What is debate?
Debate at its most basic is simply a formal method of arguing ideas and positions. The major goal of the study of debate is to develop one’s ability to argue for or against any subject with equal ease. To inexperienced debaters, some propositions appear easier to defend than others; to experienced debaters, any proposition can be defended. Debate also helps improve public speaking skills and developing constructive criticism.
Rule-based competitive debate exists all over the world. Students from elementary school to graduate school are involved in different formats and styles of debate. In general, all debates involve speakers being assigned to one “side” of the debate (‘for’, ‘Affirmative’ ‘government or ‘against’, ‘Negative’ ‘opposition’). Debaters are given a statement (proposition or resolution) which if adopted would change something. Each side has specific roles defining how they are to advance the argumentation.
Competitive debate is organized at the local, national, and international level. Many different styles of debate occur under a variety of organizations and rules.
What format of debate do we engage in?
The United States has a rich collection of debate styles and formats. USC has been an active participant in policy debate for many years, but there has not been a place for other debate formats. The Trojan Parliamentary Debate Club aims to fill that void by offering a place for Parliamentary debate, particularly World’s format (British Parliamentary,or BP) and American Parliamentary (AP) debate.
In general, parliamentary debate is a form of competitive debate which stresses rigorous argumentation, logical analysis, quick thinking, breadth of knowledge, and rhetorical ability over preparation of evidence. This contrasts with policy debate, which requires rigourous research and depth of knowledge. The format pits two-person teams against each other in a contest of argument, wit and rhetoric which roughly simulates debate in a House of Parliament. The Government (proposing) team prepares and presents a case for debate based on a topic or resolution announced only 15 minutes before the beginning of the round. The Opposition attempts to rebut the Government’s proposal through counter-argument and refutation. A different resolution is debated in every parliamentary debate round. This contrasts with policy debate where debaters use the same resolution for an entire season. Resolutions are chosen from a wide variety of political, philosophical, economic, cultural and humorous topics, and debaters often have a broad scope in which to define the specific case for debate which is drawn from the resolution. Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and over thirty other nations participate in parliamentary debate.
In World’s formate debate, four teams of two debaters are involved in each round. Two of these teams are on “Government”, and two are on “Opposition”. The round is divided into a front-half and a back-half. During each of these halves, only two teams are giving speeches, one from each of Government and Opposition. The teams in the second half are defending the same proposition as their front half equivalents, but they are still trying to beat them. Thus, these teams must debate the same principal as the first half, but they must introduce new material that is considered more significant than what was presented in first half. The thesis of second half teams is “our front half equivalent was right, but for the wrong reasons”. As the name suggests, World’s format debate is practiced globally and is the format of the World Universities Debating Championships (WUDC) which occurs annually over the winter break. World’s format is also quite popular in the LA region – there are teams at Loyola Marymount, La Verne, Claremont McKenna and Santa Monica College, to name a few.
In American Parliamentary debate, two teams of two debaters each are involved in each round. At most AP tournaments, teams are expected to have prepared debate motions and cases in advance which they will present when they are on government.
In World’s format debates, issues get fleshed out much more significantly than in American Parliamentary debate. However, American Parliamentary allows more flexibility to debate topics that may not be rich enough for eight debate speeches.
How can I get involved?
Participation in the debates is purely voluntary, but we recommend that you give it a shot. If you have never debated before, that is OK. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and we expect most of our new members to be brand new to debate! A debate round lasts approximately one hour and will be followed by feedback from more experienced club members.
Anyone is welcome to attend a club meeting. There is no need to wait for the beginning of a semester. If you want to attend meetings sporadically, that is totally OK! You can be as involved or as casual as you please.
One of the most fun parts of being involved in debate is attending external tournaments. Tournaments are held all over the country – and all over the world! Fortunately, our friends at local LA schools host tournaments as well for those that want a cheap and close option.
Tournaments have registration fees in addition to fees for transportation and housing. The Trojan Parliamentary Debate Club will try to subsidize as many costs as possible to make tournaments affordable for anyone interested. Once a price has been determined for tournaments, we will open registration and anyone will be welcome to sign up for spots on a first-paid, first-served basis.
Tournaments generally run two or three rounds of debate Friday afternoon/early evening. The rest of the rounds are on Saturday, followed by finals on Sunday. In order to save money, we will try to find “crash” space with members of the hosting debate team. Any skill level is acceptable for attending a tournament. Tournaments are “bracketed” which means after the first round (which is randomly matched) you will face teams who are performing at the same level as you. So if you lose a round, it could be good news because you will face a team which also lost!
Tournaments offer a great opportunity to improve your debating skills because you will get feedback from debate coaches and judges outside of USC. This gives you the chance to get a new perspective and hear things explained in a new way. Some tournaments offer additional opportunities for training by providing seminars for new debaters. Tournaments are also great for socializing since you get the chance to meet debaters from different clubs and schools.