Nov 20, 2019 - Aileen Yoo
The Humboldt State University debate team left their mark this fall by facing off with the most competitive debate teams in the country in a trio of key tournaments. The result was one of the best beginnings to a competitive season in recent memory.
At the Steve Hunt Classic, a regional opener hosted by Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, HSU competed against teams from over fifteen West Coast colleges including Seattle University, The University of Utah, and Willamette University. The following weekend, the team traveled to The University of Denver to compete in the Rocky Mountain Championship, topping UC Berkeley in the semi-finals, and wrapping up the tour at Dominican University’s Penguin Invitational.
HSU’s debate team is lead by Forensics coach and Communications instructor Aaron Donaldson. He says that for the first time in several years, HSU started the season with teams advancing into both the “Open” and “Junior” divisions at Lewis and Clark. In order to qualify for Open competitions, teams must have debated for at least a year and/or ranked in the top 16 at a Junior tournament.
“It’s a way to make the debates competitive and enjoyable,” explains Donaldson. “Nobody likes a blow-out debate, Junior is a great place for folks with limited experience to get started.”
In their first ever college tournament appearance, HSU freshman Carla Driver and sophomore Carina Masters took second place in the Junior debate, while juniors Devon Escoto and Sydney Verga were the third-seed team advancing into the elimination rounds. Ultimately, the pair was eliminated in the semi-finals (top eight) but not before Escoto earned the seventh place speaking award from a pool of over 60 students. In the Junior debate, Masters was named the top speaker overall.
“At these competitive tournaments, success comes from a lot of persistence,” explains Donaldson. “Debate takes a lot of humility and compassion because it’s very vulnerable to stand up there and give it everything you’ve got.”
In 2018, Donaldson’s team made HSU history by traveling to Mexico City to compete on the world-stage during the 38th annual World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC).
“In the 2019/2020 season, we want to capitalize on the momentum of Mexico City,” says Donaldson. “We have a strong returning team of students who will continue to improve their teamwork, preparation, and delivery skills for the upcoming tournaments.” Donaldson personally knows the demands of such high-level showdowns: He and his teammate, Jason Lear, were the WUDC semi-finalists from the University of Oregon in 2006, the first ever team from a public American university to advance to the semi-finals on the world stage.
Competitive debate has been a tradition at HSU since the 1950’s but nationally, intercollegiate debate still has deep roots in predominantly white Ivy League institutions who continue to dominate the field today. Donaldson is proud of both his team’s recent success but their representation of multicultural students and social justice.
“Debate has nothing to do with winning,” says Donaldson. “It has to do with giving a young person the opportunity to look critically at the logic behind arguments and ask themselves whether they make the world better or worse.”
With the strong showing out the gate this fall, Donaldson is excited to watch his Lumberjack team set high expectations for the season to come.
For more information, visit the Department of Communications website or @HSUdebate on Twitter and Instagram and Humboldt State Debate on Facebook.
Note: This story was originally published on Nov. 26, 2019.