Emily zhou ’19
The Smith College debate team began in 1900 as an on-campus activity where students represented different classes and argued for various resolutions on topics ranging from segregation laws to international relations. Members of the debate team today continue to refine their arguments and cultivate confidence in this sport.
On Sept. 9, just the second day of class, the Smith College debate team hosted its annual debate tournament, where students from institutions such as Brandeis, Yale, Harvard and West Point came to compete in this art form. This event has been on the debaters’ minds for a good chunk of the summer. After running around campus getting forms printed and signed, making phone calls to nearby restaurants for catering and late-nights creating excel spreadsheets organizing all participants, the tournament has finally passed.
The crowded and loud Davis Ballroom was distant from the rest of the quiet Smith community. Team members crowded together discussing cases and potential rebuttals. Senior members advised the new debaters, referred to as “novices,” on how to calm their nerves. Meanwhile, the Smith hosts ran in and out of Davis Ballroom, making sure everything was running smoothly. Tiphanie Chow ’19, a board member, said, “It was really hectic since there was only a handful of us, but I think we make a great team; the tournament was a great turnout.”
The Smith tournament is significant for many of the debaters coming from other schools, as it is one of the earliest tournaments that happen in the academic year. Amelia Berg, a senior at Brandeis University who has competed at the Smith tournament since her freshman year, reflected on her own debate journey, “It’s [sic] been a weekend of nostalgia and reflection, but this year was especially bittersweet. We walked around the campus, trying to process that this is the beginning of the end.”
Berg’s bittersweet farewell to the Smith tournament is not unique to her alone, as quite a few senior debaters made similar comments that weekend. On the other hand, the tournament also marks the beginning of the recruitment for a whole new generation of debaters to continue the tradition and sport. For novices of other institutions, this was their first time debating on the collegiate stage.
The tournament is also the first debate event Smith novices get involved in, getting to know the dynamics of the debate league and the structure of the sport. Halley Haruta, ’20 is amongst the crew of Smith students who got involved with the Smith tournament as a judge. Reflecting on her experience, she said, “I didn’t know what to expect, but immediately I was impressed by how the sport improves the public speaking and argumentation skills of [the] participants. I love the intensity of debate and the quick thinking that it requires. I also really like how the tournament was entirely student-run, from every aspect of management to judging.”
For the remainder of the academic year, it will fall upon other institutions to organize and host debate tournaments on their own campuses. After the chaos of hosting their own tournament, the Smith debaters are completely content with their year-long break, before having to do it all over again.