The Extras: Q&A with Brown Debate

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Hello, Brunonian family! I’m Jacklyne Vargas, nice to meet you all *insert imaginary handshakes here*! I’m here to be your compass (well, that sounds heavy, doesn’t it?) in everything extracurricular here at Brown. If you’re reading this,  you are a magnetic force of your own and I’m simply helping you figure out what attracts you. In all The Extras, in all the magnetic forces here at Brown, you can easily be pulled in countless directions, but I’m here to help! If anything, we’ll go crazy together…

I’ve decided to change things up for you all this week! Instead of reading my rambling, I’ll treat you all to a different perspective on a highly interesting extracurricular here at Brown: the Brown Debating Union (aka BDU)!

Here to give us his perspective is BDU President himself, Alex Mechanick ’15!

Q: How did you become involved in the club? How did it differ from other’s initial involvement in the club?

A: I became involved with the BDU my freshman year. Among all the activities I signed up for my freshman year, debate seemed the most interesting, full of the coolest people, and the most fun time. As the year progressed, I enjoyed debating more and more, and I just kind of decided that meeting incredibly smart people and engaging with them about what they were most passionate about, or having them engage me about what I was most passionate about, was about the most interesting thing I could do with my time. Most people who joined the BDU are like me, though some come in with a love of debate to high school. I had no debate experience from high school, like about half of our team.

Q: What sort of individuals are drawn to the club? And what type of environment do the members create in the club itself?

A: Smart, intellectually curious, and generally cool people are drawn to the BDU. You have to be interested in ideas and a broad range of subjects to debate. But most of us enjoy discussing politics, ethics, international relations, law, economic policy, feminism, art, religion, pop culture, etc. because the question of what the right way to think about issues within these subjects is intrinsically interesting, to some extent. A small fraction of the team are drawn to the competitive aspect of debate: it’s hard to think of a better game than debate – a minimum of rules, and infinite room to improve one’s skill. But most of us like debating just for the sake of it. The environment within the team is pretty relaxed and fun.

We all debate because we enjoy being around smart and intellectually curious people, but part of debate is recognizing that there are a wide array of good arguments for most sides of an issue. That means we all tend to not take ourselves too seriously, and while many of us are still passionate activists on many issues, hanging out with the BDU mostly involves a lot of making each other laugh.

Q: Given that there are no cuts after auditions for BDU, how does the club adequately prepare novice debaters for competition?

A: We train our novices fairly extensively at the start of the year. There are five meetings before the first tournament that novices can attend, as well as a weekend tournament where novices debate each other with varsities on our team judging.

But the nice part about debate is that everyone can put in as much or as little as they want, once they get the basics down. Some novices are raring to go from the beginning, which is awesome. We set up as many practice rounds as we can for those that want to get more practice, and I meet with all debaters to go over their case (topic for debates) ideas. Others have busier schedules, or don’t want to debate as much. That’s fine too, and many of the most valued members of our team only debate once a month or once every two months.

Q: Any details about the competitive events the Brown Debating Union participates in?

A: Last year, a Brown team finished fifth at Nationals, myself and Jean McCabe. I am currently the top ranked debater in the nation and Brown is the third ranked college in the nation. You can see more details here: http://apdaweb.org/standings .

Q: What exactly is BDU’s presence in the Brown community? How does BDU contribute to the Brown community?

A: The BDU interacts with the Brown community in three primary ways.

  1.  We provide a way for individuals at Brown to improve their speaking and analytic abilities, making them better thinkers and more confident public orators. Several members of our team rarely travel to debate tournaments at all, but rather just engage in practice rounds here on campus for exactly that reason.
  2. We offer an annual debate tournament with a $2000 prize to the winner, open to sophomores and juniors in the Brown community: the Hicks Debate tournament. This tournament is adjudicated by faculty and graduate students, and gives a chance to those who are not members of the BDU to be involved in debate.
  3. We occasionally engage in on-campus debates. There are other organizations that organize speakers to come debate (Janus Forum) or host debates among students. Still, occasionally there is a benefit to having top tier debaters from the BDU engage advocates in a public forum. We are hoping to set up one such public debate with members of PETA this semester.

Q: Why should students become involved in the Brown Debating Union? Does it change you or how you relate to others?

A: Students should join the BDU for three reasons. One, you’ll meet the coolest group of people you’ll ever meet. Most of my best friends have come from people I met in the BDU, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without them. Second, you’ll become smarter. Classes allow you to learn more things. But debate is the ultimate way to stretch yourself as a thinker. The brain is in some ways like a muscle, and debate is the best possible workout for your brain. Third, debate helps you with life after college. So many of my friends on the BDU who have graduated have told me about how much better they did in job interviews, or in law school, or in their job, because of skills they gained from debate.

Thank you for your in-depth insights, Alex!

Until next week lovelies,

Jackie

Don’t hesitate to leave any questions, comments, frustrations, tirades, rants, chocolates, inquiries or suggestions (I’d love your input) either below or in my email,  jacklyne_vargas@brown.edu! I’m seriously excited to interact with you all… Seriously. Have a delightful day!

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