Student view:

Margaret Strong and Tyler Thur: Debating the Issues

Dec. 9, 2015

Margaret Strong and Tyler Thur are seniors on MSU’s debate team. Marge majors in mathematics located in the College of Natural Science. Tyler is a student in the Honors College and James Madison College majoring in international relations.

The Michigan State debate team travels across the country, entering into academic contests with other top-notch universities like Harvard, Northwestern, Emory and Dartmouth. In these “battles” we argue whether or not certain policies should be enacted by the United States. Previous topics questioned energy policy, presidential powers and legalization of certain non-violent crimes. This year provides the opportunity to debate if the United States should reduce military presence in the Greater Horn of Africa, Arab Gulf States and/or Northeast Asia.                                                                                                                     

Each partnership is tasked with defending both sides. On the affirmative, we call for a reduction of presence in South Korea, arguing it would be best for South Korean diplomatic efforts and to alleviate tensions on the peninsula. When we are negative, we must be ready to refute not only that position but also affirmatives that engage other countries in those three regions with a litany of diverse justifications.

To many, this seems an impossible research task. That is our favorite part – we pride ourselves on being one of the most prepared partnerships in the country. Although we came from different debate backgrounds in Milwaukee and Chicago Heights, our coaches had the foresight to put us together. In our junior year campaign we built significant momentum as a partnership, in the form of a third place finish at the Kentucky Round Robin, finals showing at the Henry Clay, semifinals appearance at Harvard, and championship at the Texas tournament, which is one of the largest tournaments of the year. This year we have followed that success up with top five placements in the Coaches Polls, most notably from our winning finish at the Kentucky Round Robin, which is reserved for only the top 9 teams in the country.

Standing above all other contests is the National Debate Tournament. This end of the year championship allows only the top 78 teams in the country to compete. Given our junior year performance, we entered the tournament as the sixth seed and made it to the quarterfinals, beating teams from Georgetown, California-Berkley and University of Michigan. In the end, we fell to a different supremely talented U-M team that made it all the way to the tournament’s finals. Since that loss, our goal has been to win the 2016 tournament, and we think we have a pretty good shot.

Aside from the accolades and recognition, debate offers a litany of benefits. In the classroom, it has helped us better formulate coherent arguments and express our opinions in a manner likely to persuade external audiences. As members of a broader Spartan family, debate encourages us to be reflexive citizens and strive for more equitable societies. This is most visible in our work with the university on last year’s Project 60/50. On top of those portable skills, debate works as a great networking tool to achieve positions as professors, lawyers, government officials, scholars and more.

Despite all the wonderful debate programs across the country, we chose MSU because we felt like we would have the greatest chance to succeed. Much like Spartan coaches in football and basketball driving victory of their teams, our coaches are working around the clock to scout our opponents, come up with new and innovative strategies and lead practices. Part of the reason our coaching staff is so successful is because they know what it takes to win. Since 2004 MSU has won the National Debate Tournament three times, and a member of all three winning partnerships coaches us directly. Uniting all three championships is Will Repko, who is the head coach of the program.

All of the reasons we came to MSU to debate are only possible because of the unmatched support from the university. Whether it is related to funding, office space, recognition or graduate assistantships, Michigan State and the Honors College are instrumental in our success. We are constantly motivated by the call to reach higher and our knowledge that Spartans Will debate the big issues.