By Quinlyn Manfull
While most Willamette University (WU) students were at home celebrating the holidays, Willamette Debate Union members, Emilia Cubelos (‘20), Jessica Weiss (‘18) and myself (‘19) were in Mexico City for the Worlds University Debating Championship (WUDC).
The largest gathering of university students in the world, WUDC brings in thousands of students and coaches from over 90 countries. WUDC is an eight day event including three days of preliminary rounds, two days of elimination rounds and socials every evening.
After getting the chance to explore museums and eat more than our fair share of street tacos, the tournament’s official proceedings began. This was the first time WUDC had been held in Latin America, a region that has for too long been left out of access to public discourse and advocacy. During the opening ceremony, a convenor of the event spoke on the importance of supporting free speech and debate in a Mexico, one of the most dangerous places for journalists and media workers.
Socials and events ranged from a country night where almost every country attending was represented by a school or group of schools. Gender inclusion night featured a debate about “western feminism” and whether or not it has been beneficial to women outside of the west. There was an event hosted by the host country for WUDC 2019, South Africa, and a night dedicated to the current host country, Mexico.
Weiss and I were representing Willamette in rounds, competing against teams from all across the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Austria, Malaysia, The UK, South Africa, Argentina and more. Only the top 48 teams advance to elimination rounds, so the fight to get there is extremely tough.
Cubelos went to WUDC as a judge, a great opportunity to learn from other students and coaches who were judging alongside her, but also from seeing different teams from around the world. Seeing the debate from the otherside is a great learning opportunity to improve your style as a debater.
Although Weiss and I did not advance past preliminary rounds, intercollegiate debate and getting to travel is about so much more than the possibility of a trophy. Traveling out of the state and out of the country is an instrumental step in improving as a debater, advocate, student and person.
Debate can be a frustrating activity because of the inherent subjectivity that debaters and judges are going to bring to each round. Although it can be a good thing, each debater may think of different arguments and paths to take for motions, it can also be a harmful thing. Judges and debaters bring in their own biases to rounds and that can make some things completely out of your control.
As a dual female team, it can be hard to get points across in the same way that teams which have men on it are able to. Internal biases of gendered language and misogynists ideals of relating credibility and masculinity are harmful to the non-male teams at tournaments. Two judges may read the same round completely differently, and that is not something that any debater can prepare for.
Debate and the opportunities it brings is a large factor in bringing debaters to Willamette, and is absolutely a reason that many people on the team stay here. On the team, you have the opportunity to not only learn from an amazing coach who has helped build debate across the globe, but also to travel and understand different cultures, debate and otherwise, from other regions.
From opportunities to travel, to being able to improve your public speaking, advocacy and research skills no matter your commitment level, debate is an extremely fulfilling institution on campus.
With over 40 members on the team, and as the oldest organization on campus, the Willamette University Debate Union is an amazing opportunity for students, and is crucial in representing the Pacific Northwest on the East Coast and beyond.
This upcoming weekend, the team will be headed to Pacific University in Forest Grove, OR to compete in the first regional tournament of the semester. Later this semester, teams will be traveling to Hawaii, Georgia, California and China, as well as hosting a tournament on campus — the Mark O. Hatfield Memorial Debates.