Four Trinity University debate students took part in the 2017 National Debate Tournament (NDT) in late March, with two first-years finishing in the top 32 teams for the first time in school history.
William Mosley-Jensen, director of Trinity’s debate team, said, “This is a historic first for Trinity University, as an all first-year team from our institution has never made it to the top 32 before.” In the process, team members Ian Dill ’20 and Ansh Khullar ’20 beat teams from Harvard, Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Kentucky, and Towson University.
Although the first-years placed in the top 32, Mosley-Jensen said other Trinity debaters have placed in that bracket in 1991, 2010, and 2016. “The future is very bright for this young, talented, hard-working team,” he said.
Mosley-Jensen, also a professor of human communication and theater, was joined by Collin Roark, visiting assistant director of debate, in taking four Trinity debate students to the national finals in Kansas City in late March.
Austen Yorko ’17, who is from Wooster, Ohio majoring in political science with a minor in human communication, credited Mosley-Jensen and Roark for the team’s success, saying they worked “tirelessly” to help all Trinity debaters. “They are masters at utilizing losses as teaching moments, and I am happy that three years of my long debate career were spent under their tutelage. I have become a better debater, academic, and person because of how they handle the team,” Yorko said.
The national event is intimidating, Yorko said, because teams “massively step up their efforts and game for this tournament because almost everyone has aspirations of winning it all.”
The Trinity team spent all of spring break preparing for this tournament, he said, adding that much of the semester – including between and after classes – was dedicated to being in the debate squad room practicing speeches and doing research.
Debate season begins in the fall and continues until the early spring. The national debate tournament finals are scheduled to coincide with the NCAA basketball season known as “March Madness.” Although the debaters begin with 78 teams (basketball begins with 64), groups are pared down to the top 32, the Sweet 16, and so on.
This year’s debate topic was about how the United States could best ramp up its efforts to mitigate or adapt to climate change, specifically by restricting private sector greenhouse gas emissions. Yorko said it was his favorite topic in eight years of debate because the literature surrounding climate change is very rich and relevant now, “which made this topic rewarding to debate.”
Another debater, Drew Sposeep ’19, a computer science major from Austin, Texas, said the climate change topic was timely, given the surprise election of President Donald Trump and his directives to roll back a number of environmental statutes. “Our debates may not have influenced real public policy, but their educational value always makes the game worthwhile,” Sposeep said.
He added, “Debate is the best and most difficult game ever invented, and the NDT reflects that. It represents the culmination of an entire year's worth of research, practice and argumentative development. We spent the entire spring break - or, ‘NDT Work Week’ as we were required to call it - just preparing for the tournament, as did many other schools attending. For that reason, it's both incredibly hard, but also rewarding.”