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SMU Debate Team wins “Top Speaker” in novice division and third place overall at Edmond, Okla. tourney

SMU Debate Team members Aabid Shavji, left, with Thomas Atkins at the 2014 University of Central Oklahoma debate tournament.

SMU vs. Rwandan national debate team

The SMU Debate Team will compete against the national debate team of Rwanda on the SMU campus Dec. 3. The Rwandan team, called iDebate Rwanda, is currently on a two-month, multi-city U.S. tour, with debates scheduled at Pepperdine University, Yale and Harvard, among others. At the SMU event, the topic is expected to be: “The United States has an obligation to take the international lead against global instances of genocide.” Audience members will be encouraged to make arguments during the public comment part of the debate, and the event will conclude with an audience ballot and presentation of results.

The SMU vs. the Rwandan iDebate match, sponsored by the Meadows Division of Communication Studies, will take place on December 3 at 7 p.m. in Room 241, Umphrey Lee Center, on the SMU campus at 3300 Dyer Street, Dallas, TX, 75205. The public is welcome to attend at no charge.

Aabid Shivji had never competed in a college debate tournament before the weekend of Oct. 31, 2014. But by the time the SMU pre-law student (B.B.A. in business management and B.S. in economics, ’18) and his teammates worked through 10 hours of competition at the 2014 University of Central Oklahoma tournament in Edmond, Okla., Shivji won Top Speaker in the novice division. He and teammate Thomas Atkins, an SMU junior pursuing five degrees (international studies; religious studies; Spanish; political science; and human rights, ’16) who is also a first-time debater, went on to finish as the number three team for the event.

“It was an unusually strong performance for a team starting so late in the debate season,” says Dr. Ben Voth, director of debate for the SMU team.

The debate topic was a complex one: “Resolved: The United States should legalize all or nearly all of one or more of the following in the United States: marijuana, online gambling, physician-assisted suicide, prostitution, the sale of human organs.”

The topic was made known to the teams last summer, so Shivji and Atkins had time to prepare. But it wasn’t enough to practice for only one side of the argument; Shivji and Atkins had to be prepared to argue both sides. “The most common cases we had to argue against were variants of legalized marijuana and prostitution,” says Atkins. “For our affirmative cases, we argued for the dissolution of the state as a means of facilitating all of the topics.”

Their preparation was aided by Dr. Voth. “He was a tremendous help, and honestly we wouldn't have been as prepared for this tournament without him,” says Shivji. “He really helped us understand what we were getting into before we got there.” Atkins concurs. “I’ve never known a debate coach more well-read on the subject, knowledgeable, passionate, accommodating and helpful in preparing students to engage the material effectively, while still encouraging them to take a stock of their own creativity and investment,” he said.

Dr. Voth is an associate professor in the Division of Communication Studies at SMU Meadows, and is an advisor to the Bush Institute.

For more information about the SMU Debate Team, contact Dr. Ben Voth.

Read more about SMU Debate.

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