should be federally raised to $15/hour. We lost a tight one, mainly because our opponents were successfully able to argue that it would be inefficient, temporary, and have varying degrees of success across the country; the money would travel farther in, say, Nebraska or South Dakota than it would in New York. 

Our last matchup was against a team from Berkley University. We were Opposition, and they argued that four year institutions and schools are optimal above alternate schooling or methods of reaching employment. They won a 51-49 type bout, undoubtedly winning it in walkoff fashion towards the end of their last rebuttal. While Alec did a good job picking apart their arguments (as he always does, this guy is an animal) and I did a good job with my constructive, they simply touched base on a slightly broader set of pertinent topics than we did, even if they were significantly less impressive in how they conveyed their points than we were. 

While it could be viewed as unsuccessful if you viewed the “box score”, as a soon-to-be graduating senior here at MCLA, I am beyond proud with how far our club has come; from a simple, casual small talk group to an actual Team, one which is arming up to go to tournaments. My soon-to-be successor in Alec is going to kill it when he takes the torch from me here. The best part for me is that we’re probably not done; we’re eying another tournament about a month from now at Dartmouth University, same format. 

I would also like to thank Professor Paul LeSage of the English/Communications Department. If Professor LeSage hadn’t agreed to be our Trip Advisor (as is mandated by the school to have trips like these) the entire journey would never have happened. Professor LeSage was also helpful moral support during our tournament rounds, just as he was in driving us to and from there entirely on his own. Fantastic guy.