“My summer at the WDI was an amazing experience. The meaningful discussions and community building activities we had impacted my perception of belonging and community within debate. Through my time there, I developed closer relationships with fellow debaters which is so invaluable given the demanding nature of debating we all face. It was also especially rewarding to meet debaters from all different kinds of backgrounds — younger and older and who did different kinds of debate– which let me think critically about both our similarities and differences. Finally, the methods we engaged in through the scholars program were unique and very cool. Overall, an incredible time full of rigorous thought and building relationships with wonderful people!” -Pauline
“Being a scholar at the WDI was an amazing experience. The friendships I made at the WDI was one of the biggest reasons why I continued debating this year. I come from a team that emphasizes competitive success, so the WDI gave me a unique opportunity to build relationships outside of my team. I really wish I had applied to the Scholars program earlier in my college debate career. Having the connections I have now during my first and second years would have made debate more enjoyable and motivating.” -Ava
“My name is Meg Young, and I’m a rising freshman at Northwestern. The WDI College Scholars program combined lab-style readings and lessons with critical discussions about issues facing the debate community and strategies for coalition-building. The highlight of the WDI for me was the conversation about the important of rhetoric and its implications for activism and community-building, because the analysis was not only interesting but also provided me with a more nuanced understanding of issues in debate and the varying perspectives. I encourage people to apply for the chance to both work with Kate and Shanara and also to build close friendships with passionate and engaging people.” – Meg
Kassandra (Kassie) Colón (Public Relations Intern & WDI Board Member) was recently named a finalist for the Melissa Maxcy Social Justice Award. A senior and varsity debater for Fort Lauderdale High School, Kassie is certain to leave their mark on their community.
The Melissa Maxcy Social Justice Award is given each year to one student who attends Emory’s Barkley Forum for High Schools who uses portable skills towards the greater good of their community. Emory University forensics has a long history of encouraging students to use their forensics skills to improve society and promote social justice. While the Barkley Forum rewards competitive success, it also values service to others and recognizes students competing in its tournament who have a passion for
social justice work and a desire to continue their gifts and skills to serve others in the their community.
Kassie has exemplified the spirit of the Melissa Maxcy Social Justice Award through their work in and out of debate. Kassie spends their time working at an elementary school inspiring fourth graders to continue the fight for social justice. “Outside my classroom there’s a huge banner we put together that says, ‘Never forget #weremember’ with pictures of important black folk and trans women of color who have been murdered by authorities.”
Kassie also provides after-school SAT and ACT tutoring for Latin children. They’re currently serving as an interpreter for a student who just immigrated from Puerto Rico. Their activism outside of debate is focused on helping individuals find resources when dealing with homelessness, sexual violence, and other structural barriers to inequality.
In addition to their activism outside of the debate space, Kassie advocates for inclusion within debate. Coached by Hex Larsen and Nicole Danielle Nave (WDI Board Member), Kassie has run arguments that have centered around their own identity and how it relates to institutions. Through this method, Kassie has been able to challenge the oppressive structures within debate. They have introduced underprivileged kids to debate as an outlet for pressures like poverty and discrimination and believes that “a lot of the times that’s debate, because debate helped me.”
Although Kassie Colón is the Florida State Champion, they’re focused on more than just winning ballots. By providing a comforting and encouraging presence at tournaments, Kassie has created a warm and inclusive environment. Kassie is always there to offer a hug or a word of encouragement to anyone who might need it.
While Kassie didn’t win the award, their designation as a finalist is certainly something to be proud of. The debate community is better for having Kassie in it.
Seniors at Lincoln College Prep Academy in Kansas City, Monica Medeiros (WDI, 2014) and Ellen Baker (WDI; 2014, 2015) recently debated at the University of Oklahoma Round Robin (RR) and the Heritage Hall tournament. The team had great success at the round robin, placing 3rd and finishing as semi-finalists at the Heritage Hall tournament.They accomplished this despite facing administrative difficulty and lack of school support for their debate participation. Their recent success is more impressive because they only attended two prior 2015-2016 tournaments where they lost a bid round (Dowling) and dropped in octos (KCKCC).
“We did well at this round robin and tournament last year, but I’m confident that we are in a much better position this year,” said Monica, who earned 4th speaker at the RR and 3rd speaker at Heritage Hall. Their record at the round robin was 6-2 including wins against impressive teams from Union, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Jenks.
