Vanderbilt Debate team enjoys success on international stage

The Vanderbilt Debate team students travel to an impressive list of places around the globe for competition.   

The team is preparing to attend the World Universities Debating Championships in Vietnam in the coming weeks. They’ve also received invitations to compete in prestigious international tournaments in Dublin, Ireland, and have been recruited to assist with debate programs in Tanzania and Uzbekistan.

Vanderbilt debaters have visited Rwanda and, in turn, hosted a virtual event with the Rwandan National Debate Team on Nov. 29 as part of the Dialogue Vanderbilt initiative. 

Debate coach John Koch, left, traveled to Rwanda with members of the Vanderbilt Debate team. The group met with the organization iDebate for activities during a summer trip. On Nov. 29, members of iDebate visited Vanderbilt’s campus for a panel discussion and debate. (Submitted photo)

As part of Dialogue Vanderbilt, the debate team hosted an online event with the Rwandan National Debate Team on Nov. 29.

The debate, held over Zoom, was part of an initiative called iDebate Rwanda. The nonprofit program based in Kigali, Rwanda, provides opportunities for students in East Africa and the U.S. to connect and become engaged learners and critical thinkers through debate.   

Part of iDebate’s mission is to show partners in the U.S. and around the world a “post-genocide society.” In addition to the debate topic, the students from Rwanda bring a set of activities that discuss the atrocities of the Rwandan Civil War of the 1990s—in which members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority—as well as strategies for avoiding similar conflicts around the world. 

This month’s event at Vanderbilt included a discussion about debate in post-Genocide Rwanda and iDebate Rwanda’s role in fostering debate in the country. Members of the Vanderbilt Debate team who traveled to Rwanda last summer shared thoughts during a panel discussion that touched on themes of reconciliation in a polarized world. After the discussion, Vanderbilt students debated Rwanda on the topic of the role of international tribunals in post-conflict societies, specifically if they should focus on punishment or reconciliation.

WATCH:  Vanderbilt hosts a public debate with students from Rwanda

ICYMI:  Vanderbilt hosts a panel discussion about restoring the civic foundations of society

More international highlights 

  • The team traveled to the International Forensics Association annual tournament in Tokyo, Japan, where they finished second and third in British Parliamentary debate and had the top speaker at the event. 
  • In June, the team traveled to Paris, France, for the Transatlantic Dialogues at the French War College. The topic was how the Transatlantic alliance should respond to the war in Ukraine. 
  • In August, the team traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, for learning activities and network building. The trip was connected to events that led to the Rwandan National Team visiting Vanderbilt’s campus in November. 
  • John Koch traveled to Japan in June as a coach of the United States National Debate Team. The tour featured stops in five cities over 10 days. Vanderbilt junior Daniel Ardity competed as a member of the team.  
  • The team is planning trips to Vietnam, Tanzania and Uzbekistan, having been asked by the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan to explore the possibility of teaching debate and hosting public debates there. 

Closer to Home: Oregon State Penitentiary Debates 

  • The team traveled to Salem, Oregon, last spring to participate in debates at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The event featured 11 schools, the Irish National Team and four teams of incarcerated people. Teams debated the value of the U.S. Constitution today, the war in Ukraine, foreign policy toward China and qualified immunity. It was a collaborative learning experience for the prisoners, students and faculty.