Swarthmore hosts national debate tournament: a conversation with Julie Baker

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This weekend, Swarthmore’s debate team will be hosting an American Parliamentary Debate Association tournament. Julie Baker, the team’s vice-president, sat down with the Daily Gazette to talk about the tournament and debating. The final round will be on Saturday at 5:00pm in the Mural Room in Hicks and all are welcome to come and watch.

Daily Gazette: So Swarthmore is hosting the tournament this year. Can you tell me a little about the tournament?
Julie Baker: Most schools who compete on the circuit, called the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), host a tournament once a year during which they invite pretty much all the other teams, which are mainly east coast teams but there are some teams from “the west” as well. Swarthmore happens to host two tournaments: the novice tournament in the fall and an open tournament in the spring.

DG: How does the tournament work? What do you guys have planned?
JB: Teams are comprised of two people each. We have four “in rounds” on Friday, which are rounds in which everyone can participate. Then we have a party on Friday night in which we announce who has “broken” to octave finals. There will be sixteen people in the octave finals, then we go to quarter and semi finals and then finally, on Saturday at 5:00pm we have the final round which is open to the public. Pretty much the entire thing is student run, the only people who will be judging are actually just other students and other debaters who are hosting the tournament.

DG: What kinds of things do you guys debate about?
JB: So the great thing about parliamentary debate is actually that it sort of rewards you for being able to think on your feet and come up with intelligent arguments without having a lot of ability to prepare before the tournament. At our tournament we don’t have any rules about what types of cases can be run in each round. So pretty much what happens is that there’s a government theme and an opposition theme. The government team will come to the round with a case prepared that the opposition team doesn’t know anything about until they hear the case statement. Cases range pretty much anywhere from philosophy to movie cases to time space cases. You also have your basic policy, political, and economics cases.

DG: What’s your favorite type of case?
JB: Well, the types of cases I like to run are really philosophy cases and thought experiments. I also like something called Op Voice, which is where the opposite team gets to pick which side of the case they want to defend. It depends on the team you’re hitting. If you know the team, you want to run something you know they’re going to have a good round with.

DG: How would you say the Swarthmore team compares to other teams on the circuit?
JB: I would say that we’re pretty impressive. We have a lot of accolades to our name. Last year, we had a debater who, amongst other things, was the top speaker at nationals, which is one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year. Last year, I was actually the top ranked freshman debater in the country.

DG: Do you have anything to say to those people that might be interested in being on the team next year?
JB: We take new members every year and our debate team, being well funded, is in a good position to take just as many people anywhere that they want to go. This year alone I went to Dublin, Toronto, Stanford, and other places. It’s a really great opportunity to get off campus, make friends at other schools, sample college life pretty much everywhere, and it really is something that is supposed to be fun. We try to keep it as low pressure as possible. The organization is one that exists for its members instead of having a lot of requirements that require you to be really good or active.

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