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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Debate team hosts info session and demo debate

Published: September 5, 2014
Section: News

In an orchestrated competition of ideas and free ice cream, the Brandeis Academic Debate and Speech Society (BADASS) hosted an information session and demo debate this past week.

At first glance, the lecture hall in Mandel could have been just another lecture in Brandeis’ first week of classes. The audience, mostly first-years, filled the seats and spilled out into the aisles. To start off the night, president of the team Brad Burns ’15 gave a PowerPoint presentation on the broader details of BADASS, the competitions they compete in and the fun the audience members could have if they signed up.

Burns attributed the packed audience, similar to last year, as more of a testament to the team’s reputation than any innovative marketing techniques it uses.

“It’s a great turnout, similar to last year,” said Burns. “We flyer a lot, we dorm storm during the hours leading up to the demo round, and those definitely help, but the biggest driver is our reputation, being third in the country. People come to see what we’re all about.”

BADASS is Brandeis’ only intercollegiate debate team. They are currently ranked third in the country, behind Harvard and Yale, with a team finishing third at nationals last year. BADASS is the only team of those top three that does not hold tryouts, making it the best team in the country that does not make cuts. Anybody who wants to join is welcome, regardless of experience, and the team has a training program for novices to debate. BADASS travels all over the country to compete in tournaments every single weekend, and if they do especially well, as they have been doing in recent years, their travels extend abroad. Some of Burns’ main points in the PowerPoint foreshadowed the night and the debate to come; debating new, controversial topics, a tight-knit community and, of course, a form of intellectually stimulating competition.

BADASS competes in the American Parliamentary style of debate and in the British Parliamentary style. The demo round held on Tuesday for the Brandeis community was in American Parliamentary style, albeit slightly shortened for the sake of the audience. In this common debate style, the Government Team proposes a topic of their choosing, and the Opposition Team can choose to argue either side of that topic.

The topic of the night was whether the Harvey Milk School, a charter school in New York City for gay, lesbian and transgender students, is positive or negative for the students it is attempting to serve and for society as a whole. In an extravagance that supposedly does not normally start each round, Burns introduced each team of debaters with the “Survivor” song “Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background. Sarah Margulies ’15 and David Altman ’15 fought on the Government Team against the Opposition Team Jess Maskin ’15 and Michael Norton ’15, who chose to oppose the establishment of the Harvey Milk School and schools similar to it.

The Government Team argued for the funding and proliferation of these types of schools throughout the country, saying that despite all the flaws, the school represents a step in the right direction. The Opposition Team, in true fashion, argued against the philosophy of removing and isolating a problem from society that, if pushed under the rug, would not be dealt with in a healthy way. The solution, as with most debates, probably lies somewhere in the middle. In a bid to take a step back from the intensity of the debate and additionally serving as a reminder to the audience of the reason they’re all there, each speaker addressed the audience before their first speech with a short bio about themselves and their own reasons BADASS has become an important part of their lives. It was a reminder that despite the fierce argument, everyone there is friendly with each other, and each introduction emphasized the community that BADASS is able to cultivate.

The comportment of the debaters themselves was on display as well. In a testament to human nature, the debate was not merely a battle of ideas but of personalities and people. Each debater used different tactics, playing to their own strengths, to attract attention and emphasize their points. Loudness, profanity, style and expression were all employed to uniquely gain the audience’s focus and trust as not only the reasonable points of the issues were put on show, but the ability of each debater to argue those issues.

The round was opened for questions at the end, and the sampling of the Brandeis community assembled was more than up for the task. When Burns announced he could take only one more question, at least 20 hands stayed raised to be called upon.

Elijah Harrison ’18 just came to the event to see what the debate was all about but will definitely be returning.

“The debate was compelling but the thing that really makes me want to come back on Thursday is that fundamentally and politically I agree with the Opposition side, but I thought the Government side had a much stronger case, and I found myself agreeing with their arguments in spite of myself,” Harrison said. “I will definitely be attending the next meeting.”

As the audience left the auditorium for free ice cream in the lobby, they were handed slips of paper to participate in a judgment resembling “American Idol” and voted to decide which side would win the round. People stuck around to meet members of the team and ask questions, as well as to eat. The Opposition ended up winning the audience consensus 57 to 26, although with more experienced judges the demo round would have been scored a tighter competition.

BADASS meets Tuesdays and Thursdays in Olin-Sang 116, and all are welcome to join.