William Hawks, Contributing Writer
The Mississippi College Debate Team went to their second debate competition of the semester at the University of Arkansas at Monticello last weekend. The team, coached by Dr. Merle Ziegler, consists of five members at different proficiency levels and experience.
Students compete against other students from all over the country in formal debating at four levels. New participants compete at the novice level, and move up into junior varsity and then varsity levels. The highest level is professional, where experienced debaters compete.
Graduate students are required to enter into the professional level regardless of experience, and that’s where Political Science grad student James Tulp found himself in the first competition of the semester at Lee College in Houston, Texas. With no debate experience whatsoever before his first competition, Tulp finished “middle of the pack.”
“I was content with this, considering I was competing in the Professional class and going up against professors and debate coaches with years of experience,” Tulp said of his results.
Also a newcomer to the debate team is Junior Finance major Will Earnhart. Earnhart competed among 33 other novice level debaters and was announced one of the eight finalists in his category.
The debate team prepares for their competitions at weekly practice meetings. The novices learn how to structure arguments well, and everyone does mock debates.
“The worst thing you can do in a cross examination is ask a question you don’t know the answer to. You want to ask them a question you think they’ll answer in a particular way,” Ziegler said.
Debate is not only for law students or future political candidates. “I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from debate,” Ziegler said.
Tulp shared this thought. “What drew me to the debate team was the opportunity to improve my public speaking skills, my critical thinking skills, and my ability to think on my toes,” he said.
Earnhardt further backed the point up: “You don’t have to be a law major; a lot of employers are looking for people who can communicate well.”
Ziegler continued, “In real life, this is what we do. We present an idea to our business, or company, and they’re going to want to ask questions like ‘why is that a good idea? Why do you think we should do it?’ And you’re going to have to be able to defend why you think this is a good idea.”
Ziegler said anyone can join at any point during the semester, though it is better to start at the beginning to get the full experience. Those interested can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.