Debate’s Vital Role Today

Graphic by Sophie Reichert / GRAPHICS CENTER

My heart racing, I stepped up to the podium in Cowell Hall. It was my first semester on the debate team, my first semester at USF, and my coach had asked me to do a completely extemporaneous speech in front of the rest of the rest of the team. My first instinct was to get as far away as possible from this space. Instead, I had team members come up to me and help me prepare in my 30 minute prep, and gave me the best advice for managing nerves. In just a five minute speech, I was able to express my feelings on something I cared about in a space where I felt comfortable. I had never felt the importance of debate, or public speaking for that matter, until that afternoon, and I hope for everyone to feel the same sentiment at some point. 

Why is debate so important in today’s society? Merriam Webster defines debate as “a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.” While this explanation might seem quite simple, debate is anything but. The history of debate in the West began where many things in academia do, in Ancient Greece. They practiced a form of debate known as “agon,” which was a structured, competitive exchange of arguments and ideas. Intellectual leaders such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are known for their contributions to the practice of debate. 

Today, debate has never been more important. From the debates taking place in college classes, to the presidential debates happening on television, this communication style plays a massive role in our socio political system. 

Debate is so much more than a communication style, it’s a lifeline that connects individuals together.  Debate provides a platform for individuals to actively engage in discussions and express their opinions. When people participate in debates, they become part of a larger dialogue, connecting with others who share similar views or engage in constructive disagreement. This engagement can create a sense of belonging and involvement in important societal issues, therefore bringing people together with common goals and community building.

Research from the Stanford National Forensic Institute states that debaters learn to explain their own ideas and assess different viewpoints, whether in a debate round, a political discussion, a classroom, or a written essay. 

Not only do you become a part of this larger dialogue every single time you step up to the podium, but the Forensic Institute notes that being able to evaluate different viewpoints is just another added benefit. 

Additionally, debate is at the heart of civic engagement and is always working to promote civic engagement out in the community. Debates related to politics and public policy can connect individuals to their communities and society as a whole. Engaging in these debates can inspire civic participation, encouraging people to vote, get involved in advocacy, and work towards shared goals to improve society. 

This can be seen with the University of San Francisco’s debate team. At the heart of USF’s debate team, there are three principles; discernment, cura personalis, and eloquentia perfecta. These values uphold USF’s main message –  change the world from here. Being a part of just a single debate is changing the world from here, both while providing an active platform for individuals to discuss societal issues and promoting civic engagement. Even for students who are not a part of the debate team, the Public Speaking core requirement gives students a chance to engage with this necessary skill.

At the latest USF-hosted tournament, the St. Ignatius Dialogues, on Sept. 30th with schools such as George Washington University, Pepperdine University, California Polytechnic State University, and Loyola Marymount University, there were three rounds of debate held. Instead of partaking in the ‘normal’ binary form of debate, this was much more of an open conversation. Although at the end of the debate tournament there was one winner, all the debates and conversations throughout the day were immensely important. 

Debate teaches people that they have the power to facilitate important conversations in their lives. Without debate, without bringing these things into conversation, nothing is going to change..


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