Speech & Debate program expands to include new formats

Noah Phillips

In her fifth round at the Vassar Invitational, having been given the topic for the round only 15 minutes prior, Julia Robbins (10) carefully listened to her opponents speak about mandatory minimum sentencing while simultaneously outlining a passionate and convincing opposing case to defeat her competition.
In Parliamentary Debate, the style of debate Robbins competes in, students receive the topic of debate right before the round and are expected to use logical arguments and powerful rhetoric to win over the judge.
With the formation of two new debate clubs this year, students have the opportunity to try out a variety of forms of debate. Though clubs such as Model United Nations, Model Congress, and Mock Trial each require public speaking and debate skills, Speech Team, Public Forum Debate, Parliamentary Debate, and Lincoln-Douglas Debate have different opportunities and challenges for each student within the umbrella of speech and debate.
Radhika Mehta (12) and Evan Frommer (12) are the founders and co-Presidents of Parliamentary Debate at the school. Mehta and Frommer also established the New York Parliamentary League with students at both Dalton and Stuyvesant. The league now consists of 11 schools in the tri-state area.
“Parliamentary Debate really emphasizes critical thinking, public speaking, and argument formation. You can’t bring in any outside research or use the Internet, and because of that, you need to think quickly on your feet and of arguments in that time,” Mehta said.
“The people in Parli debate care about what they’re doing but don’t apply the intense pressure that people in other debate clubs might,” Robbins said. With their mantra of “Work Hard Parli Harder,” Parliamentary Debate enjoys a supportive atmosphere to couple their focused rounds of debate, Mehta said.
Contrasted with Parliamentary Debate, in which students can’t prepare before the round, Public Forum Debate, headed by Honor McCarthy (12), Ella Feiner (12), and Elizabeth Raab (12), is the oldest and most popular style of debate at the school, with upwards of 75 members, McCarthy said.
McCarthy noted that one of the great values of partaking in Public Forum Debate is the writing and public speaking skills developed during tournaments.
Founded by Ishaan Kannan (10) only this past year, the Speech team at the school competes in the New York Catholic Forensics League, along with various other Speech teams in the tri-state area, in a single-debater format that emphasizes personal expression, Kannan said.
“Honestly, you’d think you’d have to be an extrovert and really confident, but that’s not the case. A shy person can pick a piece to deliver that matches their personality and do really well. Anyone can do Speech,” Kannan said.
Within Speech, there are many formats that involve different content and oral-delivery tactics, Kannan said.
Lincoln-Douglas debate, founded by Philip Chien (10) this past year, is a debate club that focuses on philosophical arguments, Chien said. Chien became “enthralled” with the philosophical component of Lincoln-Douglas debate, compared to the research-driven Public Forum platform which he formerly competed in, he said.