Seattle U Debate Eyes the National Debate Semifinals



The Seattle University Debate Union has been on a roll this year with multiple victories ranging from the Varsity to Junior Varsity level.

In October, the team travelled to Lewis & Clark College for a tournament and left with some impressive victories. One of Seattle U’s teams came in first and eight more teams placed. In November, competing against colleges from nine states and two Canadian provinces, Seattle U brought home two first place winners and eight team placements overall. Last month saw two first place teams and eight teams placing overall at the Western Washington University Tournament.


Head Coach Jim Hanson said that the students’ commitment to the team and debate makes the Seattle U Debate Union stand out.

“They get good coaching advice, especially from our mentors and assistant coaches,” Hanson said. “They make strategic and persuasive arguments. They work together as a team.”

Students at a debate competition have 15 minutes to craft arguments regarding a myriad of relevant topics.

Collegiate debate may not be popular amongst the masses quite yet, but to be successful, one needs to exhibit posture, poise, logic, and charm. A large part of winning a debate is based on logical arguments and responses, however there is a place for charisma as well.

Computer Science major Alyssa Gaston had multiple first place victories this year, and she said that much of debate comes down to “perceptual dominance.”

“My partner always says, ‘In debate you’re six foot eight,’” Gaston said. Treasurer of the team and Sociology major Hatcher Chapman reiterated the importance of certainty in debate. “When you walk into a room and have confidence in what you’re saying, you can make the other people in the room believe you,” he said. First-year Communications and Media major Lily Panetta reflected this sentiment. She said that having self-confidence is a key component of a debate competition.

“The goal of debate is not to make someone else look small… but to make yourself feel huge in the most positive way,” Panetta said.

Speaking to members of the debate team is a mesmerizing activity if you are interested in either the art of speaking or camaraderie. It is immediately clear that they have spent countless hours practicing the craft of proper speech because of how well they do it.

Where many college students would use filler words, the folks on the Debate Team don’t use those filler words; they are clear and concise.

The team members also don’t speak over each other, which is noticeable because of its rarity. Teamwork and camaraderie are important aspects of the group, as Chapman noted.

“My goal in debate is to make my partner feel 12 feet tall— not necessarily myself,” he said.

The debate team comes from all walks of the academic world; they major in fields varying from communications, to computer science, to physics, sociology and many subjects in between. This diversity of backgrounds can be useful when the team groups to form arguments on topics ranging from different fields.

Physics major Alex Lindgren- Ruby pointed to a particular instance in which this diversity of backgrounds came in handy.

“We will get an international relations topic, and Lily, who’s a communications major, will point out aspects relevant to it, and I’ll be able to say, ‘Oh, I know about this international cooperative project on nuclear fusion.’”

Seattle U Debate Union beats colleges in Oregon, Washington, and Canada, as well as renowned schools like University of California Berkeley on the regular, and it’s looking to break into the Ivy Leagues. Beating the Ivy Leagues is one barrier that has kept Seattle U from breaking into the national championship quarter finals.

Ivy League teams have larger budgets, which means debate teams like Harvard can debate internationally, consistently, and against the best competition the globe has to offer.

From April 12 to 15 at Clemson University, the Seattle U debate team will face off as a David amongst Goliaths of the collegiate debate world, and they have a shot at being the upset. For this year, the goal is to break the treacherous quarterfinal barrier and move a debater onto the semi-finals.

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