Before Fall 2019, very few in the North American circuit had heard of Simon Fraser University Debate Society (SFUDS). However, this all changed when SFU debaters Miranda Pinter-Collett and Jacob Gebrewold broke into the playoffs at the Hart House Intervarsity (HHIV) debate competition. A notable first for SFU, the two Philosophy Majors feel confident that SFUDS is now on the map.
The Hart House Intervarsity competition—the most prestigious university debate tournament in Canada—is held at the University of Toronto each year. The competition attracts top teams from Stanford, Princeton, Duke and the University of Toronto. Not only did Miranda and Jacob break into the playoffs but they were also the top team in BC and second best in Western Canada.
Working as a team, Miranda and Jacob continued to push SFUDS into the rankings at several premier British Parliamentary-style debate competitions [BP debate format is the format of choice for the World University Debating Championships] held in Canada. They came second out of 60 teams at the UBC Intervarsity tournament, the biggest debate competition in western Canada, in November. Later that month they reached the semifinals at the Canadian National BP championships held at McGill University, another first for SFU.
Now in their second year at SFU, Miranda (Double Major in Philosophy Law Concentration and International Studies, with a Political Science Minor) and Jacob (Double Major in Philosophy and Political Science) are active in SFUDS. Both bring prior experience in high school debate, which they are now putting into practice at the university level. Miranda, who is the club’s president, achieved a top ten speaker ranking in the 2017 Oxford University debate competition for high school students. Jacob has travelled extensively as part of the coaching staff with the Canadian national high school debate team and as a judge at the World Championships for high school debate.
PHIL Skills and Debate Tournaments
So where does philosophy fit into debate? Both Miranda and Jacob define philosophy as useful for those who want to learn how to think, adding that debate helps them refine their critical thinking skills.
“Whatever we’re thinking about, we can do so with greater clarity and rigor,” they both agree, noting that the amount of preparation in keeping up to date with current affairs is also a great antidote to fake news and misinformation.
And debate is apparently a natural area for exercising philosophy skills too, as a unique forum for philosophizing and communicating. Developing a compelling argument needs clarity and message; this is only possible through thorough active listening.
Jacob describes how debaters make better arguments by engaging with the best possible version of the opposing case.
“In everyday life, we have to make sure that we’re presenting arguments in ways that are persuasive to the people that we are disagreeing with if we want to be effective. In the real world, it’s not enough to be right, you also need to resonate.”
As Miranda describes, it’s “stepping into somebody else’s shoes” to see the other side.
Miranda: I decided I wanted to major in Philosophy after taking Philosophy in Grade 12. My best memory from SFU philosophy was being able to discuss moral problems in Evan Tiffany’s Phil 120W class- it stimulated my debater brain in ways that I really enjoyed. I also am most interested in moral, ethical and legal philosophy, so the topics discussed were in my areas of interest.
Skilled debaters read widely and keep up to date in current affairs. In addition to making better arguments and helping to defend against fake news and misinformation, there’s also a worldwide community of support.
Jacob: Taking part in debate tournaments and training exposes you to open-minded people and world views. You get to join a global community of really interesting friends.
It can also help plan for life beyond a university degree. Though typically associated with student privilege and top tier institutions such as Harvard and Oxford, Jacob and Miranda are keen to show that debate levels the playing field. Both are familiar with overcoming a lack of resources commonly available in more privileged environments. Both have travelled nationally and internationally with debate teams, experiencing new opportunities and networking possibilities that might otherwise have been missed.
In addition to providing a supportive community and unique learning experience, debate opens doors for many that might not otherwise be within reach.
Not only has SFUDS started to feature on the North American and International debate circuit, it is also gaining new members after a few quiet years. And it’s not just all about Miranda and Jacob either.
- SFUDS VP Mitchell Robinson and Diggory Waddle brought SFU to the finals of Seattle University’s debate championship this December.
- Diggory also placed as a semifinalist at the University of Alberta’s debate championship, ranking as the 3rd best speaker at the tournament.
- In their first few months of debate, rookies Tasneem Huq Azad and Toby Svelnis placed as finalists at the West Coast Novice Championships hosted by UBC.
Beyond competition, many more students have grown their understanding of current events and confidence in speaking about hot topics. Miranda and Jacob emphasize that this is the kind of family that SFUDS has become.
If you would like to find out more about SFU Debate Club, keep an eye out for more details at the upcoming SFU Clubs Day January 14-16th.