Swarthmore is a member of the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), a circuit of colleges and universities located mainly on the East Coast. We always go to at least one tournament each week, though occasionally we’ll send teams to two different tournaments on the same weekend. Each tournament begins on a Friday afternoon and is usually finished early Saturday evening; it consists of 5 separate debate rounds, a party, a banquet, and quarter-final, semi-final, and final rounds. This year, Swat will send teams to numerous American tournaments, one Canadian tournament, the U.S National Championships, the North American Championships, the Cambridge University Intervarsity and the World Universities Debating Championships in Malaysia. In addition, we host a novice tournament in the fall and a regular APDA tournament in the spring every year. We last hosted the U.S. National Championships in 2010.
Swarthmore doesn’t hold tryouts for new members; anyone is welcome and encouraged to join. You don’t even need to have previous experience with debating; in fact, many of our current members never participated in debate before coming to Swat! Thanks to the generous endowment from Amos J. Peaslee ’07 (1907, that is), the society is able to pay for all of the expenses of attending a tournament, and we even have our own van to take the team to tournaments each weekend. Although Swarthmore is smaller than most of the other colleges and universities on APDA, we are able to consistently field a large, well-respected, and successful debate team each year. To join the debate team, either come to one of our demo rounds, or simply come to one of our meetings!
If you have any questions about debate at Swarthmore, feel free to email our President, Will Meyer ’17: wmeyer1 at swarthmore dot edu
Why should you debate?
If you don’t have speaking skills, you’ll develop them quickly. If you’ve always been terrified by public speaking, debate is the perfect way to overcome your fear. Your teammates are more than willing to help you improve your speaking style; they too were once novices, and they’ll be able to help you with our novice training program. Once you get the hang of talking about topics you know almost nothing about in front of people you’ve never met before, you’ll find that giving public speeches, even in front of people you know, is easy! Developing your rhetorical skills will help you out in the real world, whether you’re interviewing for a job or inciting a mob to riot.
Parliamentary debate requires its participants to come up with logical and creative reasons for their assertions on the spur of the moment; debating in parli rounds will teach you how to think on your feet. Additionally, it will also help you learn how to make a clear and concise argument in a given amount of time, which is a useful skill to have whether you’re speaking in a debate round or writing a paper for class. The entire purpose of debate is to convince another person that your proposition is a brilliant idea and should be implemented; debating will help you refine your ability to persuade other people to see your point of view.
Parliamentary debate topics range from the philosophical to the absurd, and from current events to ancient history. Unlike other forms of debate, Parli exposes you to a wide variety of topics and looks at the most important aspects of each one. If you’re asked to debate a topic about which you know very little, by the end of the round you’ll find that you’ve dramatically expanded your knowledge of it. If you have to take a position which you are personally diametrically opposed to, it will require you to thoughtfully consider the other side of what you once saw as a one-sided issue. These are two of the great things about Parliamentary debate; in both cases, you’re required to analyze something that you wouldn’t have otherwise, thus making you a more knowledgeable and enlightened person.
Unlike some other schools on APDA, at Swarthmore we’re fairly laid back about debating. Though there are some of us who will go to tournaments every weekend, we don’t demand that our all of our members commit their lives to debate. You’re free to go to as many or as few tournaments as you want, and you can join or quit the team at any time during the year. Debating gives you a chance to get away from Swarthmore for the weekend; we usually leave in the early afternoon on Friday and return to Swat early Saturday evening. During that time, you get to travel to distant lands, meet strange new people, eat non-Sharples food, attend great parties, and debate almost any topic you want. people from Swat have run cases on everything from the merits of mandatory voting to Jerry Springer and censorship; from war crime tribunals in Sierra Leone to Luke Skywalker and the Dark Side of the Force; and from whether William Seward should have bought Alaska to whether Dumbledore should have given the House Cup to Slytherin.
Debate not only helps you develop your speaking and reasoning skills, it’s fun, too!