Wands and words
Wheaton’s debate team has accomplished a lot — last year the team finished in the top 16 out of 163 teams and some members even traveled to Jamaica for a national tournament. This Saturday, we have a chance to see them in a different — even magical — light. They’re trading in their suits and pencil skirts for Hogwarts’ robes and wands to address controversies like “Should the international confederation of wizards repeal the statute of secrecy?”
Harry Potter lovers are in for a treat as Wheaton’s debate team will use their powers of persuasion and enter the world of J.K. Rowling’s beloved books in Blanchard Hall, starting at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, with two more rounds to follow at 3:30 and 6:00 p.m. The debate team encourages spectators join in the fun. Senior debate team member Robert Jones said that debaters and Harry Potter fans share a lot in common: they tend to be “good at thinking outside the box, they have imagination and they are really passionate.”
Upon arriving at Blanchard, students will be “sorted” into a House — Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff — and assigned a partner who is also in that House. There won’t be winners or losers, but if a judge praises a debater’s arguments, the house gains points towards the night’s prize: the house cup. Even though students may not be as familiar with debate structures and terminology, Mary-Preston Austin, a former member of the debate team helping to organize the event, said that it can play to their advantage — at times it makes their speeches even more interesting and applicable to real-life scenarios.
Just like at a standard debate, partners will have 20 minutes after finding out which side they will be arguing to prepare their arguments. Once the debate begins, members of the debate team, embodying characters such as Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron, will act as judges.
In debate, learning how to adapt to your judge is important. Even if these judges play fictional characters, students will still need to employ this real-world skill. According to Caitlin Smith, assistant coach for the debate team, that’s the key to winning points. Her advice: “If I was debating, like in front of Hermione, I would probably want to make arguments about how this would be good for house elves or something, for … certain oppressed magical populations.”
If you think Dobby should have a wand then be sure to stay for the third round as the debate team puts on a members-only performance debate, designed to give non-members an idea of what debate is like through arguing entertaining topics. The issue: whether or not the Ministry of Magic should revoke the no-wand policy for non-human creatures.
For students on the team, it’s also a welcome break from the typical — and heavy — issues they argue in debate competitions. “We did debate a lot of really weighty topics with major real-life applications, so it’s nice to have a break from that and just do a fun topic,” Austin said. That doesn’t mean they won’t take it seriously, however. Students who come to Saturday’s performance debate can count on the team to not back down — especially when it comes to whether or not Hogwarts houses should be abolished.
Besides Harry Potter, a favorite subject of many of the team’s members, other fictional controversies popular among the team relate to Bob’s Burgers and Arrested Development. The students aren’t afraid of intellectual and controversial discussion on real world topics, either, and their diverse range of interests makes for some interesting dinner time conversations. While “there are a lot of really differing perspectives and points of view,” Austin said that they are “all really close.”
Smith attributes the team’s closeness partly to Katrina Burlett, assistant director of debate, and Rebecca Sietman, assistant professor of communication and Wheaton’s debate coach, saying they were “instrumental in helping us get connected to the community.”
Smith said that another factor making the debate team a “really great community” is its ability to push members to view issues from multiple angles and to look past assumptions. She explained that the process of interrogations and pursuing resolutions with the team has helped to shape her own learning experience.
The goal of the event is to give the student body a glimpse into the life of the debate community and appeal to prospective new members. Jones said that “hopefully it lets people know … that we’re a really welcoming community that likes to have a lot of fun, because that’s what debate team’s been for me.” Although he had never before participated in debate, it quickly became his favorite thing about Wheaton — and still is.
Wheaton students, Hogwarts is calling. Don’t wait for a letter from Dumbledore to jump into the magical world of debate.