Debate team highlights curiosity, questions and answers

The dark, frozen months that kick off the spring semester create a challenging environment for students to become engaged in classes. University clubs and activities offer an invigorating new social scene that can help students survive until spring.

The UAA debate team held the start of their third annual Cabin Fever Debates last week. The debates offer students interested in public policy and public speaking an opportunity to learn about competitive debate as well as a chance to win $1,000.

UAA professor and debate director Steve Johnson said there are many benefits to debating. Students who work hard enough to become competitive debaters enjoy numerous travel opportunities and scholarships. In the past two years Seawolf debate has traveled to China, Thailand, Ireland, Germany and Canada, as well as all across the nation.

UAA students have proven their persuasive skills against some formidable opponents such as Harvard and Yale, as well as international elites Oxford and Cambridge. Last year at the World University Debating Championship, UAA duo Tom Lassen and alumni Chris Kolerok were among the top eight teams in the tournament.

However, Johnson insisted that the team’s competitive success is a secondary goal. In fact, Johnson said, the team sacrifices a part of their season to hosting events such as the Cabin Fever Debates.

Michaela Hernandez, a freshmen philosophy major and debate member, said that although the Cabin Fever Debates detract from competitions, they further the team’s goals. Competing is important, but debate members feel it is equally important to reach out to the community and share their passion for rhetoric.

“It’s really cool because it gives us an opportunity to enjoy the skills we’ve learned by teaching them to other people,” Hernandez said.

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Political science junior Zac Mannix is looking forward to competing in the debates for his second year. After participating last year and realizing he felt ill-prepared, for the event Mannix took Johnson’s debate class last semester. This time around he feels more confident.

“It was a great experience. I would recommend it to anyone,” Mannix said.

Besides being a fun challenge, participation in debate is practical. Debate teaches valuable skills such as persuasion and analytical thinking that can transfer into many careers, Johnson said. Doctors, engineers and lawyers all employ the critical thinking practiced in debate.

Johnson revealed the skills he drew from debate that he values most. “It taught me how to focus my curiosity. How to phrase questions so I can find answers. And discipline.”

Hernandez agreed that debate offers many great skills, but said the reasons she enjoys it most are the great friends and great experiences.

Cabin Fever Debates are held every Tuesday until March 4 in SSB 118 from 7-10 p.m. All debates are free and open to the public.