The U is known for its football, baseball and basketball, but the university has also gained notoriety in another area: debate.
The University of Miami debate team, UDebate, which competes in intercollegiate debate leagues, has brought home armfuls of trophies and plaques each season. This year, four UM debaters were recognized by the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) as national debate scholars. Freshman Julia Lynch was recognized as the American Debate Association (ADA) Novice Debater of the Year, and the team of Anna Shah and Virgilio Capote won the ACC Coastal Division Championship.
UDebate competes in several tournaments throughout the year, and students receive free travel and meals while traveling to places such as Washington, D.C., San Diego and Toronto. In addition, the team organizes events called Bryan’s Cafe, informal student discussions about current events, and regularly serves the community by hosting tournaments for the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League for underserved public schools and inviting international teams from Rwanda and Ireland each year.
Class of 2017 graduate Anna Shah called debate the “most valuable experience” of her undergraduate career.
“It pushed me out of my comfort zone to learn about and form a detailed understanding about topics that I would otherwise not encounter,” said Shah, who will be entering her first year at the Miller School of Medicine this fall.
The team competes primarily in two forms of debate: parliamentary debate, which is less structured and relies more on impromptu skills, and policy debate, which focuses on in-depth research and preparation on policy issues such as climate laws and military presence in the Middle East.
While some students have done high school debate, most team members have no previous debate experience. UDebate team members meet for a one-credit class with directors and coaches once a week, as well as for additional practices before tournaments, during which they research and plan their arguments and do mock rounds.
Debate exercises critical thinking, rhetorical thinking and public speaking, skills that can translate well to many professions.
“UDebate has a great track of sending people to some of the best grad schools in recent years, such as MIT, Pennsylvania Law, Cornell Law,” said incoming club president Ted Appel, a sophomore majoring in political science.
Debaters come from a variety of fields of study; majors spanning neuroscience, political science and math are all represented on the team.
Dave Steinberg, a professor in the School of Communication who is serving his 28th year as the director of UDebate, emphasized that debate training is more necessary than ever in today’s world.
“Trust in our sources of information and in rationality has, in many ways, given way to anger and fear, impacting negatively our civic life,” Steinberg said. “Participating in intercollegiate debate and training in civic debate teaches critical thinking and rational advocacy.”
Junior Jiaying Li, an international student from China majoring in public relations and psychology, said she didn’t think she would do well in debate because she was a non-native speaker. But when another international friend on the debate team persuaded her to join, Li said she found an educational experience and a new circle of friends.
Li said being a part of the team has made her more aware of current affairs and more critical when consuming information. While the activity can be a significant time commitment and sometimes stressful, Li said being on the debate team is thrilling.
“People always make time for what they love, and mine is debate,” Li said. “I met my best friends and boyfriend in debate. This loving family gives me a sense of belonging.”
Steinberg said he took a great deal of pride in his past debaters like Shah and has “never been disappointed” during visits with his debate alumni.
“They are outstanding professionals in law, business, medicine and education. Most importantly, though, they are great people,” Steinberg said. “The unique support and interaction of the UM Debate family contributes to shaping people who are dedicated to service, hard work, responsibility and empathy.”
With a class of strong debaters having graduated this spring, the team is seeking to recruit new students. Intellectual curiosity, strong work ethic and respect for diversity are qualities that would make for a successful debater, Steinberg said.
“Debate challenges a person to question everything but not to reject,” said Steinberg. “Good debaters respect all viewpoints and develop the skills to make informed and rational decisions.”
For more information about the debate team, Steinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the team’s website at debate.miami.edu.