After a full year of researching, reciting and rehearsing, debaters from the Cornell Forensics Society are sitting near the top. The debate team ranked in the top 10 in the nation this season. The team took fifth place in a national policy debate competition and finished second in the Northeast Division for the world’s debate competition.
“Cornell attracts very intense students that don’t like to lose,” said Prof. Sam Nelson, industrial and labor relations and director of the debate team. The debate team is made up of three groups: policy debate, world format debate and speech. While policy debate emphasizes strategy on one research topic all year, the world debate focuses on impromptu resolutions, rhetoric, logic and how much contestants know about the world on a variety of international issues, according to Angela Lu ’13, who is on the forensics team. World debate is a relatively new format, which the Cornell Forensics Society began using four years ago. This year, the policy debate team discussed U.S. nuclear weapons policy. They had to argue for both sides of the argument for nuclear weapons reduction, according to John Karin ’11, president of the team. For the speech team, there are three segments. The first segment is the limited preparation events where members are given a restricted amount of time to prepare their speech. The second segment is the public address event, in which members have 10 minutes to present their speech and have unlimited preparation time. The last segment is interpretive, where members take works of literature, poetry, drama or prose and perform the memorized work in front of an audience for approximately 10 minutes. The research that members put into their debates is equivalent to the amount of research for a master’s degree, Nelson said.A strong supportive network of alumni and faculty played a significant role in the overall success of the debate team, according to the team members. This year, the team sought coaching and advice from Christopher Langone ’89 and Cameron Jones ’89. Recently, the sponsorship of the team has moved from the communication department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to ILR. The team had tremendous support from the ILR school for this transition, specifically from Dean Harry Katz, Nelson said. Nelson emphasized the supportive network of the ILR school as one of the main reasons for the transfer. He also stressed that many ILR students were interested in joining the debate team, which created more incentive for the team to switch schools. Katz was also able to provide space for their weekly practice sessions. “These students eat, breath and sleep what they do,” Lu said. Student’s commitment and dedication to the team are motivated by the scholarships, which are often awarded right out of high school to recruit talented debaters.Members of the team also added that their involvement in the debate team has helped improve their academic performance in their classes. According to Ryan Yeh ’13, being a part of the debate team “helps academically … improves our GPA and helps us think critically to decide which arguments are good … It is great for research skills.”“The debate team creates marketable skills and [allows members] to communicate ideas in a logical fashion,” Spencer Sheaff ’13 said. “[They] use these skills in the broader community in the workforce.”As one of the top 100 teams in the world, the debaters say they have goals of reaching the top 10 internationally in the near future. “We are like one big happy family” Nelson said. “We’re growing. We’re getting better and better.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the University’s debate team awards scholarships to its members. In fact, while the team pays for some expenses associated with traveling to competitions, it does not provide any monetary compensation to its members. The Sun regrets the error.
Original Author: Sandy Do