Earlier this month, members of the newly formed Slippery Rock University’s Debate Society competed in the National Educational Debate Association’s National Debate Tournament at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
Coached by Communications instructor Tim Michaels, the Debate Society not only competed in the tournament but also had a member take home a win.
Freshman political science major Emily Hellwig placed fourth in the “Outstanding Speaker” competition for the Novice Crossfire division. This national achievement is even more remarkable as the Debate Society team is new to Slippery Rock. In fact, the team had to be built from the very foundation this year.
“I was the coach of Duquesne University’s debate team for four years, and so, when I arrived here, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t already something in place,” explained Michaels. “The debate team is a brand-new attempt at trying to bring a new activity into the Communication department and for the entire university.”
Teaming up with Heather Frederick of the Political Science Department, Michaels was able to make the debate team a reality by securing last-minute invitations to compete.
However, with only three weeks to prepare for this competition, Michaels and his students had to crack down. According to Hellwig, each member and their debate partner met up every Thursday night to research and practice.
“Generally, the way you start to approach something is to start having a conversation,” Michaels advised. “From there, we can begin to generate some basic ideas and then weed out what sounds like a good argument and their counterarguments. We do some research and see what we can support through the actual information and literature that is out there.”
Members of the Debate Society not only learned how to prepare their arguments through this process but were also introduced to the general format of a college-level debate.
“Through outside meetings, the students did a lot of the work,” Michaels said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without their dedication and willingness to put in a significant amount of time while they’re trying to work on stuff for their classes.”
Although Hellwig proved this perseverance and balance as she took fourth place in her division, she also gives credit to the team and coach.
“I think debating is a really important skill that helps with critical thinking, articulating your thoughts, and being socially conscious,” Hellwig said. “Since we are a brand-new team, I think we have lots of potential and room for improvement, so I’m excited to see how we progress. We’re also really fortunate to have Professor Michaels as a coach because he has lots of experience.”
Open to all majors, the Debate Society is always looking to expand and take in new members.
“It’s for everybody,” Michaels said. “To me, that’s the best value of something like a debate program is that every different major has different ways they contribute to the team.”
After participating in the Philosophy Department’s Ethics Bowl, The Slippery Rock Debate Society also plans to compete against Penn State, Clarion University and others in the upcoming Duquesne University Debate Forum on April 20 and 21.