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Debaters Compete in Ireland

The HWS debate team was recently featured in a Finger Lakes Times article about their upcoming trip to Ireland. At the end of this month, seniors David Hernandez and Daniel Thorson, accompanied by their adviser Eric Barnes, will compete in the 2009 World University Debating Championships there.

The article notes how both Hernandez and Thorson have been on the team since their first year and how their partnership works well.

“Sometimes he’ll think of something that I forgot and vice versa,” he said. “We can bounce ideas off of each other,” the article quotes Hernandez. (Thorson is currently returning from a semester abroad in India.)

The article also quotes Barnes, an assistant professor of philosophy, encouraging debate, “‘People need to learn to argue without taking things personally,” Barnes said, adding that public speaking skills are undervalued. “You don’t write nearly as much as you speak to people.'”

It goes on to explain the two types of debate in which the team participates – American Parliamentary and British Parliamentary – and the varied topics the teams have addressed, from politics to the bizarre hypothetical.

“We were asked once about whether a house should invest in an asteroid defense system,” Hernandez is quoted.

The full article from the Finger Lakes Times appears below.


Finger Lakes Times
HWS debaters headed to Ireland

Rachel Crofut • December 24, 2008

GENEVA – Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ debate team doesn’t just live to debate, they travel to as well.

On Dec. 26, Hobart seniors David Hernandez and Daniel Thorson will fly to Ireland with club adviser Eric Barnes to compete among 300 teams in the 2009 World University Debating Championships. “It’ll be really fun,” said Hernandez, a chemistry major from New York City.

Both he and Thorson, a philosophy major from Cazenovia, Madison County, have been on the team since freshman year. For Thorson, that longevity helped overcome what some would have considered an obstacle to his being chosen for the championship.
He hasn’t participated in a formal debate since April, because he’d been studying abroad in India. But Barnes, an assistant professor of philosophy, didn’t hesitate to make him Hernandez’s partner.

“Dan’s good … they work very well together,” he said.

It’s their different thinking styles that Hernandez sees as beneficial in a debate situation.

“Sometimes he’ll think of something that I forgot and vice versa,” he said. “We can bounce ideas off of each other.”

Barnes – who started his own debating career in 1981 – noted that debate was a hard skill to become good at, but he and Hernandez encourage people to give it a shot and stick with it.

“People need to learn to argue without taking things personally,” Barnes said, adding that public speaking skills are undervalued, even in college. “You don’t write nearly as much as you speak to people.”

When Barnes joined HWS in 2003, he immediately began rejuvenating the debate team.

From an academic aspect, Barnes said students learn better through interaction and active learning; with the debate team “you can’t help but be fully engaged.”

“It does so much for you,” Hernandez said, citing his new friendships, knowledge and interests.

At times, Hernandez noted, he has to debate a position that he is actually opposed to.

“My views have been challenged. I’m better able to defend myself, to fortify my position and know what’s harmful or beneficial in my beliefs,” he said.

The team participates in two types of debates, American Parliamentary – in which two opposing team pairs face off on a topic – and British Parliamentary or World Style.

The championships in Ireland will feature World Style debate, in which four pairs compete at once.

There are still only two opposing sides, but two teams are on each side. One pair will not only argue against the opposition but will also attempt to outdo its own partner team.
Topics range from the serious, such as torture, abortion and politics, to the bizarre.

“We were asked once about whether a house should invest in an asteroid defense system,” Hernandez recalled.

“It’s a very good exercise for the brain,” Barnes said. “It helps you keep your wits about you.”

The team consists of about 16 students, and Barnes hopes to generate more interest on campus, admitting that debate “is not for everyone” but is rewarding for those who stick with it.

“It’s hard to stick with after the first tournament, because you’re debating against some really smart people,” he said.

Hernandez said that he wasn’t good when he started, but after training with the team several days a week, he’s significantly improved.

Hernandez and Thorson competed in the U.S. Universities National Tournament at Portland, Ore., last year, making it to the semifinals.

The HWS team will have seven more tournaments in the spring, including one at home in mid-April.

rcrofut@fltimes.com