Community prepares for high school debate tournament

Sam Jacobson

Late October on the Whitman campus is commonly marked by cooler weather, changing colors and lots of high school debaters. This coming Halloween weekend, Whitman will be holding its 42nd-annual Remy Wilcox High School Speech and Debate Tournament.

The tournament will utilize a variety of spaces around campus, from many of the classrooms to residence hall section lounges, and use Reid Campus Center as its base of operations. This year, over 190 high school students from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia are expected to attend the tournament. This year the influx of high schoolers falls over the Halloween weekend.

While the debaters are not much of a surprise to most upperclassmen, first-years can sometimes find it a bit overwhelming. Reid building manager and senior Katie Myers admitted that the first time she encountered the high school debaters she was caught unaware.

“I know when I was a first-year, I didn’t know that the debaters were coming and I didn’t know anything about the tournament, and so walking into [Reid] without knowing that is a bit of a shock,” she said.

Kevin Wright, Whitman’s custodial supervisor, who has worked for Whitman for 25 years now highlighted that the although the debaters can sometimes seem disruptive, they are certainly not as much of a disturbance as they used to be.

“I would say that it has definitely changed for the better. Mainly because years ago we just didn’t have all the facilities. At one point the Cordiner foyer was the biggest open space that we had and at that point they used to sleep on campus. It used to be that they slept everywhere. They’d sleep in the old gym, they’d sleep in student lounges. Now they don’t stay overnight on campus anymore because in the past it was so disruptive,” said Wright.

Space can still sometimes be an issue in Reid, which is often the debaters’ base of operations throughout the tournament. Even if students have seen the debaters before, Myers noted that often when people walk into Reid, they need a moment to process the unfamiliar, congested nature of it all.

“A lot of times people’s eyes just get really big and I can tell that they go through this calculation of, like, where do they need to go and what do they need to get done in this building, and then they just beeline it for the post office or zigzag around everyone to get to the coffee cart,” said Myers.

Additionally, Myers notes that Whitman students sometimes can be a little unreceptive to the idea of others taking over and disrupting the spaces and places that Whitties are used to inhabiting exclusively.

“I think on this campus, we tend to think of our bubble as very much our space and when individuals come into our space that we’re not expecting, that is already startling enough. … When you get hundreds of strangers that we might not have known about, that is a little bit shocking for people who forget that this is a public space too, although [Whitman students] do kind of make this building their own,” said Myers.

One change for the debate tournament this year is that the debaters will be showing up Friday instead of Thursday, and leaving Sunday instead of Saturday. Thus, they will be on campus for the entire Halloween weekend. To prevent debaters from attending its function, Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) men’s fraternity plans to have extra security.

“On big nights like Halloween, it’s pretty standard that fraternities will get private security from the Green Lantern Bar, or if they’re really concerned they can get the Walla Walla police,” said TKE social chair Parker Dawson. “Also, Whitman security has offered their assistance this year which would be fantastic. It’s cool when Whitman security can help out, because they know all the kids. If you just have a big bodyguard from The Green, they’re not going to know who’s a Whitman student and who’s not.”

Though some students may find the debate tournament disruptive, the event can also provide a unique experience for the high school participants.

“I know the debaters are coming and I’m like, ‘Oh boy, brace yourself,’ but I think that we could all do with a little attitude adjustment, because it is cool for them and it is only for three days,” said Myers.

While the influx of high school debaters can be disorienting to college students, it also provides the participants and opportunity to experience a college campus.

“[The tournament] gives students … a chance to visit a college campus and experience participating in a competitive environment with incredibly intelligent Whitman students running around,” said Parliamentary Debate and Individual Events Assistant Kendra Doty in an email. “My favorite part of this tournament is providing high schoolers with a new experience that they generally would not get at another time.”