Students Bring New Life To Campus Debate Team

Elizabeth Silva
Staff Writer

USF’s debate team, which is being rekindled on campus this year, competed in its first tournament of the year, Golden Gate Season Opener at San Francisco State University, with great success as junior communications major Mike Epley received a fifth place speaker award.

Epley advanced to ocoto-finals in Varsity Parliamentary debate. In order to qualify for ocoto-finals, speakers need to have accumulated enough points by winning debates. He was the 14th seed of about 60 debate teams.

Receiving a fifth place speaker award out of approximately 120 students signified that Epley received the fifth highest number of individual points as well as won enough debates to make it to octo-finals.

“Winning fifth place speaker at any tournament is awesome, especially a tournament of this size, where there are several dozen awesome people all vying for speaker awards,” said Epley. “It’s something you can never take for granted, and you don’t have any idea how you’re doing until the award ceremony. Hearing my name called in that small list of top speakers put me among some of the debaters who I really admire on the circuit—the people who know how to not only win a round, but to speak persuasively, confidently and meaningfully.”

Epley also competed in a Lincoln-Douglass debate, where he made it to the final round before narrowly losing to a University of Pacific student in the final round on a 2-1 decision.  He received second place out of approximately 55 students.

“I don’t think you can win a speaker award without establishing some kind of consistent connection with your audience, and for me that’s one of the biggest reasons I love debate, the connection,” said Epley.

The event took place on Sept. 26 to 28 with 29 regional schools participating.  The schools included University of the Pacific, Azusa-Pacific University, CSU Chico, Point Loma, UC Berkeley, and the University of Oregon.

Epley began debating for City College of San Francisco in 2011 after being recruited from an Intro to Argumentation class.  His professor, Kristina Whalen, saw his competitive spirit and recognized the potential he had to work well on the team.

“This is a huge accomplishment considering the team is just getting started,” said Alexis Litzky, rhetoric professor and coach of the debate team “I’ve recruited about 10 students so far and it has been decades from what I can tell since USF had a debate team at all.”

“We have been meeting since the beginning of the semester, and Mike has really helped establish himself and USF as a debate force in the region,” added Litzky.

USF’s debate team has three dedicated structures of debate, which are Policy, Parliament, and Lincoln-Douglass. Policy and LD are evidence-based types of debate that require some extensive research on specific subject areas whereas Parliamentary Debate is a team debate that requires a good general knowledge of a broad range of events and issues in the popular zeitgeist.

All three forms of debate typically call into question some kind of political action to bring about change.  There is no limit as to what discussions the debate team can create out of the topics.

There are 10 students, from freshman to graduate students, on the debate team. Whereas some students may have transferred to USF with debate experience, others are brand new to forensics.

There previously was a debate team on campus, but it disappeared for a while. USF has a long history of competitive academic debate, and it once fielded some of the strongest teams in the country. With the support of the rhetoric department and the College of Arts & Sciences, the debate team has returned and once again has a hub for academic competition and intellectual development.

Competitions are weekend-long intensives in which students compete against debaters from other colleges and universities over two to three days. Students typically get six preliminary debates before moving on to elimination rounds if they have a winning record.

The debate team practices on Tuesday evenings in Cowell and it has traveled to different destinations in the region and even nationally to tournaments in southern California and Portland.

Litzky’s goal as the advisor is to bring the USF team back on the competitive map. “As we rebuild our squad in numbers and competitiveness, I look forward to seeing how we grow and succeed,” said Litzky. She said that the USF Debate team intends to host on-campus debates and events to offer the USF community unique insight into contemporary political and social justice issues.

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