Last weekend, two Cornell seniors representing the Cornell Forensics Society — the University’s speech and debate program — bested over 170 teams from around the world to win the Yale Intervarsity Debate Tournament.
The tournament is one of the largest and most prestigious debate tournaments in North America, according to Prof. Sam Nelson, director of the Cornell Forensics Society.
Alex Bores ’13, one of the two members of the champion debate team, called his experience at the tournament “a blast.”
“It was a really competitive final round. There were teams from University of Toronto, Stanford and Harvard,” Bores said.
Both Bores and his partner Danny Blackman ’13 — along with two other teams from Cornell — will advance to the World Tournament in Berlin in December.
The tournament was debated in the “worlds format,” in which four two-person teams debate in each round. Half the teams must argue in favor of the topic while the other half argue against it, Nelson said.
“The 16 teams that do the best go to the elimination round,” Nelson said. “Blackman and Bores had to win three debates after they made it through the sweet 16.”
In the final round, Bores and Blackman argued that “conscripted soldiers who commit war crimes should not be prosecuted if they are following orders.”
The final topic was fairly typical, according to Bores. Most debate topics are based on current events, but occasionally a seemingly random topic will surface.
“There will be a whole range of everything,” Bores said. “We once debated whether or not Valentine’s Day should be a holiday.”
At the tournament, the debaters are given only 15 minutes to prepare before the debate starts, so they do not have a lot of time, according to Ryan Yeh ’13, president of the Forensics Society.
“You aren’t allowed to bring a lot of outside sources,” Yeh said. “To prepare for debate, we read up on the news and practice with our coach around four times a week.”
Currently, the Forensics Society is ranked sixth in the world, according to the International Debate Education Association’s World University Debate Rankings. Nelson, however, said he expects that when the next rankings are issued, “Cornell will probably rank number one or number two.”
There are over 150 members in the Forensics Society, ranging from engineers to ILR majors, and the society sends teams to over 20 tournaments per year, according to Nelson.
“Unlike most sports teams, we don’t cut people,” Bores said. “Anyone who is interested can come and learn more about debate.”
Cornell creates the perfect environment for successful debate, according to Nelson.
“Cornell students have a certain kind of intellect where they like to challenge each other,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie on the team.”
Many people join the society because they want to improve their ability to speak publicly. However, the society promotes speech and debate beyond just tournaments, according to Nelson. The society recently co-sponsored a debate between Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and Howard Dean (D-Vt.).
“You don’t have to dig very deep to find the Forensics Society on campus,” Nelson said.
Bores said he considers his experience on the Forensics Society critical to his ability to speak publicly and craft an argument.
“You gain a lot of great skills, and getting to travel around the world isn’t a bad [gig] either,” Bores said. “I’ve been to Turkey, Botswana, South Africa, the Philippines, England — all through debate.”
Yeh said that regardless of major major, the skills fostered by debate teach critical thinking.
“Absolutely everyone can benefit from debate,” Yeh said. “Communication is essential no matter where you end up after college.”