Members of the HWS Debate Team recently took a three-week trip across China, offering training workshops, serving as adjudicators and competing in the China Open debate tournament.
“Traveling around the world to see a very different culture like China is obviously a great educational experience,” says head debate coach and Associate Professor of Philosophy Eric Barnes, who organized the trip as a part of a three-year grant to promote debate in China. “It’s even better when the visit isn’t just as a tourist, but as a valued guest who is regularly interacting with ordinary citizens in China as they live their daily lives.”
“The trip was outstanding — excellent fun for all involved and a great opportunity for learning, both in debate but also with cultural exchange and making friends from around the world,” says Assistant Debate Coach Steven Penner. “We were always greeted with such warm hospitality and eager students that it made everything worthwhile. I think we would all definitely agree to go again.”
The student participants representing the team — Danny Schonning ’15, Emily Saeli ’16, Chris Doak ’18, and Emma Herbst ’18 and alum Buzz Klinger’12 — began with a competition at the China Open in Harbin, where they paired with a Chinese debater for the week, before the training tour through the cities of Fuzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Ningbo, where they lectured at seven schools along the way. During the final week of the trip, the team served as part of a judging panel in Beijing at the National Championships, alongside internationally renowned judges from North America, Europe, and Asia.
“We taught debate, judged debate rounds and gave examples of speeches in practice rounds,” says Saeli, an international relations and writing and rhetoric double major. “HWS primarily does British Parliamentary style debate, which is the style we taught there. Debate topics are broad, and usually surprising, so having a liberal arts background is always helpful.”
Herbst, an English major and head judge for many of the debate rounds at the Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press Tournament, says she “was honored to be able to teach others how to debate with a few mini-lectures on debate subjects such as how to be an excellent note taker, why flowing is important, as well as how to deliver the best whip speech possible.”
Thanks to Barnes’ “Debating Public Policy” course prior to the trip, Herbst says the team was prepared to teach novice debaters in China, in the seminars before the tournament officially began, instructing ways “to handle specific motions, the main arguments as well as what aspects to analyze about the topic.”
“Seeing how passionate the Chinese university students were to learn and improve in debate was incredible,” says Doak, an economics major. “Preparation with our assistant coach and work with the upperclassmen provided great learning experiences in how to effectively communicate and debate. The debate team offers a truly inclusive and engaging environment.”
In between the debate events, the group visited cultural sights including the Great Wall of China and the Confucius Temple in Nanjing, experiences which, combined with the competitions and seminar sessions, “made me more aware of perspectives other than the few held in America, especially in terms of what is seen as most important in our society,” Herbst says. “Even though I was supposed to be the one teaching them, I learned a lot from the new debaters! Some arguments that I would’ve never thought of were brought up and analyzed very thoroughly, so the trip was educational for me as well.”
“What may be the best part about this trip was that the HWS debate training team, from first-years to graduates, were given the opportunity to deepen their understanding of complex and controversial ideas by explaining these ideas to people who do not always share our assumptions and who are willing to challenge these assumptions in the context of friendly but competitive debates. This aspect of the trip was both unique and invaluable for our students’ education,” Barnes says.
The Debate Team meets on Mondays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. in Demarest 014.