Debate Society snags top honors at Harvard competition

By Sarah Hetherington

The Chicago Debate Society triumphed at the Harvard Debating Championships this weekend, with two debaters scoring in the top three and a novice pair winning the team competition.

Third-years Stephanie Bell and Reynold Strossen won the first- and third-place speaker awards, respectively, and ranked ninth overall as a team.

Second-years Andy Hogue and Chantelle Pires won the top novice team award, eliminating teams from Princeton University and Yale University. Hogue earned the third-place novice speaker award.

The Harvard competition is the largest tournament of the year.

This is the first time a University of Chicago student has won the first place speaker award at the Harvard Debating Championships. Bell and Strossen each received several scores of 27, considered perfect on the debate circuit.

“Reynold and I went into the competition with what we thought was a pretty lofty goal, which was simply to make it into the elimination rounds,” Bell said. “To get the scores that we did was just so exciting.”

Bell was the only debater at the competition to earn a score of 28, which is described in the Harvard scoring guide as a speech that merits comparison with “Martin Luther King Jr. on a good day.”

Hogue and Pires competed as novices, a designation for those who have attended a maximum of three tournaments or been on the debate circuit for less than a year.

“We have a number of younger debaters who are very dedicated and very talented and a number of first-year debaters whom we can already tell will be very successful,” Strossen said.

Bell seconded the sentiment. “The debate team has a lot of potential as a team,” she said. “In the past, Chicago was known for a single debater and his or her partner, but now we have the potential for a truly great team as a whole.”

The Chicago Debate Society practices Parliamentary Debate, which is modeled after the English Parliament. The ‘government’ team proposes a resolution and lays out its arguments; the ‘opposition’ team must respond immediately despite not knowing the content of the case beforehand.

Bell and Strossen described crafting a case as a balancing act.

“We’re not necessarily looking for a flawless idea, because then there wouldn’t be a debate,” Bell said. “We really aim to find interesting cases rather than ones we just deem winnable.”

Often the cases stem from current events, such as Bell and Strossen’s proposal that the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert is in the best interest of the Republican Party. Cases can also cover broader questions, such as the team’s case for the repeal of the executive order banning the assassination of heads of state.