Finding passion through debate

Charlie Hunter, Campus Life Reporter

The Whitman Debate and Forensics team has hit their stride with recent success in tournaments. These successes include second place in the debate sweepstakes at their most recent tournament in Portland, Oregon, as well as recent achievements at a tournament in Houston, Texas. Whitman Debate and Forensics is on track to have a successful season.

A competitive debate comprises a resolution, beginning with a question that poses a hypothetical or realistic situation in which an actor carries out an action. If the judges were to propose a question on U.S. involvement in foreign affairs, students would then present a stance on the topic and argue their position through disagreement and critique from the opposition. The objective is to provide a sound, convincing argument that resonates with the audience and judges.

Watching the debate team on stage from their seats, audience members often forget about the preparation stage that exists beforehand. Debate and Forensics team president Ilse Spiropoulos spoke on this very process.

I think the success of the team very much does have to do with our Socratic, productive preparation and general engagement with one another. We all respect each other as debaters and academics with different areas of expertise and interest,” Spiropoulos said.

She went on to explain how the strengths of her teammates contribute to the overall success of the team.

“I know if I need information on queer sound theory I can talk to Jas; if I need general information on global politics I talk to Grace … and I know if someone needs philosophy explained, they’re going to come to me and I take the time to help them,” Spiropoulos said. “None of us let our pride get in the way of asking each other for help, listening to the help offered or stopping to help others.”

The collaboration and keeping composure during the preparation stage is important to the team’s outcome.

As students find topics that they are passionate about, their arguments become stronger. Director of Debate and Forensics Baker Weilert-Pekar spoke on his role and his philosophies for success for his students.

“I always tell students [that] you don’t get a degree in debate at the end of your four years. If you haven’t learned how to export the skills that you have learned in this arena to other places in your life, then I haven’t done my job effectively,” Weilert-Pekar said. “I try to encourage students to write and run arguments that they care about, that are part of their platform and that they advocate [for] in their life.”

Weilert-Pekar went on to explain that as students find truth in their argument, they become more convincing to the judges.

“I think that there is a morsel of truth in every resolution. The inner educator side of me always thinks that you should look for that truth, even if you don’t agree with it. There is a morsel of truth on both sides always, and to live in that truth is an easier place to win from,” Weilert-Pekar said.

A recent addition to the debate team is a new forensics program. The two are labeled as one comprehensive program at Whitman, but different from debate, forensics is defined as an argumentative discipline of debate that is less combative or direct and more concerned with competitive public speaking.

As the debate team finds success in their season, so does the forensics team. Assistant Director of Debate and Forensics Kiefer Storrer spoke on the new forensics team’s accomplishments during its pilot season. 

“The forensic program is super new, but we’re succeeding quite well with it,” Storrer said. “We took one student — the only student that was doing forensics at the start of the semester — out to the tournament that we just went to. She did one event and we won that event. For our upcoming tournament in November, we now have a lot more students going for forensics.” 

If you see the Debate and Forensics team around campus or upstairs in Reid, wish them good luck at their upcoming tournaments and for the rest of their season. Consider joining, as all levels of engagement within the team are welcome and you may find your passion along the way.