The Debate Society held a Demo Round on Tuesday, Sept. 10 from 7-8:30 p.m. The event, which took place in Rockefeller 200, featured Debate Society member Arushi Raina ’14 and Secretary Sophia Pitcairn ’16 as the Opposition, and Nathan Tauger ’14 and Jessica Tarantine ’14 as the Government.
The night was filled with spirited arguments that touched on such issues as morality, religion and the nature of authority. Cases were put forth not only by the competing debaters, but by several audience members as well. The Demo Round was intended to attract new members for the club from both the freshman and upper classes. It was open to the entire campus, though it was advertised mainly through the mailing list and by word of mouth.
President of the Debate Society Meg Mielke ’14 responded in an emailed statement, “Primarily, we hope that observers will think that debate is interesting, and something that they would want to pursue at Vassar. Also, we hope that potential debaters, especially those that have never debated before, see that debate can be approachable, and not intimidating, and mostly, a lot of fun.”
She continued, “As an organization that promotes interesting dialogue, we hope that everyone who comes, even current debate members, learn from the debate and that it sparks at least a little discussion.”
Accordingly, Debate Society practices are open to all Vassar students. The team is competitive, but maintains an open door policy during its meetings because the organization maintains that intellectual banter is valued above all. As Mielke explained, “[practice] anyone on campus who wants to hear interesting arguments, or let some aggression out in some friendly debate.”
This philosophy is reflected in the American parliamentary debate format, which the Debate Society uses and competes in. According to Mielke, “[American parliamentary debate is] loosely based on British Parliamentary debate, which is itself born from the decorum of the British Parliament.”
As such, the debate is framed as an argument between the Government and Opposition, each side being a team of two people. The Government team proposes a case, which can be about almost anything, from pop culture, philosophical questions, to serious public policy issues, and the Opposition team does its best to fight it.
In an emailed statement, Secretary Pitcairn wrote, “We’ve spent some time choosing a topic that will make for an interesting debate so that the audience and potential members of the team can see what debate is really like.”
At the Demo Round, the proposed case was as follows: you are a deeply religious Christian, and are confronted by an angel who tells you that God has a message. From this point forward, intentionally doing evil will send you to Heaven, and intentionally doing good will send you to Hell. This change applies only to you.
Tauger, who first made a short introduction explaining the debating rules and encouraging audience members to show their appreciation for points made by slamming their palms onto their chairs, read this statement aloud, then asked his opponents whether they preferred to argue for or against committing evil acts. Raina announced that the Opposition had chosen to argue in favor of continuing to do good despite the angel’s instructions, and shortly after, the debate began.
Tauger was the first to make a case, and used all of his allotted 8 minutes to point out many examples. He explained, “a life of evil is not a life without purpose.” He also maintained that in doing evil, the person in the dilemma would still be following God’s word.
Additionally, he argued that one should always listen to figures of authority, as they know more than the average person does.
He concluded by declaring that the person in question should “take one for the team”; one’s evil actions might inspire greatness in others.
Raina, in response, stressed the importance of empirical evidence collected by an individual throughout his or her life, which she believed would prove that good-doing was the right path. She also suggested that God isn’t the ultimate authority, and that the effect that evil-doing can have on a person needed to be considered.
Both speakers received enthusiastic fist slamming from the crowd upon concluding their orations.
The debate continued, between interludes of scripted thanks and introductions by the facilitator, with Pitcairn and Tarantine offering rebuttals to the opposing side’s initial arguments. Each speaker’s arguments were spirited and well-received by the onlookers.
Periodically, one member of the opposing team would stand up during a speaker’s turn and hold his or her arms out, indicating that he or she would like to ask a question. These questions were usually addressed quickly.
At one point in the evening, people from the audience were invited to stand at the podium to give a one-minute speech. Several attendees accepted this offer and voiced the opinions they had been harboring while watching the debate unfold.
Raina remarked in front of the room before beginning her concluding statements, “I can already tell that some people are going to join us next week.”
After the debate, one student who preferred to remain anonymous, disclosed, “I didn’t really want to join before going, but now I think it would be a fun experience for me.”
Several other students echoed this idea and enthusiastically expressed interest in further developing their role in the Debate Society.
Debate Society practices are held in Rockefeller 307 at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are open to all.