The Judy Genshaft Honors College’s new debate program will have its first virtual tournament Nov. 13-14 to put in practice the skills students have been working on since the program launched a month ago.
Hosted by the University of Puget Sound, the competition will feature two teams, each with two debaters, competing against students from the University of Minnesota, University of Oregon, Gonzaga University, Western Washington University, Vermont University and Johnson County Community College.
USF Debate, which launched in early October, is for students interested in building their academic debate skills and competing at a collegiate level, according to Sohail Jouya, director of debate.
The organization is a professional and competitive collegiate debate organization where students will learn advanced argumentation strategies, develop critical thinking and in-depth research skills, and practice public speaking, according to its website.
Jouya said he believes there is no greater training for future leaders than competitive academic debate because students get experience actively discussing world problems in a professional setting.
“It’s a really unique way to engage in academic discourse against some like-minded and bright students from across the country,” Jouya said.
“I’m really interested in working with students who are able to not only appropriately criticize the problems in the world, but also to actively find solutions. That to me is an incredibly empowering experience that I don’t think a lot of other activities or events offer students, especially in college.”
Each year, students will debate a topic voted by member schools of the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA). For the 2021-22 academic year, students will debate the topic “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase prohibitions on anticompetitive business practices by the private sector by at least expanding the scope of its core antitrust laws,” according to the program’s website.
The tournaments currently take place virtually via Zoom on weekends. Jouya said that in a tournament there are two teams that compete in a round and they share a camera when competing virtually. The judges join and listen to the round, decide a winner and provide feedback.
Tournaments, however, might be held in person in the spring semester, according to Jouya, as traveling for competitions is a big part of the program. Students will be able to travel and participate in nationwide tournaments sanctioned by the American Debate Association, CEDA and the National Debate Tournament.
“Students get to go to tournaments all across the nation, experience college campuses and the atmosphere, the city life that they’re hosted in and we compete,” Jouya said.
“The desire is really to showcase students and their talent from USF in a way that’s meaningful and competitive across the most rigorous event that’s offered to undergraduates.”
Undergraduates can join the organization by reaching out to Jouya and visiting the USF Honors College website.
No prior experience is required to be a part of the program, according to Jouya. At meetings and practices, students can learn new research and argumentation skills that will prepare them to compete in tournaments.
“For average new students who are interested in competing, we typically have two meetings,” Jouya said. “One is a team meeting and the second is a practice where we develop skill sets. [We develop] lead research, in terms of specific kinds of argumentation, and usually do drills or practice rounds.”
USF Debate hosts its meetings at the Honors College, which has also assisted in the creation of the program, according to Jouya. Meetings are usually on Tuesdays and practices depend on students’ schedules, Jouya said.
Jouya believes the program will benefit students by giving them a place to showcase their academic skills and creating a sense of community for the members.
“[Joining USF Debate] is a great way to be an academic and intellectual face of the university,” Jouya said. “If we’re capable of knocking off some of the big schools … It allows prospective students who are looking to compete, innovate and find a home here at USF.”
There is a lot of untapped potential at USF, according to Jouya, and he is excited to see what is in store for the debate program in the future.
“There’s a lot of really bright and smart students here, both at the Honors College and the general campus at large, so it’s an exciting endeavor,” he said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort, but I think that there is a lot of potential to build a program that’s sustainable and competitive.
“The hope for us is to build a program that is nationally reputable and is capable of competing against the strongest programs in the nation, whether that be the Ivy League schools, the big 10 schools, etc.”