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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Tufts hosts Pro-Am debate tournament

The Tufts Debate Society hosted its third annual pro-am debate tournament this weekend, bringing 71 teams from 18 colleges to the Hill for parliamentary-style debates.

The pro-am tournament is designed to promote internal team building by giving new participants a rare opportunity to compete with and against varsity debaters.

The Tufts Debate Society organized and judged the tournament. Teams ventured from schools as distant as the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University. Local schools like Harvard, Northeastern and MIT also competed.

The Tufts Debate Society and the teams that participated in the tournament compete in the American Parliamentary Debate Association.

In parliamentary debates, two sides, each with two members, face off. The government team, which has a prime minister and member of government, squares off against the opposition team, which consists of the leader and a member of the opposition. In every debate, there are four constructive and two rebuttal speeches.

The government side presents a specific case that, barring certain exceptions, is of its own choosing. Cases must be considered debatable by the judges and can range from issues of public policy to law, philosophy or ethical issues.

Although arguing a prepared case on the government side seems advantageous, most teams prefer opposition because they find it easier to poke holes in the other side's arguments, while the government must prove its case.

This style of debate is unique in that it "rewards quick thinking and general knowledge, because a team has to oppose a case on the spot in an extemporaneous style," according to senior Aram Boghosian, the president of the Tufts Debate Society. "It also allows people to talk about what interests them."

Freshman Eva Sikes, a Tufts debater who served as a judge this weekend, said that debating is an excellent way of bolstering general knowledge. "There are really good debates that you can learn from and pick up skills that make you a better debater and speaker in general," she said.

Debates at the tournament explored whether tax incentives for obese people to lose weight are beneficial, if organ selling should be allowed, whether anonymous testimony at trials should remain legal in England, and if the results from scientific experiments performed by Nazis on Holocaust victims should be destroyed, among other topics.

Senior Jake Campbell and freshman Evelyn Liberman from Boston University emerged victorious from the tournament.

They beat junior Kyle Bean and freshman Alex Loomis from Harvard in the final round in a debate about whether the survivors of an apocalyptic nuclear attack, who over the course of 50 years had managed to form a society in a bomb shelter of sorts, should open the doors of the shelter to a newly discovered class of humans genetically mutated by the radiation.

Andrew Laing, a 2008 Harvard graduate currently serving as the coach of the Brandeis University debate team, offered insight into the difficulties of the Tufts student-judges' task. "The problem with parliamentary debate is that it is very subjective. Also, it is hard to weigh eloquence and speaking style with the quality of the arguments. They're normally correlated but sometimes aren't," he told the Daily.

Although the Tufts team did not compete this weekend, Boghosian said that it has expanded upon competitive success from last year and continues to perform at a high level.

Boghosian and his debate partner, the team's vice president Rob Silverblatt, have already seen success this fall, earning eighth place at a Harvard competition that involved over 120 teams. They also finished fourth at Johns Hopkins, ninth at Smith College and 10th at Brown University. Silverblatt is also the editor-in-chief of the Daily.

Debaters cited the excitement of competition as an appealing factor. "Debate provides an adrenaline rush. It's a really exciting way to watch people exchange ideas," Sikes said.

"It's hard to pick out a single favorite thing — having a really good round where you feel like you're really on your game is really exciting," Laing said.

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