By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer
The Baylor Debate team will compete against over 200 teams in a virtual debate hosted by Wake Forest University this weekend.
Corinth freshman Ciarra McClinton and Tyler junior Jonas Thrasher-Evans secured a 2-1 win at a debate hosted by Binghampton in September. Two teams also made it to the elimination round at an online tournament hosted by the University of Central Oklahoma last weekend.
Baylor has been home to a competitive debate team since 1865 and has won the National Debate Tournament three times since 1945 with nine appearances in the Final Four.
However, as with most aspects to the current college experience, they have also made the transition to virtual-style debates.
Dr. Matthew Gerber, associate professor of communication and director of debate, said in their two-on-two debate style, things such as time limits remain the same but the format has shifted to a platform called Classrooms.cloud.
He said that along with five graduate assistant coaches, he coaches members of the Debate team via Discord.
“Whenever the pairings for the debates come out, we are doing everything online,” he said. “Now, I will say this, this past weekend we had a tournament. We had three teams competing. We actually were in the same building, but we remained socially distanced.”
Gerber said that while the format of the debates has changed, the content and research that goes into the debates has not.
McClinton said that her preparation for debates remains the same with the online style.
“We do the same amount of research,” she said. “It’s virtually the same thing. I think with the type of debate that we do, it’s with a partner, so you definitely have to make sure that you’re communicating with them and staying up to date with them as far as dividing research and talking about what arguments you want to run.”
Gerber said that while this shift poses positive and negative elements, such as technical difficulties, he said a main benefit is that students don’t have to miss class to travel.
“But, at the same time, we’re all anxious to get back to in-person, typical debates,” he said. “That’s how we do it.”
McClinton said that she feels the lack of traveling has made debates more accessible for more schools.
“Having the virtual is also pretty cool because it gives people, like other schools that maybe couldn’t travel to certain tournaments, the opportunity to do those,” she said.
League City junior and third year Debate Team member Anthony Wyatt said he feels the transition to a new format has been exciting.
“It’s part of a totally new environment,” he said. “A lot of parts of in-person debate really focused on the ethos or the presentation of your argument and the character that you carried with them, but in the transition to virtual debate, you lose a lot of that in-person ethos.”
He said that he feels you have to work twice as hard to establish your character in the virtual debate. Wyatt also said that new challenges with technological literacy have come into play such as proper audio pick-up and clear communication to the judge and to your opponents.
“I feel like there’s a larger focus on the technicality of debates since you lose that in-person ethos,” he said. “So, as a debater, you’re trying to find the best version of all of your arguments that you used to have, but now you want them to be even better because it’s harder to communicate those arguments in an online debate.”
McClinton said that while there are benefits to doing debates from campus, the sense of community that comes from debate tournaments is not the same.
“Meeting people from other schools and interacting with coaches and judges has definitely decreased a lot, which definitely is not the best,” she said, “and I wish it was different, but there’s pros to the virtual side.”
Gerber is confident about the upcoming tournament and remainder of the season.
“It’s been going good so far,” Gerber said. “I mean, we win lots of debates, and we’re continuing to win lots of debates in the new online world, but again, we’re ready to get back to normal.”