You’ve seen the banners. You’ve seen the posts on social media. You’ve seen the new display case in the Yates-Gill Union holding a giant trophy. So you know that a duo from the William Jewell College debate team is now a pair of national champions. However, while the team has remained very successful for many years, few people know anything about Jewell’s debate team or what college debate is like in general.
“I have found that many of the students on campus, especially the first-years, have no idea we even have a debate team,” said Tim Wise, first-year physics and communication major. “Some people have heard about it but don’t know anything more than the fact that the team exists.”
The Jewell debate team consists of 11 members, most of whom are first-year students. While having such a young team can create a unique dynamic, according to director of debate Kyle Dennis, the younger debaters benefited from being on a team with eventual national champions and witnessing the work and skill it takes to reach that level of competition. It also helped that the team members worked together very well.
“I’ve never coached a team that likes each other more than our team does,” said Dennis. “This team functions together nicely; we have a culture that is incredible.”
Other members of the team agree.
“Our team is pretty family-oriented,” said Haley Uttley, first-year political science major. “We really do all get along, which is pretty rare. We all enjoy each other’s presence and often spend time together outside of debate as well. I feel very lucky to be a part of this close-knit group.”
During practices, the debaters prepare for any topics they are given before tournaments through online research. If the tournament does not release the topics beforehand, they do practice rounds, watch videos of previous debates and keep up with current events.
“Our practices normally have a lot going on. Some people work on evidence, some people do practice rounds and some people just talk and bounce ideas off of each other for their next argument they are wanting to write. Everyone is at different stages in their debate progression, so everyone is normally working on something different,” said Uttley.
When the time for preparation is over, the team departs for their next tournament where, for the most part, every member of the team will compete. They argue in front of critics who tend to be more qualified than judges at high school debates.
“The critics are composed mainly of past debaters and coaches. Most of our judges travel across the country to all of our tournaments with teams and are very familiar with all of the debaters on the circuit. It is really nice to have experienced critics that are familiar with how debate works and how to judge,” said Uttley.
Overall, the students seem to value their experiences of being on the debate team. Doing debate not only offers a supportive group of friends but opportunities to grow academically and have intellectual arguments about real-life topics as well.
“For me, debate offers an opportunity to have in-depth discussions about issues like the economy, politics, racism, sexism and other issues that we face as a society,” said Wise. “Being a part of this program helps me voice and understand these issues by being able to discuss how these issues affect other people, rather than listening to a professor tell you that the problem exists.”
Debate can also influence how these students think in the classroom and how they can best communicate their ideas.
“Debate has always forced me to look at and understand all sides and solutions of every problem I’ve been presented. In the classroom, it means that I am usually able to quickly understand everybody’s arguments and the logic, behind them. I’ve become much more creative and open in my problem solving and it helps with more than you might think,” said Stefanie Flood, first-year Oxbridge institutions and policy major.
The debate team affects not only its members but all students at Jewell. The Jewell community can help the team by recognizing its existence and success, knowing how well they represent their institution across the country at every tournament and supporting the debate team through kind and encouraging words.
“Our team is well known and respected around the country, which can be difficult for small schools like us to achieve,” said Flood. “While we are not exactly a spectator sport, we still love to have your support.”
Feature photo by Kyle Rivas.