Peaslee Debate Society to Host Nationals

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 Amos J. Peaslee Debate Society, a well-established and independent club organization at Swarthmore, plans to host the APDA Nationals Tournament the weekend of April 16th to the 18th. A yearly event that gathers the best of the best debaters on the APDA debate circuit, this tournament is bringing over approximately 230 college students to Swarthmore’s campus.

The American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) circuit consists of 50 colleges, mostly along the East Coast with several colleges from the West and Midwest. The debate format focuses on persuasive, concise rhetoric within given time limits. College debate teams qualify for this tournament in two ways: first, by placing first, second or third in any one of the APDA-sanctioned tournaments throughout the year and second, each participating school gets to send one free team to the tournament. APDA debate teams are also charged with recruiting judges, college graduates with APDA debate experience, for the tournament. This year, Swarthmore expects approximately 80 debate teams and 40 judges.

The debaters and judges will arrive on Friday afternoon and there will be three preliminary rounds on Friday and Saturday. Then, on Sunday, there will be elimination rounds that are open to Swarthmore students interested in watching these debates.

One of the founders of APDA in the 1980s, the Peaslee debate society hosts Nationals every five or six years, but there is no formal rotation of hosts. Swarthmore had a good reputation of running a smooth tournament, and it is in a central location for universities all over the East Coast.

The Peaslee debate society predates the founding of APDA, and Cyrus Stoller ’10, one of the conveners of the tournament, explains, “Literary and debate societies of various forms have been a part of Swarthmore for most of the college’s history. When Peaslee himself died in 1969, he left a lot of money to the college, but earmarked it only for the debate society, and because of that the society re-named itself for him.”

Once Swarthmore has won its bid to host Nationals last spring for the tournament in 2010, Peaslee members have been organizing and planning this event, from tasks such as reserving enough classrooms to accommodate 40 debates at any given round to communicating with the administration for logistical support.

Lucas Janes ’11, Executive Director of Nationals at Swarthmore and President of Peaslee, has been focusing on reserving classrooms, hotel rooms, and other accommodations for Nationals, while Jenny Koch ’13, Secretary of Peaslee and Social Coordinator for Nationals, has been contacting and organizing food accommodations for the 230 participants in the tournament. She is also organizing a lecture by Shelby Coffey III on Saturday afternoon open to the campus. The former president of CNN business news and Editor of the LA Times and US News & World Report, Coffey will be speaking on how to craft persuasive arguments and the political environment in Washington.

Given the large logistical undertaking and time-consuming nature of hosting Nationals, Peaslee members nonetheless remain enthused about this tournament. Stoller explains, “We are proud to be leaders in facilitating meaningful debates. We also think that it’s important to give back to our communities, such as the league, that have given a great deal to us. Hosting nationals is a great way for us to do both.”

Indeed, Vice President Maurice Eldridge ’61, one of the key administrators who have provided financial and administrator support for this tournament, describes, “It is an honor to host [Nationals] and since it is an honor that rotates over the years, it does not place an undo burden on any given college or university.”

However, with the ambitious nature of the tournament, organizing Nationals is accompanied with its fair amount of challenges. Stoller continues, “A lot of things may seem simple on paper but there are a lot of speed bumps along the way. We are fortunate to have a great team that has been able to gracefully deal with curve balls that have been thrown our way.” For instance, on food, Koch mentions, “Most businesses are not set up to serve that many people and still stay open for other customers; additionally, we try to find the most efficient way to use our money.”

An example of the complexities in feeding 200-plus debaters is where Peaslee had originally ordered from Acapulco’s Pizza for 200+ people on the Friday, but then Acapulco’s shut down due to plans for renovation, and Peaslee members had to find a new pizza company.

Another challenge was finding space to accommodate Swarthmore students plus debaters on the APDA circuit. Janes has been working with individual departments and college administrators to “accommodate as many Swatties as possible and minimize the number of inconveniences imposed on Swarthmore.”

On the other hand, even with these “speed bumps,” Peaslee’s manpower in organizing Nationals remains still strong. Stoller describes, “We are in a very lucky position where we have a solid supply of people committed to helping us do this and everyone is willing to pitch in.”

As for what Swatties should expect this following weekend, the rounds are open to students. Stoller explains, “We don’t want Nationals to be an insular event, it is something that the Swarthmore community can actively participate in if they want to.” In these debate rounds, Swatties can be exposed to many different perspectives on a variety of topics, from foreign policy to hypothetical moral dilemmas. As Stoller puts it, “we are hoping to contribute to civic discourse at Swarthmore by bringing in these other perspectives.”

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