Brand new Clemson debate team goes from novice debaters to national champions in one year
By Crystal Boyles
As a group of 15 Clemson students found out, debate is more than just making your point and proving that you’re right. Debate is academic. It’s research-based. And it’s hard, rewarding work.
In its first year, Clemson’s debate team won the National Education Debate Association’s (NEDA) national tournament. Quite a feat for a group of students who in August didn’t know what debate was.
At its simplest form, debate is making a point from a perspective you believe to be true. But a debate team doesn’t really get to choose a side. They must research and debate for — and against — a given subject.
“You have to defend the other side whether you believe in it or not. The world is not black and white, there’s plenty of gray,” said Jenny Tumas, a junior double major in communications studies and political science. “In our careers we’re not always going to agree with others, but if you can see the merit in someone’s opinion — understand that gray area — that’s when you become an effective communicator.”
Communications Studies faculty member and team coach Lindsey Dixon agrees.
“Essentially these students think critically for a hobby,” she said. And they work hard at it.
At least six hours a week are spent in meetings and practice sessions, and that doesn’t include the hours students spend researching topics and reading and studying each other’s research. And that’s on top of their regular classes.
“My students just worked so hard. I have been involved with debate for the past five years and I can say without a doubt that these students are some of the most dedicated, passionate and talented I have ever come across,” said Dixon, who herself exudes passion for debate and critical thinking.
While this is the first time this team has competed, debate isn’t new to Clemson. In fact it’s the oldest intercollegiate activity at the University, although changes in the last decade meant the team had a much different purpose.
“Debate really creates a much more engaged student. We research diverse topics for weeks at a time, and in the end that creates a much more engaged, knowledgeable citizen. And that’s really what we want,” Dixon said.
Team members credit Dixon for inspiring them and keeping their focus on their Clemson team first, their team partners second and themselves third.
“I tend to be pretty argumentative, but my debate partner, Cameron Eagles, really showed me that you don’t have to be pushy to be an effective debater,” Tumas said. “He’s a laid back partner and approaches debate more as a conversation.”
In a couple of years these team members will take these skills into their careers, but since the majority of this group are freshmen, they still have time to craft their debate and research skills. Since they’ve already won the national tournament, expectations for their success are high.
“It’s my understanding that throughout NEDA history, a single debate program has never constituted a new team, hosted the national tournament and won that tournament in the same year until now,” said Karyn Ogata Jones, chairwoman of the communication studies department. “These accomplishments speak volumes to the leadership and talents of our program director (Dixon) and the quality and dedication of students we have here at Clemson University.”
If you’re interested in joining the debate team, contact Lindsey Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 219-895-0841.