Arguing academically

More than 50 students occupied one of the Social Science Building’s lecture halls for the Cabin Fever Debates informational session on Jan. 30. The night held presentations and an exhibition debate by the Seawolf Debate team, who were in attendance with students taking COMM A360, competitive debate, and other students who were interested in learning what it takes to be a successful debater.

Robert Hockema presents the opposition argument while other members of the Seawolf Debate team stand for questions a demonstration debate for the participants in the upcoming Cabin Fever Debates. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

The Cabin Fever Debates is an intramural debate tournament in its 13th year. UAA’s Seawolf Debate is the only intercollegiate debate program in Alaska, therefore making all of their tournaments out of state. The purpose of the Cabin Fever Debates was to bring back debate tournaments to Alaska, while introducing other UAA students to debate.

“I look forward to people coming to understand that debate can be fun; that civil, critical discourse can be intellectually stimulating and very satisfying,” Steve Johnson, director of the Seawolf Debate Program, said.

Not only does participating in Cabin Fever Debates give students the opportunity to brush up on their critical thinking and argumentative skills, but the tournament also awards prize money.

The semifinalist team will win and split $100, the finalist team $200 and the championship team $1,000. The Quianna Clay Prize for Excellence in Debating will be given to the top speaker of the series, as well as $100.

Half of last year’s winning team, Joey Sweet has returned to Cabin Fever Debates with the hopes of winning the championship again. He called the tournament a “one of a kind” event and looks forward to debating with his new partner this year.

“I’m feeling optimistic about our chances and, of course, looking at that sweet prize money,” Sweet said.

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For others, the tournament is a way to branch out of their comfort zone. Health sciences student Justine Soller looks at the event as an opportunity to help her get over her dislike of public speaking. This is her first time debating as well as public speaking.

“I want to get over it, so might as well rip the Band-Aid off,” Soller said. “I’m nervous but more excited than so.”

The tournament will start their preliminary rounds on Tuesday, Feb. 6 with debates on if “U.S. immigration policy should prioritize merit over family reunification” and if “the United States’ national security would benefit from the development of low-yield nuclear weapons.” More preliminary rounds on different topics will take place until the semifinals on March 6. The champions will be named after the final round on March 8.

Seawolf Debate averages around 15-20 students, depending on the year. It is an “open door” program, not requiring previous debating experience or other prerequisites. The program welcomes students to take a hold of the resources the debate program offers and if they are willing to put in the time and effort, they could join the team and represent UAA at intercollegiate tournaments.

The team has been doing “very well” this year, according to Johnson. They came out with a win at the Seattle IV tournament hosted by Seattle University in early December 2017. Prior to Seattle IV, the team of Sam Erickson and Jacob Shercliffe advanced to a final round at the Hong Kong Open in late October.

World Universities Debating Championships in late December 2017 did not go as preferred for the Seawolves, but their top team ranked the 39th and 40th speakers out of about 650 speakers.

Johnson said he and the team are looking forward to the Western Regional Championships in late March and the United States University Debating Championships in mid-April.

“We’re also excited that the U.S. Championships are held at Stanford this year, so [it’ll] be on the west coast,” Johnson said. “We’re pretty familiar with the judging pool on the west coast and are pretty well-known there, too, so I think it’ll be a good tournament for us and a great opportunity.”

Seawolf Debate will also be hosting a scrimmage against Cornell University at UAA in April.

For more information on Seawolf Debate, visit their website at