Speech & Debate Team’s Achievements Signal Club’s Revitalization

The newly revitalized UC San Diego Speech and Debate Team took a second place sweepstakes placing in an 18-college, two-competition tournament at Palomar College during the weekend of Nov. 16. This tournament marks the first competition of the reinvigorated Speech and Debate Team, which has seen a sizeable increase in participation since Spring Quarter 2018.

The team, whose numbers were prominent in the early 2000s before fluctuating and dwindling, attributes its recent revitalization to proper management and funding resources. The team is now under the administration of Coach Robert Campbell, a business ethics and marketing professor at the Rady School of Management. According to Team President Senior Shaheryar Ajmal, this is one of the largest speech and debate teams in UCSD history.

The team received a significant boost in student interest during its marketing campaign in Fall Quarter 2018, when Ajmal and other students flyered on Library Walk and inserted an ad in the “Get Involved” newsletter for incoming freshmen. According to Ajmal, out of the 240 people who signed up for their mailing list, 30 to 40 students remained as consistent members who attend the biweekly meetings.

While the team earned a total of 18 trophies in the November tournament, Campbell’s research of the team led him to a collective of 20 found trophies from the early 2000s that once resided in the Price Center Theatre. Those trophies are now displayed at Rady.

After learning of Campbell’s interest in debate, Ajmal and several other students approached him in Spring Quarter 2018 with the desire to recruit him as an administrator for the dying Speech and Debate Team.

“In my classes I talk to students about what I want them to get out of my teaching and I differentiate between ‘buckets of knowledge’ and the skills you should get at a university,” Campbell told the UCSD Guardian. “The three most valuable skills that I acquired … are critical thinking, persuasive organized writing, and persuasive speaking.”

During the post-2000s decline in membership, team members like past president and current team contributor Monica Eslamian would often pay out-of-pocket fees for tournaments.

“Since it’s always been a club, the problem was it didn’t have a faculty advisor, so without a faculty advisor, it didn’t have access to any university funding,” Campbell said. “[Eslamian] spent thousands of dollars of personal money to help kids go to debate tournaments because it costs money. [The team] really struggled.”

Campbell attributes his administrative style to his experience in executive management.

“This [was] a debate club on campus that [didn’t] really have any leadership anymore, [didn’t] have any resources because it’s not funded by the university, and looked a little disorganized, so I would just treat it like a turnaround company,” Campbell said.

Ajmal echoed his sentiments. “It wasn’t as organized and there really wasn’t a clear-cut structure about how things should run, so the team was really good way back in the early 2000s,” Ajmal said. “[It] competed at national tournaments. … The reason it was able to do it was because the team had a much solid structure and it was able to get various funding resources.”

The team hopes to grow into an official university program so that it may qualify for university funding.

Since the Speech and Debate Team is still just starting and not an official school program, it is currently being funded by A.S. Council, Triton Funds, and internal contributions, such as Campbell’s $1000 donation to the team’s established account with the USE Credit Union. As a program, their funding would come directly from the school or department they are attached to.

“Wherever it belongs, it’ll be funded by the university as opposed to these kids,” Campbell stated.

Their current affiliation with Rady grants them access to classrooms for practice sessions, as well as an attachment on the Rady website that links to the team’s personal website.

Both Ajmal and Vice President Gavin D’Eelia hope to expose UCSD’s science, technology, engineering, and math students to communication and public speaking skills through their team.

“I felt that coming to UCSD, I also wanted to pursue speech and debate, but there really wasn’t a team, and I felt that we’re a STEM school, but I feel that communication skills are so incredibly important, and that’s where a lot of STEM majors are lacking,” Ajmal said. “So with me wanting to compete, plus with me wanting to create a platform where people can improve their communication skills, that kind of culminated into a desire to create the team.”

Vice President D’Elia will be president when Ajmal graduates.

“Next quarter will probably be focused on getting a program going,” D’Elia said. “Next year I’m looking toward really making this one of the best programs, assuming Rady takes us on at UCSD, so that kids looking to apply to UCSD hear about Speech and Debate and think, ‘I want to go to this school for obviously the great majors, but one of the top reasons is for the speech and debate programs.’”

The team will compete in a total of five tournaments in Winter Quarter, during the weekends of Weeks 2, 3, 5, 6,and 7.

photo courtesy of Gavin D’Elia

This article has been updated to clarify that Campbell’s donation comes from a USE Credit Union account and not a San Diego County Credit Union account.