Speech and Debate: Navigating challenges and articulating arguments

Image courtesy of Lillian Theis
Image courtesy of Lillian Theis

The Speech and Debate Team at UC San Diego has dominated the regional tournament scene, displaying exemplary skills in public speaking across all disciplines of the same. The program has fought to gain university recognition — it was founded in 2018 and sponsored by Associated Students funding, then shifted to be backed by the Rady School of Management. 

Since their official recognition in Spring 2023, the team has been able to showcase their skills as they compete in tournaments across California. However, being recognized by the university is just the beginning. 

As proposed by Robert Campbell, a professor at the Rady School of Management and the head coach of the team, UC San Diego should aim to professionalize the team in a similar manner to that of a collegiate sports team. He envisions a future where the team garners the same level of recognition and support as the university’s esteemed athletic programs. 

Drawing parallels between the dedication and skill required for competitive speech and debate and “traditional” sports, Campbell advocates for the professionalization of the team to elevate its status on campus and attract top-tier talent.

A vital proponent of Campbell’s plan is additional funding for the team. Travel costs, lodging costs, and tournament sign-up costs are all significant barriers to participating in more tournaments. Professionalizing the team would bring money in through alumni donations, which would significantly aid in professionalizing the team further, creating a positive feedback loop. 

In addition to their highly accredited status, the Speech and Debate team also fosters a sense of community for individuals of all caliber of skill. Freshman Lillian Theis reaffirmed this sentiment. 

Anyone of any level of experience can join the team and learn, which makes us unique to many other teams and organizations,” she said. “We are able to train and work with a much greater variety of students, which makes us much stronger overall.”

This undertone of inclusivity not only enriches the team’s dynamic but also contributes to its success in a competitive environment. By harnessing the diverse perspectives and talents of its members, the team is able to foster collaboration and mutual support, which allows individuals to reach their full potential as communicators and critical thinkers.

Moreover, according to members, the sense of camaraderie fostered within the team extends beyond the competition arena, creating lasting bonds. Whether through late-night practice sessions or attending tournaments, members forge connections that transcend the boundaries of speech and debate, which they feel enhances their college experience.

This is noted by senior board member Kellen Foster, who mused, “I’ve heard of speech and debate teams splitting up because of divisions between the events, but everyone here is so willing to try so many events it feels like we’re all connected in one way or another. I hope no one event ever isolates itself and we continue to be a close-knit family.”

This feeling of community is further strengthened by the fact that the team does not hire external coaches. Coaching is done by students who are part of the team. According to Theis, “This gives coaches a unique perspective, and allows them to connect with students and build their skills.”

Not only does Speech and Debate foster a sense of community and build connections between students, it also impacts other areas of the lives of the team members. Being a part of the team ensures that individuals are able to develop their public speaking and research skills, training them to think quickly and on the spot. 

This sentiment is echoed by freshman Natalie Ambler. 

“Getting the chance to work on my reasoning skills has truly helped me in developing improved skills in forming lines of reasoning, in all areas of study,” she said. 

The Speech and Debate team was originally founded in the early 2000s, but came to a grinding halt when the original head coach left UCSD. It was founded for the second time in 2018, when the organization was completely revamped and began to take the form that it holds today. 

The professionalization of the team not only enhances its reputation but also gives way to external opportunities. With a more structured approach that can be paralleled to collegiate sports, the team can attract sponsors and potentially secure scholarships for its members. 

This shift towards a more professional model could elevate the team’s standing in the national circuit. This year, before the shift had even taken place, the team sent 14 members to a national tournament in Arizona, where it placed third overall. 

The impact of the Speech and Debate team extends beyond the realm of competitive rhetoric itself, influencing the personal and academic growth of its members. Through rigorous training, intensive research, and hours of practice, students develop invaluable skills that prepare them for success in their future careers and endeavors. 

Whether pursuing law, politics, business, or academia, the skills that are built through Speech and Debate lay the bedrock for navigating challenges and articulating arguments.

While Campbell’s proposal is a departure from the traditional model of collegiate speech and debate programs, it promises a transformation of the UCSD Speech and Debate Team into even more of a national powerhouse. Alongside the support of university leadership, alumni, and the broader community, UCSD can chart a new course for its speech and debate program — one that not only brings home trophies but also adds to the educational experience of its students and inspires future generations of students to add to the club. 

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About the Contributor
Divya Devarkonda
Divya Devarkonda, Staff Writer
Divya is part of the class of 2027, majoring in economics and political science. When she's not writing for the Guardian, you can probably find her trying out new recipes or reading.
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