There’s no arguing this point: In a mere three years, Ohio Wesleyan University’s student-run Debate Association has gone from a dream to an award-winning reality.
The Ohio Wesleyan group earned “Program of the Year” honors during the North East Universities Debating Championships held last month at Western Connecticut State University. In addition, an OWU team placed seventh in the national tournament, continuing the association’s growing list of competition successes.
Team members Rebekah Smith ’12 and Alina Ruzmetova ’11 smile about the honors as they recall the group’s humble beginnings.
“We met in the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center Atrium to talk about what to name it,” says Ruzmetova, an international studies and economics major from Pataskala, Ohio. “We chose ‘association’ because it sounded more formal. We’ve gone from forming the association to being named program of the year in three years. That’s a great prize for all of the hard work of everyone involved, especially Becky and Usman (Javaid ’10.)”
Javaid, now pursuing a graduate degree at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is credited with founding the association.
Since they began competing, Ohio Wesleyan Debate Association members have claimed seven trophies, including a 2010 quarterfinalist trophy at the U.S. Universities Debating Championship in Denver and a 2010 finalist trophy at the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Tournament in Geneva, N.Y.
This weekend, March 19-20, the community is invited to come see these skillful students in action as they host the first of what they hope will become an annual OWU tournament. The competition will take place in Phillips Hall auditorium with the debaters taking the floor at 10 a.m. Saturday. Admission is free both days.
Smith, president of the Ohio Wesleyan Debate Association, says teams will continue to register this week, but she anticipates up to 40 teams from 10 schools will participate in the fast-talking fun. The debates are conducted in the Worlds/British Parliamentary style with debaters receiving their topics 15 minutes before they begin presenting their arguments.
“More people fear public speaking than death,” Smith says, “and that’s ridiculous. “One of the joys of being involved with the Debate Association has been seeing participants transform from petrified speakers to ones with complete confidence. I’ve watched people undergo a complete change in attitude–in and out of competition.”
Participants also learn to embrace conflict, says Smith, an international studies and economics major and an economics management minor from Chugiak, Alaska.
“Growth and resolution come from conflict,” Smith notes. “You can come to a much deeper understanding through conflict.”
Team members also benefit from their efforts to stay abreast of national and international news, Ruzmetova says.
“Debate is a great compliment to a liberal arts education,” she says. “You have to keep up with everything in the world to make a solid argument. Topics are most often based on current events and it helps to approach them from different disciplines, such as science and economics.”
And there’s one more thing she and Smith like about the Debate Association. “We like winning,” Ruzmetova says.
“We definitely like winning,” Smith says.
Learn more about the Ohio Wesleyan Debate Association, its winning tradition, and this weekend’s on-campus tournament.