Westmont Magazine Matter of Debate
Yes or no: Debaters can argue passionately about an issue while maintaining a civil and logical manner. Professor Mike Giuliano makes a strong case for the affirmative side of this proposition.
A communications studies faculty member who coordinates Westmont’s annual debate tournament, Giuliano contends that passionate but civil speech is not only possible but essential.
“We want students who are passionate about defending the truth and do so in the most effective ways possible,” he says. “Students can learn to attack propositions and issues rather than people. It’s possible to express passion in kind and civil ways.”
Participating in the tournament each year helps students develop three essential skills: thinking critically, communicating orally, and listening carefully.
Montecito residents Bob and Jean Svoboda have funded the tournament since it began in 1996. Thanks to their generosity, the top eight finishers receive prizes, with the champion taking home $800.
This year, 128 students participated, 32 from each class. After five rounds, four class champions emerged who competed in the finals. Senior Greg Lundell debated Vincent Traverso, the first-year victor, and junior Iris Ichishita faced sophomore John Boylston.
Traverso and Ichishita won the preliminary rounds by close 3-2 votes and met for the championship. For the second time in tournament history, a first-year student prevailed. The finalists debated whether or not a reporter should run a story — based on a reliable source — that the president was heavily leaning toward a surprise military attack against a Middle East country.
Traverso, who is from St. Helena, Calif., had no prior debating experience. A friend encouraged him to participate.
“In every debate in the last few rounds I was sure I had lost,” he says. “The victory completely surprised me.”
Traverso enjoyed the experience and intends to participate again next year. After he graduates with a major in religious studies, he plans to enter the ministry.
Ichishita made her third appearance in the tournament. As a high school student, she belonged to Junior Statesmen of America, which held debates and mock trials. She was once booed off the stage during a debate for reading a passage from the Bible.
Her Westmont experience has increased her confidence in her debating skills. Arguing that the college should not accept a donation from a CEO of a major tobacco company was her favorite debate. An English major, she plans to write for and act in films and appreciates the opportunity to practice speech and performance before an audience.
Lundell, who graduates in May and plans to attend Santa Clara University School of Law in the fall, says participating in the tournament has helped him speak in front of people. He also notes that studying for the LSAT strengthened his ability to argue effectively. To advance to the finals, he opposed the idea that the state should allow torture to obtain information from criminals. A biology and philosophy major, he is from Pleasanton, Calif.
Boylston was new to the tournament this year. Watching his roommate compete last year inspired him to sign up. His favorite debates focused on policy and correct actions. He is a business and philosophy major and hopes to go into law.
A speech tournament debuted this year in which students delivered famous historical speeches. The four finalists gave their talks in between the championship debates. Junior Doni Waisanen finished first (“We Shall Fight on the Beaches” by Winston Churchill). Second place went to first-year student Alicia Burns (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards). Junior Corrie Gustafson came in third (“Farewell Black Hawk” by Black Hawk), and senior Kate Morken was fourth (“A Woman’s Place” by Naomi Wolf).