Dordt College News

Debate returns with a flourish

June 23, 2014

Dordt College has not had a debate team since the 1960s, but this year marked the beginning of what promises to be a growing and successful program.

The team, which began with six people in September, has grown to 10 members. They competed in five tournaments over the course of the year, coming home with three trophies.

The new debate club began when English Professor and Kuyper Scholar Program (KSP) Director Mary Dengler asked Donald Roth, a lawyer and professor of criminal justice and business law, to help set up a program for KSP students.

Encouraged by President Erik Hoekstra to explore a campuswide debate program, Roth investigated the options and decided to try the program for a year. Coaches from other schools even ran workshops for Dordt’s team.

“I kind of stumbled into it,” Roth said. “Sometimes providence confirms things. It’s been a rewarding process.”

According to Senior James Rylaarsdam, a big challenge was understanding the proper procedures. 

“Early on, we lost debates because of format,” Rylaarsdam said. “We’re learning everything for the first time.”

Roth agreed that there was a significant learning curve involved in starting the debate program. He and the team spent a great deal of practice time learning terminology, debate techniques, styles of argument, and ways to build an effective case in 15 minutes.

Since debaters are not allowed Internet access during tournaments, they also regularly discuss current events in order to be knowledgeable about a broad range of potential debate topics. This year’s tournament topics ranged from Facebook policies to the current situation in Ukraine. Still, it was not uncommon for debaters to be unfamiliar with topics. 

“There were a lot of topics I knew nothing about,” said Freshman Courtney de Wolde. “We had to make it up.”

Junior Lee Ver Burg agreed that this was a challenge, especially for those who took the opposition role, which only has seven minutes—half the government’s time—to come up with a counter argument and build their case. It helped that many topics were repeated.

Despite the challenges, the team enjoyed parliamentary debate and relying on and working with a partner, pooling knowledge and strengths.

The team plans to continue parliamentary debate next year, but Roth also hopes to expand the program and broaden into a forensics team. Forensics includes both debate and individual events like persuasion, monologue, and poetry.

Ver Burg looks forward to further developing his debate skills, and he hopes to try some other forensics opportunities. De Wolde is also excited about the opportunity to try different events.
“The learning benefit is huge. I can already see the changes in the students,” Roth said. “And it’s fun. Ask anyone on the team—that’s why they do it.”

Anna Visser (’14)


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