IU debate team to travel to national tournament for first time in more than 20 years

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

The IU debate team will send two teams of two students each to the National Debate Tournament this week. It’s the first time since 1993 that IU has been represented in the national competition.

Just under 800 teams competed for one of the 78 spots at the 70th Annual National Debate Tournament, March 31 to April 4 at Binghamton University.

IU Debate Team

The IU Debate Team poses for a picture. | Photo provided by Brian DeLong.

“To have one team at the National Debate Tournament is historic. Having two is incredible,” IU debate coach Brian DeLong said.

Kegan Ferguson, a junior in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Harry Aaronson, a freshman in College of Arts and Sciences, received a district bid in February after defeating rival teams from Michigan State and the University of Michigan in the regional competition. Bee Smale and Ari Hoffman, both juniors in SPEA, received a late second-round bid, similar to an at-large tournament invitation in the NCAA basketball tournament.

The national tournament centers around the yearlong resolution, “Resolved: The United States should significantly reduce its military presence in one or more of the following: the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, the Greater Horn of Africa or Northeast Asia.” Each round consists of two teams. The first team affirms some portion of the resolution while the competing team negates the affirmative argument.

“Every bit of research I have done is directly related to the quickly changing regional security dynamic developing in the status quo,” Ferguson said. “I’m looking forward to hearing what some of the best college minds in America have to say about our country’s approach to the Gulf region, because it is a very important and relevant discussion to have given the Middle Eastern landscape we are currently facing.”

Because the resolution is so broad, affirmative teams often focus on one particular subset. Ferguson and Aaronson spent most of the year focusing specifically on the United States withdrawing from the Arab states in the Persian Gulf.

The yearlong research and preparation for the tournament requires roughly the same time commitment as writing a master’s thesis, Ferguson said.

“That kind of workload, while incredibly rewarding in and of itself, becomes difficult to balance with other extracurricular and classroom activities,” Ferguson said. “Simply due to the nature and scope of debate work, we are all taught how to rigorously and effectively manage our workloads.”

The broad resolution invites a spectrum of approaches. Many debaters engage the resolution through pragmatic policy analysis, arguing the benefits and harms of specific government actions, while others may question the philosophical assumptions of the resolution.

“Policy debate is, generally speaking, extremely technical,” Hoffman said. “Debaters speak extremely quickly and use a lot of jargon. Because of this, the average debate round tends to be comprehensible only to current and former debaters.”

IU debate team

Harry Aronson, left, and Kegan Ferguson, right, will compete in the upcoming National Debate Tournament. | Photo provided by Brian DeLong

Hoffman and Smale will negate the affirmative by arguing that the affirmative team’s rhetoric uses withdrawal as a way to mask personal complicity in militarism.

“The direct clash between policy literature and critical theory is something that rarely happens in academia. Debate provides a unique way to experience it,” Hoffman said.

Beyond the complexity of the debates, the tournament format itself is strenuous. The tournament consists of eight preliminary rounds, each lasting roughly 2.5 hours.

“Debate is strangely addictive,” Hoffman said. “There’s something powerful about getting to travel around the country and test your wits against some of the smartest undergrads.”

For Hoffman, the long tournament days offer opportunities to socialize with fellow debaters from around the country.

“Some of the smartest people I’ve ever interacted with have been through debate,” Hoffman said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people from all across the country with a variety of different views, perspectives and life experiences, many of whom have become my best friends. While winning debates is obviously very important to me, I am generally more interested in interacting with new people at tournaments.”

DeLong is optimistic that the team’s year of dedication and research will pay off at the tournament.

“Past losses are lessons that should build future success, in life and at the tournament. As long as we are continuing to advance the quality of our arguments, whether we win or lose I will walk away happy,” DeLong said. “With that said, I know that our students can turn their hard work into wins. In the end it will be up to our students to persuade the judges that their efforts are worth a ballot in favor of Indiana.”

Anyone interested in supporting IU debate campus events or regional opportunities can make a donation or contact Brian DeLong for more information.

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