Winning with Words

March 17, 2016

Xiaoqian Zhu

Yasmine and Aaron hold up an award.
Aaron Pressman and Yasmine Ramachandra took first place in the parliamentary debate category.
Photo credit: Oberlin Debate Team

On February 27, third-year Aaron Pressman and first-year Yasmine Ramachandra took home first place at the 2016 Bowling Green State University Game of Rounds speech competition. The pair competed in the varsity parliamentary debate category, which requires quick research, teamwork, and on-the-spot thinking. Competitors receive assigned topics during the rounds and have a limited time of 15 minutes before the debate to prepare. A total of 17 Oberlin College Debate Team members participated in the tournament.

“It was really fun,” says Ramachandra, who will serve as the team’s cochair next year. “We had four rounds in the preliminary; If you win, you go on to the break rounds, which include semifinal and finals. In both rounds we won, so I think overall it was a good tournament.”

In the past five years, the debate team has grown from a handful of students to approximately 20 active participants this semester. Members meet two to three times a week for practice. Current cochair Miranda Stopa says while the team currently competes in Ohio, they plan to compete nationally next year. As a major recruiter for the team last year, the second-year student says she focuses her energy on creating a learning environment and community-building. “I think winning is not the most important thing to us,” Stopa says. “We are a learning team and everyone is welcome to join.” She also says the skills taught by debate are applicable to life as an Oberlin student.

“One thing I found about Oberlin’s campus is that everyone is very passionate about the things they are interested in, but they don’t always have a means to express their passion in a clear and concise way that helps them to build arguments,” Stopa says. “In a culture that heavily emphasizes activism, learning debate skills can really help you to know how to articulate.”

Ramachandra says she thinks joining a debate team is also a good way become better informed. “Many people might have discussions about different topics, but they might not actually know much about them. Debate is a really great way to encourage in-depth research about the topics.”

“It makes you a more well-rounded, intellectual person,” Stopa agrees. “You have to keep updated with the news, because there is no way you can research everything in 15 minutes. You always have to follow along the events that are happening.”

And at the end of the day, Stopa says she also just enjoys the experience. “It’s really fun if you like politics, policy, or if you really like talking,” she says. She credits her experience with the debate team for her improvement in speaking, writing, and research skills.

Moving forward, the team plans to bring more debate competitions to the Oberlin campus for local audiences, rather than only going to regional or national competitions hosted by other institutions. The team is also looking to expand into different forms of speaking competitions, including rhetoric and poetry.

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