On the second floor of the ORU Graduate Center, right across from the elevators and the ORU’s Theatre, Dance and Visual Arts department, sits a trophy case overflowing with awards.
While the case is usually met with only a passing glance, this time a group of students and two professors stand staring at it, perplexed. They take turns pointing and suggesting ideas for fitting the boxes of trophies at their feet into the case, until finally one of the professors declared that they will just have to take some out to put in the new ones—all 25 of them.
Coached by Agena Farmer and Molly Brown, the ORU debate team won top university in nearly every category at the International Public Debate Association (IPDA) tournament at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas on Feb. 23 to 25.
This type of debate is based on the idea that “a normal member of the public should be able to understand it,” according to Brown.
The team was started in 2011 with a donation that has funded the team through this year. Since then, they’ve had three national winners and three runners-up. This year’s team has 20 members who represent many different kinds of classes and majors—communication, pre-law, medical molecular biology, music production and business, to name a few.
Just as there are diverse academic backgrounds within the team, there are diverse levels of debate experience. Samuel Mills, who won first place in the novice division of the tournament, began debating only last year. He was invited by two of the team members to come watch the tournament and Brown let him try a round, which he won. This year, he moved past the preliminaries.
“I don’t know what happened, something just clicked,” said Mills, who didn’t think he would make it nearly that far. “I didn’t even pack super nice clothes.” To his surprise, he made it all the way to the end. “It was really intense as we were waiting for the judges’ decision.”
When they finally announced that Mills and ORU had won, Mills and the rest of the team kept a straight face and politely shook his opponent’s hand. As soon as they left, however, “everyone just freaked out, and I ended up surrounded by my team,” said Mills.
The debate team really is a team, according to one member, Thuy Newborne: “Our philosophy is that we always do what’s best for the team.”
Amari Washington, a first-year debater, echoes her, saying, “the team supports you and helps you know what you’re doing when you go out there.”
However, even though the team is the top priority, the members are also sure to give glory to individual speakers too. Jamia Matthews was the number one speaker of the tournament and won first and second place in the two team tournaments.
“Jamia joined because she wanted to get better at public speaking, and look at her now,” said Brown.
The team members all raved about the different ways being on the team had helped them, from college papers, to teamwork, to friendly competition, to understanding opposite points of view, to being able to form and articulate complicated ideas. And, according to Mills, “it only takes a semester to start seeing the benefits.”
“So come on by and see the trophies but remember to bring your shades and your point of view,” said Farmer.