“Every round was different, and competitive,” said Ellen. “I appreciate the round robin not only because it was a unique opportunity to be showcased at a school I’m thinking of attending, but it was also a good forum for critical debate, which is lacking in the Midwest in particular. Debating two of the bid leaders was a really good way to try and step it up, so that we would be ready for the tournament and warmed up.”
At the end of the two day tournament, Lincoln Prep came in 3rd, Law Magnet placed 2nd, and Little Rock Central won. These three teams also swept the top 6 speaker places. It is notable that Monica and Ellen, who have only two tournaments under their belts, finished third to two teams with a combined total of 14 TOC bids.
At Heritage Hall, the focused work continued. Monica and Ellen finished preliminary debates with a 6-0 win-loss record and were the first seed. Because they were high in the bracket, the team advanced through doubles without debating. During the remainder of elimination debates they participated in many close debates with lengthy decision times. In octos, they picked up against Moore CM on a 3-0 decision. With the finals bid on the line, Monica and Ellen debated in their second bid round of the year against Liberal Arts and Sciences’ top team. A disappointing 3-0 loss, however, left the bid just slightly out of their grasp.
“It’s disappointing, but I won’t discredit the work we did up to that point. I’m happy with our showing, and we are looking ahead, and getting ready be even better at Berkeley,” said Ellen.
The WDI would like to congratulate the team on a good run despite facing challenges both in and outside of debates.
As the first tournament after winter break, WDI alumni had no problem getting back into the swing of things. Maggie Solice (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Hunter Callahan McFarland (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Mary Marcum (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Pauline Esman (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Nicole Nave (Board Member), Corrine Sugino (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), and Ava Vargason (Board Member and Collegiate Scholar, 2015) all competed at tops levels after the holiday break.Apparently, while the rest of us were lounging around at home, WDI alumni were hard at work prepping for the Cal Swings.
Among the numerous successes, Maggie Solice (Trinity RS) posted a prelim record of 5-1 and made it to octo-finals at both Cal Swing tournaments. Hunter Callahan Mcfarland and Mary Marcum (Wyoming MM) grew as a team. Pauline Esman (Northwestern CE) went 4-2, were 20th seed and made it to double octo-finals at the second tournament. Nicole Nave (Rutgers NM) beat the second-highest nationally ranked team (Michigan KM), made it to semis at the first tournament and octo-finals at the second tournament. She also was awarded 6th speaker at the second tournament. Corrine Sugino (Wake
Forest AS) had 5-1 preliminary win-loss record and made it to octo-finals at both halves of the tournament. Ava Vargason finished as a double octo-finalist at both halves of the tournament. At the first tournament, Ava earned the 8th speaker award.
At the year’s Cal Swing, there were many wins for WDI alumni. With so many alumni in one place, they were able to reconnect and share in their mutual successes. Pauline Esman thought that, “it was really cool to be able to debate so many fellow WDI people and that I think it made me debate my best because I was around people I cared about and who I had made connections to this summer!”
The alumni also enjoyed debating each other. Pauline Esman debated Ava Vargason round 3, Maggie Solice round 6 and Nicole Nave in doubles. “All were awesome debates,” remarked Esman.
Hunter Callahan McFarland and Mary Marcum debated Harvard HS, the top team in the country, an experience that proved to be very informative for Callahan, who remarked, “that was a very challenging but enjoyable debate. I learned a lot about Middle Eastern policy from that one debate.” Along with her successes, Callahan also enhanced her knowledge of the topic.
Aside from beating the second best team in the nation, Nicole Nave felt that the most memorable moment for her was when she debated in the double octo round
against Pauline Esman at the second half of the Swings, running a negative argument called ‘the dozens,’ which is an argument about black comedy and its transformative powers. Nicole said, “Black comedy produces community in one of the most transformative ways and it’s simply by our ability to smile in a world that was built in opposition to us. It is my favorite argument to run. It gives me so much energy and life after debate competitions suck it away.” Nicole Nave is winning rounds and breaking records all while spreading an important message. Not only did Nave impact her opponents in the round, but she also inspired the younger generation of high school debaters who sat in her rounds. “I enjoyed the kids from BAUDL (Bay Area Urban Debate League) that came and watched my rounds. They truly motivated me even when things got hard.”
