The University of Rhode Island’s Debate Union attended the Lafayette Debates U.S. National Championship in Washington D.C., for the first time on April 7 and April 8.
The Lafayette Debates were founded by the Embassy of France to the United States. The debates are a series of five competitions around the country that conclude with the National Championship. URI hosted the first of these competitions in February and the National Championship was hosted at the George Washington University.
Each year, debaters discuss a different topic related to French history, culture and politics while relating it to current events. This year, students debated the series of French student protests that occured in May of 1968, in which students threw cobblestones at police. In particular, students were asked to analyze questions about the ethics of protesting and civil disobedience.
“It was a great way to understand the full effect of this movement in 1968, and you can bring it back to today as well,” said Tabatha Lewis, president of the Debate Union. “So it was really interesting cross-cultural and cross-time periods.”
The debate style used in this tournament was different than any other that the Debate Union has done before. Lewis said that the Debate Union plans to bring this style to their home debates, in addition to other debate styles.
“Usually we do British Parliamentary style debate, where we get a new topic and have fifteen minutes to prepare,” Lewis said. “The format we did now had two people against two people, and you go back and forth debating. You knew the topic long before the debate, so you’re making this one monstrous argument. You also have cross sections where you’re able to ask questions to the other person at this time, and have rebuttals.”
Lewis said that arguing for both sides of an issue in debate helped her improve as a person.
“I think the most valuable thing I’ve gained from this club is really getting a different perspective on things and being in a space where even you take a side that you don’t believe in at all, after the debate you express what you actually think, and it’s an interesting way to express your devil’s advocate side,” Lewis said. “So it really makes you a more well-rounded person.”
Lewis also cited the ability to hone critical thinking skills and public speaking skills as a major benefit of debate. Lewis also emphasized the importance of meeting others in debate.
“The people you meet in debate are amazing because you have that open ‘let’s actually talk about real issues’ which you don’t have in everyday life,” Lewis said.
When asked what the Debate Union’s future plans are, Lewis said that the team plans to compete in more tournaments, including attending the Lafayette Tournaments again. She also mentioned how she wants more on-campus groups to collaborate with the Debate Union.
“We definitely want to involve more of campus in debate,” Lewis said. “I think we’re going to try to connect with more clubs. We’re actually working with the College Democrats to run their meeting with a debate style. So we want to involve more different clubs on campus and have more of a conversation on campus.”
There were 47 colleges from the United States and France represented in the tournament, with over 400 students participating. The University of Miami team was crowned the U.S. National Champions, while the United States Naval Academy team was named the General Lafayette Debates Champions. URI’s team was eliminated shortly before the semifinals.