Debate Season Opener: Hawks Prep for West Point

MU-DebateThe 2015 policy debate season is in full swing, as the Monmouth University Debate Hawks are preparing for their first tournament at the US Military Academy in West Point, NY.

Specifically, policy debate is a competition in which teams face off to implement change regarding a pre-established debate topic. The topics, known as resolutions in the debate world, guide teams in crafting plans that are presented during competition, with the hope of winning the judge's favor and getting passed.

This year, debaters are preparing cases involving the legalization of one, some or all of the following: marihuana, online gambling, physician-assisted suicide, prostitution, and/or the sale of human organs.

In addition to offering policy debate as a club, Monmouth also incorporates the program as a semester long course, which aspires to bring in new debaters to teach them about competitive debate. The team, advised by Dr. Joseph Patten, Chair of the Department of Political Science and Sociology has approximately 35 members debating this season.

When asked why interested students should join debate, Patten said, "Students that learn the skill of debate are able to translate that skill into career opportunities. No matter what career you go into, having the background and skill in debate is something that helps people succeed in life."

According to the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), some former collegiate debaters include figures such as Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, actor and comedian Adam Sandler, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor, among others.

Patten added that a level of perseverance is required in debate, as debaters do not always find success immediately. But by keeping with the program students learn the invaluable quality of staying determined to gain results.

Dan Roman, senior and co-captain of the Debate Hawks, said, "My speaking skills and analytical skills improved more than I had ever imagined and have been crucial in my applying to law school." He said, "The most important reason to join the debate team is to become a part of the family."

Despite having many new members this year, the Debate Hawks have completely immersed themselves in writing cases for the first tournament. Legalizing human organ selling and prostitution are the basis for this year's cases, both of which have been debated in the public sphere. Michelle Grushko, junior co-captain, said, "This topic is incredibly interesting because debaters get to choose to legalize one of these areas and focus all of their research on that topic." By having a variety of options from which to choose, debaters can more easily find an area of interest, which aids in understanding and later debating the topic.

Particularly of the organ selling case, Patten noted that the combination of policy and science makes for a very involved topic, allowing students to learn the intricacies of something with which they may have little experience.

Also of note, this year's topic involves a domestic issue, which, according to Ryan Kelly, a senior political science major "Is little more personal for us."

Patten and the returning debaters also share a positive attitude towards this year's team, citing quick chemistry and constructive personalities as important factors. Kelly said, "This year's team might be our best one yet. Everyone is responding exceptionally well to how debate operates. It is up to us upperclassman to continue to push and motivate the rookies in order to make sure they are prepared."

Patten reiterated this, noting that by having a balance of returnees and newcomers, the team is able to foster mentoring relationships, through which experienced debaters help guide beginners through the policy debate process.

In addition to the cohesion among students, Roman acknowledged the importance of Patten's advising. He said, "I really want to emphasize how none of this would be possible without the guidance of Dr. Patten. His patience with the new debaters and confidence in the returners makes a world of difference."

The West Point tournament begins the weekend of October 17, with the Debate Hawks making the final push in strengthening their cases to be primed for competition.

PHOTO COURTESY of Joseph Patten