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Nov. 20, 2023

Podcast: A look inside MSU's powerhouse debate team

One of Michigan State University’s most dominant teams is not in the Athletic Department. It’s our perennial national powerhouse debate team.

Director of Debate Carly Watson, Coach Will Repko, and team members Joanna Gusis and Miaomiao Zi discuss how a debate competition works. They talk about the skills that make one a good debater and about why MSU is such a debate power. How and when did this happen? They talk about how debate skills serve students throughout their lives. And they reinforce some facts about debate and dispel some myths.

Conversation Highlights:

(1:08) – “The way that a structured college debate works is that you’re given a topic in advance. But one of the neat and healthy things is you don’t know what side of the issue that you’ll be on. Often, it’s determined by the flip of a coin, literally.”

(3:55) – How does a debate tournament play out? “Usually, the debates are decided by a combination of whose research is more advanced on a question of public policy or who is more persuasive in diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents' arguments.”

(4:52) – What are the skills that make someone a good debater?

(8:44) – When and how did MSU become a national debate powerhouse?

(10:20) – For the students, is the debate team a primary reason you chose to come to MSU?

(11:49) – How do debate skills serve a person throughout their life?

(13:31) – “There’s this misnomer about debate and debate people that we like to argue or that we can’t agree on anything. One of the biggest things that debate teaches as a practice is being able to hear and understand and appreciate what the other side is saying. Debate is very good at teaching people to listen and to consider a perspective other than their own.”

(15:39) – Are there facts about debate you’d like to reinforce and myths you’d like to dispel? “Debates are nothing like the presidential debates we’re used to where people are talking over each other. That’s the impression many of us have when we think of debates.”

(21:27) – Final thoughts from the panel – “Starting public speaking at a young age did wonders for my confidence. I can’t describe how often I encounter someone who is a very successful lawyer who says that their entry point was an incredibly humble beginning in a middle school debate class.”

Listen to “MSU Today with Russ White” on the radio and through SpotifyApple Podcasts, and wherever you listen.

By: Russ White

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