See Vanderbilt’s national champion debaters in action Oct. 14

(Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Debate Team)

Members of the community will have a chance to see two of Vanderbilt’s top debaters in action Friday afternoon in Buttrick Hall.

Vanderbilt sophomores Saad Rehman and Karl Gressly, last year’s American Debate Association national champions in novice debate, will square off against a University of Georgia team in a public exhibition set for 2-3 p.m. Oct. 14 in Buttrick, Room 103. The event will kick off this weekend’s Vanderbilt-hosted debate tournament, in which students representing 16 universities from the Midwest and across the Eastern United States will participate.

For those unfamiliar with intercollegiate policy debate, forget any notions of students behind podiums speaking slowly and rhetorically. Contemporary debate is an exercise in relaying vast amounts of information at a rapid-fire rate, with the debaters often speaking up to 400 words per minute.

Each debate consists of two teams of two facing off, with one team arguing the affirmative of a resolution and the other team arguing the negative. What follows is a lively back-and-forth series of timed speeches, cross-examinations, response speeches and rebuttals, where each team seeks to shore up its argument while dismantling the opponent’s.

The debaters research and argue a single resolution all season long. The 2011-12 resolution is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its democracy assistance for one or more of the following: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and/or Yemen.” The topic of Friday’s public debate is “Should the U.S. increase democracy assistance to Egypt?” The Vanderbilt team will argue the affirmative, and the Georgia team will argue the negative.

Cameron Norris and Nick Brown were named ADA champions in varsity debate in both 2010 and 2011. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Debate Team)

Friday’s debate is the latest installment in The Great Debaters Series, founded in 2009 by the debate programs at Samford University and Vanderbilt. The purpose of the series is to increase student and public exposure to rigorous yet civil debates on major social issues of the day. Since its founding, the series now includes the University of Georgia and Wake Forest University.

Vanderbilt’s Rehman and Gressly are fresh off of SEC District 6 Regional and ADA Championship wins in novice debate this spring. Neither Rehman, a molecular and cellular biology major, nor Gressly, an economics and political science major, had any previous debate experience before coming to Vanderbilt. Rehman also was recognized with the 2011 ADA Top Novice Speaker Award.

They are part of Vanderbilt’s increasingly strong debate squad, considered one of the best in the nation. The squad is coached by Senior Lecturer in Communication Studies and Director of Debate M.L. Sandoz, who was named the 2011 SEC Director of the Year, and Senior Lecturer in Communication Studies Neil Butt, named the 2011 SEC Coach of the Year.

Last year’s squad also included the team of Cameron Norris and Nick Brown, who won the ADA National Championship in varsity debate for the second year in a row. Brown and Norris were ranked among the top 10 teams (of more than 250) in the nation and received a first-round bid to the National Debate Tournament, considered the most prestigious national title. This marked the first time a Vanderbilt team received a first-round bid to the NDT. Norris is now a first-year student at Vanderbilt Law School and an assistant coach of the Vanderbilt squad. Vanderbilt’s junior varsity team of George Williford and Cody Stothers placed third at the ADA Championship last year.

Debate is a worthwhile endeavor for students from all schools and majors, according to Sandoz.

“Students benefit tremendously from debate,” she said. “They gain a better understanding of general theories and principles of argumentation and a better understanding of current world issues. They also develop better research, critical thinking and communication skills.”

So far this fall, the Vanderbilt squad has competed in tournaments at Georgia State University, the University of Kentucky and James Madison University, garnering 11 awards including one first-place finish. The squad will participate in upcoming tournaments at the University of West Georgia, Wake Forest, Appalachian State, the University of Georgia, Indiana University, the University of Florida, the University of Texas, the 2012 SEC Regional Tournament and two or three national tournaments before the season wraps up next spring.

Visit the Vanderbilt Debate Team website for more information.

More highlights and awards from last year:

The Vanderbilt Debate Team finished the season winning national awards from all three major organizations for intercollegiate policy debate: the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), the American Debate Association (ADA) and the National Debate Tournament (NDT). Every debater who competed the entire season won at least one award. The season consisted of 15 tournaments from which approximately 58 debater awards, including 10 first-place awards, were won.

From CEDA – Two debaters (the maximum allowed from a single university) were chosen as All-Americans. This recognition is among the most prestigious given to the most successful debaters (less than the top 5 percent, approximately). Unlike most All-Americans, Cameron Norris, one of the two recipients, began his debate career at Vanderbilt with no previous debate experience.

From CEDA – Six debaters – Richard Waller, Brian Abrams, Cameron Norris, Nick Brown, Brenda Kao and Jennifer Stanley – were chosen as All-American Debate Scholars. This award is based on both the competitive success and the academic achievements of the debaters.

From ADA – The squad received an overall ranking of fifth in the nation and was ranked in the top 10 for both JV and novice debate.

From ADA – The Vanderbilt varsity team won the Varsity National Championship, a Vanderbilt novice team won the Novice National Championship, and a Vanderbilt JV team was a semi-finalist for the JV National Championship. Also, Saad Rehman won the Top Speaker Award in novice debate.

From NDT – For the third year in a row, the varsity team earned a bid to the NDT. Teams compete by invitation only (comparable to the NCAA basketball tournament) and qualify for a bid through a district tournament. Vanderbilt’s district includes all schools in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas and is considered one of the most competitive districts in which to earn a bid. The team of Cameron Norris and Nick Brown ranked among the top 10 teams (of more than 250) in the nation and received a first-round bid, marking the first time Vanderbilt has done so.

SEC Regional Awards – top varsity team, top JV team and top novice team