The Sociedad de Debate en Español Cornell, the University’s Spanish debate team, is preparing to showcase its skills on an international stage at an upcoming tournament at Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, Colombia.
SDEC is a sub-organization of the Speech and Debate Program under the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The team is the host of Campeonato Hispanohablante Interuniversitario de Debate y Oratoria, an annual, inter-university Hispanic-speaking debate and oratory championship. They are also a regular participant in the World Universities Debating Championship, the world’s largest debate tournament, which includes English and Spanish debate competitions abroad.
SDEC has traveled to many Spanish-speaking countries for tournaments, including Mexico, Guatemala and Peru, although the COVID-19 pandemic inhibited the team from participating in competitions abroad for two years. Last year, the team resumed traveling internationally, competing in Spain over the summer and in Mexico over the Thanksgiving break.
This year, they will compete in the Torneo Rosarista de Debate, which will take place from March 18 to March 20 and will feature teams from other schools in Spanish-speaking countries.
The SDEC students traveling to Colombia come from a diverse array of backgrounds. Pedro Pontes Garcia ’26, a student from Spain, joined SDEC to speak his native language in an academic setting.
“It’s very easy to lose connection to your native language whenever you leave your country,” Pontes Garcia said. “So, even though it might be easier to use it in casual conversation, there’s no context [in the U.S.] where you can speak it in a formal, academic way.”
Ellie Kagan ’26 is not a native Spanish speaker, though she took Spanish classes in high school. She joined the team to improve her Spanish oratory skills.
“I [joined Spanish debate] because Spanish was one of my favorite classes in high school, and I think it’s so important to learn several different languages,” Kagan said. “I think debate in general is so great, because it will help you with public speaking skills, thinking on the spot and considering alternative perspectives.”
SDEC team members are optimistic about their preparation for the competition. Ethan Lodge ’23, internal vice president of the team, has been part of SDEC since his freshman year and is excited to see new team members compete.
“We have a substantial [number] of people who are competing for the first time, many of whom are freshmen,” Lodge said. “We have consistently been competing among ourselves, so this will be a learning experience for them.”
Kagan expressed excitement to debate with students from different countries.
“Each of our debates are within [the SDEC]. To be actually exposed to Spanish debaters from different countries will be so amazing in terms of [our] growth,” Kagan said.
Pontes Garcia reiterated Kagan’s point, expressing his enthusiasm for learning the nuances of the Spanish language from a debate perspective.
“I’m very excited to get to know the Spanish-speaking debate circuit because there are some strong differences between debate cultures and the way people interact with each other in terms of debate,” Pontes Garcia said.
For many SDEC team members, the upcoming tournament will be their first opportunity to visit Colombia.
“[Universidad del Rosario] is one of the best universities in Colombia, so I’m excited to see what the campus is like,” Lodge said.
Bally Warren ’26, external vice president of the team, said she is eager to learn about Colombian culture.
“[We’re] going to be exposed to so many different dialects and people,” Warren said. “It’s great that people are getting exposure to these various perspectives that Cornell wants us to be a part of and see.”
Isabela Wilson ’26 is a Sun contributor. She can be reached at [email protected].