Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Peaslee Debate Society has had a strong season this year even by its own past high standards. Ranking 8th in the nation, Peaslee also broke into the Octa-finals at the World University Debate Championships in Cork, Ireland in January.
The team competed against over 300 teams at the World Championships from around the globe, and this was the first time that Swarthmore has gotten so far at Worlds since switching to British Parliamentary format, according to Peaslee member Cyrus Stoller ‘10.
Senior member Julie Baker’s favorite round of the season was at Worlds, “when Cyrus and I beat Cambridge University’s A-team in the final in-round on Day 3 of the competition. Cambridge tends to be one of the most successful teams in the world, so for them, the loss was a major upset. They complained about it no-end, but the judges felt the round was very clearly a win for Swarthmore.” Unfortunately, Swarthmore got what was, in Stoller’s estimation, the toughest draw of the Octa-finals, with Yale’s team and two teams from Oxford, which is, Stoller points out, where the style of the debate was invented.
When asked about the success of the team this season, Baker used the same adjective Stoller had: “fantastic.” “For one, we’ve had two members (Cyrus and me) qualify to debate at Nationals, and three of us (Cyrus, Matthew Tilghman ’09, and I) break at title tournaments. That has done wonders for our team’s reputation, both nationally and internationally,” Baker said.
Both Stoller and Baker attributed their team’s success this year to a new, mean, lean practice regime. While Baker says that Peaslee’s meetings used to be more about social entertainment, this year they have had a demanding practice schedule: “We do creative exercises on Mondays, British Parliamentary practice rounds on Wednesdays, and regular American Parliamentary practice rounds on Thursday to prepare for the upcoming weekend’s tournament.” It’s not just a question of quantity, but of quality, too. “We’ve tried to really simulate what it’s like at a tournament on a regular basis, so we’ll have practice rounds for each style so that people can really get used to it and feel comfortable,” Stoller reports.
The strong freshmen showing this season was also mentioned by Stoller and Baker as part of what has made this season so successful. Linnet Davis-Stermitz ’12, is one of those freshmen, and won third place novice team with her partner Kyle Crawford ’12 at the North American Championships at Amherst College in January. According to Davis-Stermitz, it would hardly be fair to say that all the fun of Peaslee has disappeared with the advent of a renewed work ethic. She mentions the “organization’s fundamental camaraderie—meetings are helpful and interesting, but also a lot of fun.” When asked about favorite memories from the season, Davis-Stermitz talked about “traipsing around Greenwich Village, Peaslee van sing-a-longs, and impromptu Boggle and Text Twist tournaments”, but also went on at great length about a favorite round of hers that debated legalizing cosmetic amputation, hinting at the combination of fun sociality and serious intellectual challenge that characterizes the team and its members.
Peaslee’s successful season is not yet over, with the U.S. British Parliamentary Debate Championships in April. Also in April, Peaslee will be hosting a debate at Swarthmore. With 80 teams and over 300 debaters expected, Stoller is hoping that other members of the Swarthmore community will take advantage of the opportunity to be part of the 8th club in the nation and volunteer as judges!