Debate Team reigns supreme at Novice National Tournament


Courtesy of Tulane University Debate Team

The Debate Team poses after winning their last tournament.

Armed with months of speech practices, debate drills and extensive knowledge on North Korea, the Tulane Debate Team took on the National Parliamentary Debate Association Novice National Tournament the weekend of March 9-11.

Comprised primarily of freshmen, the cohort of eight young debaters traveled to Suffolk University in Boston. Each team is made up of two debaters, and 16 teams competed in the competition, including Tulane’s four teams.

Of the four teams made up of two students each who competed in preliminary rounds, two teams advanced to the semi-finals. Freshman Quinn Burke, freshman Uma Kumar-Montei, freshman Madison Sullivan and freshman Claire Wynne were all semi-finalists. Additionally, Burke and Kumar-Montei advanced to the final round as a team, where they defeated their opponents and won first place.

“Our novice class this year is extremely successful and excelling already. They are already contributing to our already high win rate …” Kueffner, senior and president of the Tulane Debate Team said. “… we are sure that future years will be just as, if not more, successful based on the potential that these students show.”

The debates are formatted as Parliamentary debates, meaning debaters are assigned topics and which position they will be advocating for 20 minutes before the round. Rounds consist of six speeches, three given by the affirmation and three given by the opposition. At the end of the round, judges rank the speakers by argument, speaking ability and overall case and decide which is the winning team.

In Parliamentary debate, topics change from round to round, meaning debaters have to think on their feet and develop their argument 20 minutes before they step up to the podium. Rather than taking the entire year to develop a case about a specific topic, debaters instead must prepare their public speaking and logic-based skills at practice. 

“We do a lot of practice rounds, speaking drills, and lectures from our president and coaches to learn new skills and put them to use,” freshman and debate team member Claire Wynne said. “We essentially prepare the entire year for nationals.”

Topics can vary from policy issues like North Korean foreign affairs to more social issues like racism and abortion. Wynne’s favorite round was one in which her and her partner debated representation in the film industry.

“… we debated about whether or not the film industry should implement quota systems to get more women and minority representation in cinema,” Wynne said. “Madison and I were the opposition and we spoke about cultural appropriation very passionately and had a lot of fun arguing against the quota system.”

According to Kueffner, another reason this tournament victory is important to the team is that Tulane Debate is completely student run with no help from outside coaches.

“Whenever Tulane Debate is successful, our wins feel more important than just the on-paper success,” Kueffner said. “We are entirely student-run, which is not the norm for college debate teams, so we have to work a lot harder for our opportunities and our successes than our peers across the nation.”  

For many members of the debate team like Kumar-Montei, debate has given them an outlet to explore important issues and practice their public speaking skills.

“I think the debate team is important because it encourages constructive conversations about important issues in our society,” Kumar-Montei said. “You really get to explore multiple sides of issues, and think creatively about solutions to real world problems.”

Any student who wants get involved in the Tulane Debate Team can join the team Orgsync page or email president Claire Kueffner at [email protected].

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