The Fairfield University Debate Society competed in the American Parliamentary Debate Association Nationals this past weekend and won one out of the six debates in which they participated. This was the first time Fairfield attended the tournament in over 10 years.

Debate Society President Matt Rotondaro ‘16, Vice President Gregg Pizzi ‘15 and Vladimir Ivanov ‘14 traveled to the University of Pennsylvania to compete in the biggest yearly collegiate debate tournament. Teams from schools like Harvard, Yale, Fordham and Rutgers all participated at APDA Nationals as well.

“We competed against some of the top teams from the top schools,” said Rotondaro about the aforementioned competitors. “It was very challenging and we’re working on that.”

The tournament was comprised of  both a varsity and novice bracket. Fairfield was placed in the novice bracket as a free seed, with the opportunity to move up to the other bracket with a win. Fairfield faced Yale in the novice bracket and held their own against this school.

According to Rotondaro, the club is now up to par in skill level with schools like West Point and Fordham and working to get to a higher level.

The presence of the more experienced schools like Harvard at the APDA Nationals was something that the Debate Society was not necessarily accustomed to.

“Every school sends one or two teams, so you’re really competing against the best,” said Pizzi.

The Debate Society worked very hard to prepare for the APDA Nationals, according to Rotondaro. The most important thing to do was prepare cases and topics for debate. The club had gathered cases that they worked on throughout the year and held brainstorming sessions to generate random ideas. Each team from each school brings topics with them that are presented to the opposing team with the option of being debated.

The topics that were debated upon at Nationals ranged from politics to pop culture. Examples of such topics were, “If you qualify for food and housing subsidies, are you eligible for an internet subsidy?” and “If you are lying in a ditch in a zombie apocalypse, what tool would you carry with you?”

“It’s all about preparing these really specific, yet interesting cases,” said Rotondaro. “We hold debates in our meetings like at a real tournament. We would have sessions where we run through the cases and have a dedicated panel of people point out the problems.”

This year, the Debate Society also had the help of associate communications professor Dr. Margaret Wills, who was appointed their new advisor. According to club members, Wills has criticized debate cases with students as a teacher of a public speaking course. Her techniques and suggestions have helped to instruct better delivery.

“When I was asked to step in as club advisor, I had two thoughts,” said Wills. “First, I hadn’t heard much about debate at Fairfield so I was pleasantly surprised to get the request and have a sense that they were on the road to a revival of a great art. Second, I considered how important it would be for me to reach out and recruit communication majors to join the Debate Society – what a terrific way to build speaking and critical thinking skills.”

Wills has been instrumental to increasing the club’s membership through her role as a communication professor, according to Rotondaro.

“We have so many new students from the communication department than before,” said Rotondaro. “That’s a result of her [Wills] pulling them in by using the communication directory and going through those networks and channels.”

This has helped pull in a number of new members and retain old ones. Club members state that there have been five or six consistent members in the past few years and 15 new members alone this year.

“The officers’ and other club members’ dedication is what has put Fairfield University’s name back on the debate map,” said Wills. “I’m excited for the future of the Debate Society and have every intention of supporting them and cheering them on in the years ahead.”

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