The Great Debate

Walking around the University of Chicago campus last Friday and Saturday, you may have noticed an abundance of suits and ties or heard a snatch of conversation consisting almost entirely of acronyms. If so, you were probably in the presence of one of the hundred or so debaters here for the annual tournament hosted by the University of Chicago Debate Society. Thirty-six debate teams from Stanford, Princeton, the University of Minnesota, and other schools across the country converged on the UofC to participate in five rounds of intense, fast-paced forensics, followed by two elimination rounds and one wild party.

The UofC team is a member of the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), a league of college debate teams that is concentrated on the East Coast. According to its website, “The format pits two two-person teams against each other in a contest of argument, wit and rhetoric which roughly simulates debate in a House of Parliament.” Its lack of emphasis on prior preparation means debaters must be able to think on their feet; it also means that even a well-researched case can be defeated if its presenters receive “low speaks” (i.e., low speaking points) relative to their opponents.

On any given weekend, several of its member colleges might be hosting a tournament, which any school that can afford transportation is free to attend. Besides finding a room and a judge for each of the teams’ rounds, the host team is also obliged to provide them with lodging (often on the floors of its members’ dorm rooms) and with some form of entertainment. The UofC team outdid itself by throwing a party in the classy Summit Club of Regents Luxury Apartments. Unfortunately, many of the sleep-deprived debaters probably missed out on this luxury, making the responsible choice to rest before their final rounds on Saturday morning. In their place were a lot of UofC students with tangential friendships with debaters, taking advantage of the chance to gaze out at the Chicago skyline while drinking free booze and playing darts.

The tournament came to a close on Saturday evening with an awards ceremony in Stuart Hall. Teams walked up to collect shiny trophies and gavels while the audience pounded on the tables in traditional debate style. There were congratulatory handshakes and slaps on the back, and though a few seemed dissatisfied with the results, most moods were high. “I think this was a very good, successful tournament,” said Race Wright, a member of the UofC team.