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Rice’s debate team talks awards, bonding

Photo courtesy David Worth

By Sarah Knowlton     1/24/23 10:30pm

David Worth, director of the George R. Brown Forensics Society — Rice’s competitive speech and debate team — said that his team has been described as fanatical.

“It’s somewhere between a club and a [Division I] sport,” Worth said. “This weekend before last, we had 16 debates in three days.”

The competition that Worth was referring to ended in a Rice victory over the University of California, Berkeley, which is ranked as one of the top collegiate debate teams in the country, according to the National Parliamentary Debate League. 

The Forensics Society brought home 90 awards this past fall semester. Their victories come after a two-year hiatus from traditional debate competitions as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person events.

Anna Phan, a member of the debate team, said that returning to in-person competition has helped build morale across the team.

“This year has felt like a refreshing start with an almost brand new team,” Phan, a Duncan College freshman, said. “The wins feel like they’re building a new team atmosphere. I think as a team, we all get each other’s energy and senses of humor.”

Arjun Surya, another member of the team, said that he has also enjoyed bonding during competitions.

“From watching “South Park” on hotel TVs to our weekly team dinners, every moment with the team is enjoyable because debaters have a very unique sense of humor,” Surya, a Sid Richardson College freshman, said.

Surya said that part of the positive environment of the team comes from the fact that team members treat debate as more than just a resume-booster.

“At the higher level, [debate] turns into more of a game built on strategy and analytical thinking,” Surya said.  “A big distinction between college debate and high school debate is that in college, everyone does it because they enjoy it and not because they want to put it on their Common App.”

Worth also acknowledges the strategic and analytical skills that his team learns through debate.

“Learning advocacy, learning argumentation and learning to interrogate ideas and defend them is more than just a leg up for your applications,” Worth said. “It actually does good in the world.”  

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