UCLA Sweeps 1st Annual SMC Debate Tournament
This Friday Oct. 28, Santa Monica College held its first official debate tournament on campus. The competition was energetically well received as more than 20 teams representing SMC, LMU, and UCLA attended the event to compete.
Each team comprised of two members. 5 rooms were provided with 4 teams and 3 judges for each room in the format of a mock British Parliament. During the first 3 preliminary rounds, a debate topic was provided in which the government strongly suggest implementing. 2 of the teams spoke in favor of the topic siding with the house and two teams spoke on behalf of the opposition party. Taking turns, each member stood at a center stage podium with 7 minutes to argue and justify their stance for the round while the judges presiding scored their performance.
Implementing the strategy and tactics of logic and rhetoric through speech and idea, each team exclaimed a variety of pros and cons for the contested issue. This heated and passionate verbal exchange quickly lead to a plethora of points and counterpoints thrown back and forth in rapid succession leading to nearly unceasing rebuttals and refutations.
The first topic presented was the Syrian Refugee crisis. Contestants were asked to argue if and how the government should increase aid towards Syrian refugees. The moment the timer began, the competitors dissected this multi-faceted issue to great lengths examining in detail how the nation should stand.
Views on morality and security, how America's actions impact international culture and economics, and how such aid would be implemented and interpreted in the realm of diplomatic relations and military strategy were all factors for discussion. With lives at stake for citizens of the United States, Syrians, and members of the international community as a whole in the real world, students became very invested in expressing their voices on the crisis and how to best respond to this contemporary quandary.
Nishanth Selvalingam, a double major in philosophy and psychology at UCLA, participates in the final round of the debate competition held at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28, 2016. Selvalingam who won first place in the debate said that during this debate he learned the importance to "Never take for granted the initial premise of any arguement. For example always assume that the things in your mind, that seem obvious, aren't as obvious to the people that you're trying to argue them to." (Jose Lopez) Frankie Duan, a politcal science major at Santa Monica College, participates in round 3 of the debate competition held at SMC in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28, 2016. This round focused on restrictions of free speech within social media. (Jose Lopez) Joe Kahn, a political science major at UCLA, participates in the final round of the debate competition held at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28, 2016. (Jose Lopez)
The second topic of the tournament presented the idea that the house believed universities should eliminate degree programs that are unlikely to provide employment after graduation. The very moment this topic was presented, the speakers were energized and immediately prepped their arguments with an enthusiastic furor.
Notes and stratagems in shorthand soon escalated into a wide ranging discourse of social responsibility for the citizen of the nation-state. The struggle students and faculty face in attaining education for employment was thoroughly examined as well as the risk and reward of debt-based funding in relation to the class divide in American social strata.
The topics themselves were flexible enough that it allowed each competitor to share their scholarship as well as exchange personal philosophy. Speaker Dakota Klasky from UCLA said, “I got a lot more confident with my speaking and figured out a way to clearly structure my speeches as the rounds proceeded. I think as the tournament went on, everyone got better” Indeed performance overall was quite notable especially in the final two rounds.
Upon reaching Round 3, the house was assigned to argue that social media platforms should have stronger restrictions on free speech. The competitors could relate the topics both on an intellectual and visceral level quite effortlessly. At times members of the mock parliament were deftly referencing meta-level anecdotes to further bolster the validity of their stance on the issue.
In some rooms it was a meticulous analysis of governments influencing private companies as a policy of regulating individual free speech, collective spaces congregation, and data sharing. It gave house members the question; to what extent and context people are willing to ensure safety and security of body and mind if in order to do so they must relinquish the privilege of perspective originally uninhibited by the Internet.
As the discourse persisted, conceptual lines soon blurred between social safe spaces and brazen ISIS havens as it became a point of contention what words and activities could constitute a definite grounds for the restriction of speech.
