Debate team competes at annual Harvard tournament


Daniel Cornstein, Contributing Writer

This past weekend, 50 members of the school’s Debate Team participated in the 47th Annual Harvard Debate Tournament and debated against over 500 teams virtually.

In Varsity Public Forum, two teams advanced to Triple-octafinals, the round of 64, and Sean Lee (10) and Maeve Goldman (9) earned their first bid to the Tournament of Champions, a final national championship. Five members of the team also earned speaker awards, and Co-President Emily Shi (12) finished third out of 497 varsity debaters.

The team performed well this weekend, Co-President Annabelle Xing (12) said. In Novice Public Forum, the division for freshmen, eight teams qualified to Triple- octafinals. Out of those teams, Grant Sheft (9), Daniel Pustilnik (9), Athena Rem (9), and Rizaa Fazal (9) advanced to octafinals, the round of 16.

“The tournament allowed me to meet new people from around the world while also becoming closer to my fellow HM peers, especially those I do not have classes with,” Sheft said. Attending national tournaments such as Harvard’s allows the team to build camaraderie, Brett Karpf (11) said.

In preparation for the Harvard tournament, teams have been researching the benefits and harms of urbanization in West Africa since winter break. For novices, the preparation process included research, drills, and practice debates, Pustilnik said.

The team felt confident entering the event, given the preparations, Lola Stern (9) said. “Without the help of the seniors and juniors, we would not have been able to do so well,” she said.

Debaters prepared arguments that both supported and opposed the urbanization of West Africa. One of Pustilnik and Sheft’s main arguments was that urbanization leads to widespread education, which is one of the greatest solutions to mass poverty. However, the duo said that one of the downsides to urbanization in West Africa was that people residing in rural areas — a large portion of the West African population — would be neglected as resources would be funneled to urban development.

Usually, the team would travel together and stay at the same hotel, but this year, the debaters competed from home, which made it difficult to keep track of debaters and judges, Xing said. To keep everyone together, Co-President Sam Chiang (12) created a “Debate Check,” mimicking the school’s Symptom Check, to ensure that members of the team were ready to debate.

The hardest part of debating online rather than in person was that partners could not physically be in the same place, which made it difficult to develop arguments, Xing said. Normally, teams are together on a debate stage and communicate through gestures about what points to make and what arguments to emphasize.

However, the transition to Zoom could have been much worse, Xing said. Outside of a few technology glitches, the tournament ran smoothly. One of Pustilnik’s fears was that someone’s WiFi would cut out during the middle of a debate or even worse, the entire Zoom could crash.

Pustilnik’s biggest takeaway from the conference was learning how to structure arguments during elimination rounds while under immense pressure, which served as a great learning experience to prepare for the future, he said. Pustilnik also said he enjoyed the weekend as the tournament was the culmination of hard work, and he enjoyed watching his teammates perform well, he said.

“The team is looking forward to participating in the New York States Forensics League tournament and the Tournament of Champions in April,” Xing said.