MC debate team develops skills for their future

photo courtesy of MC Debate Team/ originally published October 2014

Ready. Set. Debate. The Mississippi College debate team allows students the chance to effectively express their opinions and ideas in a competitive setting.

The MC debate team is coached by communication professor Merle Ziegler. This year’s team consists of members Alex Hendry, Andrew Rock, Cierra Bailey, Eric Anderson, Maggie Wilson, and Christopher Fisher.

They have already competed at the Weevil Wars Debate Tournament at the University of Arkansas, where they had the second best win-loss percentage. While there are a possible 31 national tournaments to compete in, Ziegler said MC chooses to do only eight this year. The next tournament they will be competing in is at Louisiana State University in Shreveport during Nov. 7-9.

“The purpose of the debate team is primarily to allow students the opportunity to develop their ability to think critically on a variety of issues, express their ideas persuasively, and think quickly on their feet,” said Ziegler. “Additionally, it allows us to represent Mississippi College in academic competition, develop camaraderie with fellow students from a variety of backgrounds and academic fields of interest, and travel to other university campuses throughout Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia.”

The team meets every Friday at noon, where they practice researching and preparing for 30-minute debate rounds. Ziegler said they focus on “how to construct arguments, organize our ideas, cross-exam the other debater, and respond to the opposition’s arguments.”

According to Ziegler, debate tournaments usually involve about 10-16 different universities, which amounts to anywhere from 100-150 debaters. The three levels of debating are novice, varsity, and professional. Most tournaments MC participates in are regional, and a national tournament is held at the end of the season. This year’s national competition will be held at Boise State University in Idaho.

Tournaments consist of six to eight preliminary rounds. Before each round, two debaters are given a list of five resolutions that they narrow down to one topic that they will debate. They then have 30 minutes to research and prepare for the debate round. Rounds have a specific time structure where the affirmative and negative each take turns making their arguments and cross-examining each other.

“A judge in the room decides which competitor he or she feels did the better job arguing their side of the resolution,” said Ziegler.

Every fall semester, MC hosts the Deep South Debate Tournament. The tournament is relatively small, but eight to 12 colleges usually compete. This year’s Deep South Debate Tournament is set for the weekend of Dec. 5-6. MC communication students are asked to serve as judges, but Ziegler encourages any student, faculty, or staff member to volunteer to judge the individual debate rounds.

Ziegler says the skills learned from debate help students in their future careers. Being able to effectively present ideas, explain how they will be implemented, and expound upon the benefits is a communication ability that is useful for any major and career.

“Listen to the evening news shows such as Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly, or Shawn Hannity and you see people using skills that are developed by participating in debate,” said Ziegler. “Participating in public meetings like parent-teacher association, city board meetings, or neighborhood association meetings will be enhanced by having debate experience. Debate isn’t just for future lawyers or politicians, it is something everyone can and will use at some point in the future.”

“I’ve been doing speech and debate since I was 13,” said debate team member Alex Hendry. “I really can’t overstate how much it has shaped me. When you have to be ready to defend everything you say, it makes you much more aware of blind spots in your own thinking.”

Hendry said that Ziegler provides a “low-pressure” atmosphere, where teammates are able to support each other.

“The debate team has been a wonderful opportunity,” Andrew Rock said. “I came in a year ago with no debate experience, and they welcomed me and I’ve learned so much. The debate team is great if you enjoy working with ideas and using your mind.”

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A freelance writer from the Deep South with a love of reading, writing, dramatic storytelling, indie music, and her corgi pup.

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