Ava Vargason’s most memorable round was against Rutgers MN, Nicole Nave’s team. “It was great debating Nicole because I hadn’t seen her since the WDI. They’re a great team and I loved debating them because they’re a team that you can just hang out with after the tournament is over.” Ava Vargason, a chemical engineering major, got her first speaker award at a major tournament during the first half of the Swings. “They played ‘Blinded by Science’ for my song, which was very fitting.” Vargason believes that relationships are absolutely essential to participation in debate. “Having a network of people that are there to support you and care more about how you’re feeling than if you’re winning is so important in this activity,” Vargason says. “It gives you motivation to keep going and being at the WDI this past summer definitely helped me make the decision to keep debating.”
Corrine Sugino also experienced her fair share of success at the Swings. Sugino’s most memorable round was during the double octos at the second half of the Swings. Corrine said, “we debated Kinsee and Misty
who I used to travel with in high school (our coaches were married) and that was a fun round because I felt like Charles and I had a lot of cohesion and we got to debate people I knew and like had grown up debating.” Sugino, like the other alums, valued the atmosphere of comradery over her individual successes. Sugino summed up the tournament perfectly: “Debating at the Cal Swings was really fun. The tournaments are tough and take a lot of work but it’s great to come back after winter break and be able to see friends and get back into debating!”
Maggie Solice believes that this tournament reconnected her to her friends at the WDI. “Attending the Cal tournament was great not just because we experienced some success, but because I also got to watch so many of my friends from the WDI do well also. I got to cheer for Ava when she won her speaking award. When I was out of the tournament, I went to support Nicole from Rutgers, and when I was still debating, Pauline was in the back of my room. It really reminded me why I love the community.”
All in all, WDI alumni are killing it on the college circuit. Keep up the great work!
Abbie Booker (WDI 2014), a senior at East Kentwood, took home the first place trophy from the Michigan State University high school tournament this weekend. Booker and her partner Michael Obuchi have been consistently demolishing the high school circuit, making MSU their second tournament win of the season. Booker took third place speaker at the Michigan State tournament and her team didn’t
drop a single ballot in the process.
For Booker, debate is more than just a competitive activity- it’s a way to formulate and implement strategies to challenge the most oppressive structures prevalent in today’s society. In her debates, Booker challenges white cis male domination by running an aff that, as she puts it, “has an emotional appeal to it that fills the room with the power of blackness and black emotion” which “helps us to remember the lives lost to antiblack violence.”
Her team’s negative strategy is a one-off argument that centers black trans women. Booker explains her team’s decision to center the black trans woman as the focal point of her debates: “We feel that black trans women are always at the forefront of movements for other groups, but never have their movements focused on.”
Booker feels that her team’s method of black rage can spill over into other aspects of debater’s lives, allowing a route to challenge the oppressive norms of both debate and the real world. “Black rage can be utilized in the real world for us, it give us the courage to speak out against all oppression, helps us recognize its okay to embrace the extreme emotions of rage to have psychological cleansing, and allows us to challenge cis privilege and center other identities.”
Abbie Booker hopes to leave a lasting impression on the debate community. “I want people to remember the ways that my partners and I pushed the limits of debate in the hopes of making the space more accessible not just for our bodies, but for others as well.”
Speaking on solidarity, Booker explains, “it would be great if other identity debaters practiced this too, stepping outside of their social location, even if it is one of oppression, to bring in other movements as well.”
“People in debate who really know me know that I have come to love my identity, I am proud of my sexuality, race, and gender, and WDI helped my find that love. I just want others to find it for themselves too.”
Top-ranked students Zoe Wynne (WDI, 2015) and Sophia Skalski-Fouts (WDI, 2015), sophomore debaters for Fort Lauderdale High school, finished as semi-finalists after a tough fight at the University of Florida’s Blue Key tournament this past weekend.
Despite winning their previous tournament, the sophomore team went into the weekend feeling that their chances were being underestimated. Zoe and Sophia proved their doubters wrong by earning the first seed in elimination debates after emerging victorious in five preliminary debates. The team also appeared as semi-finalists. Zoe and Sophia were recognized as outstanding speakers earning 3rd (Wynne) and 5th (Skalski-Fouts) place speaker awards.
This is the first time a sophomore team of two women team has made it as far as the semifinal round and the they were ecstatic. Throughout the whole tournament, the only dropped two ballots in semifinals against a team from Cypress Bay, a sister school to Fort Lauderdale. In fact, the team has only dropped five ballots this season.