Frankie Duan, a political science major at Santa Monica College, prepares for round three of the debate competition held at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28, 2016. (Jose Lopez)
The first three rounds were well fought, but judges decided that amongst the top performers, 4 teams representing UCLA were to contend in the final bout. At this stage, the subject of debate was whether or not the United States government should have compulsory voting laws for its citizens. The concluding match was quite memorable and exceptionally relevant to this year’s presidential election.
Through the frame of compulsory voting laws, the topic presented struggles of civic engagement through the use of federal mandates and incentives as well as the duties and moral obligations of the collective and the individual. As the 2016 election reaches the pinnacle of a Grand National campaign between the mighty forces of Clinton and Trump, the power of one’s vote was an inquiring exploration in the nature of choice.
When and if there are only two choices sponsored by the state, should one pick a lesser of two evils or go against the grain selecting a third party candidate? Or does one perhaps reject consenting to the process altogether in an act of defiance? This debate brought forth systemic and structural challenges democracy faces worldwide.
The dilemmas of voter fraud, gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and winning by plurality all became contentious predicaments. Rhetorically, it was asked to everyone present in the house, how does one encourage motivation and fight the disenfranchisement and disenchantment that pervades the American public?
Ultimately the debate came down to each speaker’s faith in voting. Whether or not the individual believed their vote mattered, if it would have a meaningful combined impact on the election, the nation’s future, and on the American model of representative democracy.
Upon the debate’s end, the teams in opposition of compulsory voting laws scored a solid victory. Most notable speakers of this tournament were UCLA teammates Nishanth Selvalingam and Madelyn Chen, winning the final round and receiving top scores overall in their first tournament as a team. “We adapted throughout the rounds and we learned what worked for us and doesn’t…it was a really good chance to compete together and have a really fun time while doing it,” said Madelyn Chen.
Frankie Duan, a politcal science major at Santa Monica College, debriefs with her boyfriend, Danny Ochoa, a theatre arts major at SMC, after her second round at the debate competition held on the main campus of SMC in Santa Monica, California on October 28, 2016. This is Duan's first semester on the team and she won second place in the first round and third place in the second round. She shared that her biggest challenge is finding a way to be more consistant in her performance by starting strong and ending strong. (Jose Lopez) Filipp krasovsky, an economics major at UCLA and an SMC alum, sits crouched down interacting with other students as they await the final results of the debate competition held at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28, 2016. (Jose Lopez) Nishanth Selvalingam, a double major in philosophy and psychology at UCLA, anxiously waits to interject his thoughts to challenge the opposition during the final round of the debate competition held at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28, 2016. Selvalingam won first place in the debate. (Jose Lopez)
“In my eight years of debating, It seems to me as if there’s a community of debaters that seems to transcend their individual backgrounds. When you are a debater, you access a higher level of cognition of the culture which is defined by lots of different schools” said Nishanth Selvalingam.
While SMC may have not reached finals, the debate team has planted the seeds of ongoing prosperity.
SMC debate team alumni and UCLA speaker, Filipp Krasovski, reached the final round and scored amongst the top ten for the tournament. Finalist and UCLA speaker Joe Kahn said, “I’m very impressed with what SMC has done for their first year of BP debating...their coaching staff Nate [Brown] and Luis [Andrade] seem like they’re doing great things. I wouldn’t be surprised to see SMC become a pretty big name on the circuit in the next couple of years.”
Judge and communications professor Brianna Broady said, “It was a really strong debate. I think it came down to the first opposition team, though it was really close with them and the second team representing the house. As the first SMC Debate Tournament, it was a great success!”
The event culminated into an immersive, educational, and entertaining exercise that allowed students to examine and participate in the process and functions of western democratic institutions. With each speaker originating from a variety of life experiences, every team contributed to a diverse dialogue of viewpoints and perspectives.
The words they shared throughout the entirety of the campus tournament had effectively proven that dialogue and debate on SMC campus provides a profound locus for greater scholarly thought amongst students, thus cultivating them into strong leaders and thinkers of tomorrow.
Students receive the topic announcement prompt for round 3 of the debate competition held at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif. on October 28, 2016. (Jose Lopez)