BU, Japanese teams debate COVID-19 quarantine rules

Teammates Takuto Kasahara and Yuta Watanabe compare notes during the debate over COVID-19 policy in regard to quarantines and public closings. Peter Enoch | Multimedia Journalist.

By Meredith Pratt | Staff Writer

The Japanese National Debate Team participated in a public deliberation with the Glenn R. Capp Debate Forum, Baylor University’s debate team, on Thursday night as part of their United States tour.

Nic Nave and Jacob Smith, two graduate students from the department of communication, represented Baylor in the event. Japan’s representatives were law students Yuta Watanabe and Takuto Kasahara.

Going into the event, Smith said he was “ecstatic about this opportunity.”

“Getting the privilege to debate people from across the world is an experience that not many people get,” Smith said.

A few days before the event, the topic was changed from whether the United States should significantly reduce its military presence in Japan to whether quarantines and/or public closings are justified to contain the spread of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus.

“Given that all government offices and public schools in Japan are currently shut down due to fears over the spread of COVID-19, we thought it might be a unique time to tackle this particular topic while the Japanese were in the U.S. visiting,” Dr. Matthew Gerber, Baylor’s debate team director and moderator of the event, said.

The Baylor team chose the negative position and presented several arguments against quarantining. One point they debated was that quarantines lead to citizens not reporting symptoms due to fear of being contained.

The Japanese team, who chose the affirmative, argued that quarantines are necessary for protecting citizens and can prevent discrimination by limiting infected patients’ access to other people.

“Researching this topic has really changed my perspective on the issue in a way that I didn’t expect,” Smith said.

As Baylor’s chair of the committee on international deliberation and debate, Gerber has been involved in the planning of the event for several months.

Gerber said some of his goals for the event were “to show our guests from Japan the finest in Baylor hospitality, tradition and culture” to “engage in a meaningful, civil debate about a very timely issue,” and “to allow a space for our audience, the Baylor students, to ask questions and interact with the Japanese and Baylor debaters.”

“Our goal [was] not to win this debate, but rather to generate an in-depth, objective discussion with our colleagues from Japan, and to reach a “meeting of the minds” with regard to the question of how to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Gerber said.

Nave said she “really enjoyed” meeting the Japanese debaters.

“It’s really cool to find out that even though we live so far apart from each other, things really aren’t that different across the world,” Nave said.

Smith said he hoped he was “able to translate [his] skills [he’s] honed over the last few years in debate in this public debate.”

“My mom always told me that I argued too much with her and she needed me to find an outlet for it, so I joined the debate team in high school on a whim,” Smith said. “Here I am eight years later still doing it.”

Smith admitted that his competitiveness has “worn off” as the years have gone on.

“What sticks with me now is the drive to…find different perspectives on how the world should work,” Smith said.