Wynne wrote, “I want to say thank you to all my friends and family for supporting me! I cannot believe it has been a year since my first debate and the opportunity to start friendships with some of the most amazing people.”
Along with their achievements, Wynne and Skalski-Fouts kept the motivation going for other members in the pool and rooted on Cypress debater Melanie Xia, when she became the first woman of color to receive top speaker at the Blue Key tournament.
“I’m just really happy she got it [top speaker] and no one else did. It makes me happy to see people who are not cis white boys winning speaker awards,” they added. Wynne and Skalski-Fouts support inclusion in the debate community and believe that everyone should be able to access a community where they can advocate for something they believe.
The two would like to thank Hex Larsen and Kassandra Colon (WDI, 2014, 2015; Member WDI Board of Directors) for coaching them along the way. “We couldn’t have done it without their help!!”
This team also looks out for younger students and tries to make debate a welcoming environment for them. They coached the novice team of Peyton Carpen and Greyson Alfonso from Fort Lauderdale to win the tournament’s novice division for the first time in 5 years.
Join us in congratulating 2015 WDI Scholars Mary Marcum and Hunter McFarland for their recent quarter-finalist finish at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Hunter and Mary debate for the University of Wyoming, (WDI University Supporter, 2015) and finished their preliminary debates with 6 wins or an 85.7% win record.
The duo defeated teams from Texas, Weber State, Gonzaga, and San Francisco State. At UNLV in prelims. The debated on the affirmative and beat Texas HW in doubles on a 3-0 decision. In Octos, they emerged victorious on a 2-1 over West Georgia CC. Finally, they lost to Weber State GT in Quarters on a split decision. Marcum also finished as the 11th speaker out of 120 debaters in open competition.
So far this year, the team has a 73.33% preliminary win percentage and a 66.67% elimination debate record. The WDI is looking forward to seeing great things from them as the season progresses. Congratulations Mary and Hunter!
Rhian Williams and his partner Jenny Anton, who debate for Wayne State University, recently won the Junior Varsity division at Vanderbilt. They were the first seed after winning five preliminary debates. Williams and Anton were also recognized for their outstanding speaking as the 2nd (Anton) and 3rd (Williams) speakers in their division. This win is the Wayne AW’s second victory in a row. At the University of Kentucky, Anton took 1st speaker and Williams took 2nd speaker in the JV division. Also at UK, they won their division, did not drop a single ballot, and were the first seed out of prelims.
According to his bio on the WDI website, “Rhian Williams is a trans guy dedicated to making debate a safe and accessible activity for all of its members . . . Williams is committed to promoting ethical and inclusive politics in and out of the debate space.”
Williams and Anton defeated Tolbert and Wheat from Louisville in the final round on a 2-1 decision. After the debate, Rhian said of the opposition, “These debaters were the nicest, coolest people I’ve ever had the privilege of debating. The whole Louisville team is inclusive and awesome and sets an example that everyone in debate should aspire to.”
In addition to the competition, Vanderbilt is making real strides toward accessibility by installing permanent gender neutral restrooms. Rhian praised Mary Bobbitt, Assistant Debate Coach at Wayne State, who was responsible for encouraging the change saying, “So Vandy was a double win- questions of accessibility were raised so they have now put in permanent gender neutral bathrooms!!!”
The WDI would like to thank Rhian and Jenny, Mary, Lousiville TW, and Vanderbilt for making debate a more welcoming and inclusive space. It is great to see that debate success and inclusivity can coexist. Congratulations!
Karease Quashie, who attended WDI 2015, made it to finals of the New York City Invitational (Big Bronx) with her partner Olivia Cherry. They are the first black female team in the history of the UDL to ever get a bid and make it to the FINALS of the tournament. Please join us in congratulating them!
In their first college tournament, WDI Board Member Rhian Williams and his partner Jenny Anton won the JV division at the Kentucky College Tournament. The duo, who represent Wayne State University, won the first (Jenny) and second (Rhian) speaker wards in the JV division. Rhian and Jenny were debate partners in high school and are continuing that tradition in college. According to Jenny Anton, the team “couldn’t be more appreciative” of their high school and college coaches. The WDI is looking forward to seeing what these two first years do as they advance in their debate careers. Congratulations on your outstanding success Rhian and Jenny!