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BADASS’ doors are open

By Blake Linzer

Section: Features

October 28, 2016

We come to college to enlighten ourselves, to expand our horizons into previously unknown areas, to engage with new and dynamic ideas, to collaborate with and learn from relationships with others and to improve several important liberal arts skills such as writing and constructing arguments. If you come to college at least in part for these reasons, there is an organization known as Brandeis Academic Debate And Speech Society (BADASS) that you may want to consider joining.

The team competes in weekend tournaments in two debate styles: American Parliamentary style and British Parliamentary style, often sending as many teams as possible to each tournament. Many tournaments are local, but as part of its region the team travels along the East Coast, sometimes going as far as the Washington, D.C. area. At times, the team will even travel abroad for bigger British Parliamentary tournaments.

American Parliamentary-style debate tournaments, the vast majority of the weekend tournaments, consist of two subtypes of competition: case-based and motions-based. Each consists of two teams of two people, the government and the opposition.

In case-based rounds, the government, led by the prime minister, presents a pre-prepared “case” on a topic of their choosing ranging from philosophy to science to history to feminism to anything in between (and will often choose what topic to present based on perceptions of its opponents strengths and weaknesses). Responses and questioning from opposition follow, with two more argument-based speeches from each side and concluding rebuttals to end the debate.

Motions tournaments are basically the same, except instead of the government presenting a case of its choosing, the topics are given on the spot, and teams must, as best they can, prepare arguments in just 15 minutes.

Tournaments begin with preliminary rounds and then end with elimination rounds, typically running from Friday afternoon into Sunday.

In order to prepare for tournaments, the team holds two meetings a week. Practices consist of lectures on possible debate topics or good debate strategies such as vibrant question, answer and discussion process.

Teams break into practice rounds (novices included) to practice case writing and captains corners, where captains and team members might, for example, watch and break down debate videos. Everyone may devote as much or as little time as they wish to, may miss meetings as needed and may go to as few or as many tournaments as desired.

Any Brandeis student may join BADASS. Regardless of class year, political involvement or presidential campaign favorite, regardless of prior education on history, philosophy, science and many other topics.

Ranked third by American Debate Association, BADASS, unlike many other college debate teams, does not require tryouts and allows novices, meaning that first-years, sophomores or even juniors can become debaters.

The team actively recruits novices, and anyone is welcome to join at any time. At the beginning of each semester the team holds a demonstration round to show possible newcomers what a competition looks like. The team also commits itself to lecturing and teaching newcomers fundamentals of debates and having novices practice in front of varsity members to hone their skills.

These opportunities exist, however, not only at semester’s start. I, for example, strolled into a debate meeting a few weeks ago out of personal interest and, admittedly, listened to a lecture in which I understood nearly nothing of the technical strategy they were discussing. Afterward, however, I asked for a primer on debate and was led, along with three other novices to receive a comprehensive lecture about debate and how to complete a practice motions round complete with detailed constructive criticism.

I was then asked to come to the tournament the following day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it, but the astonishing desire to implement novices into the process is truly a remarkable feature of BADASS as opposed to other schools’ tryout-based debate teams.

In this one meeting and practice round, I sampled firsthand the potential parallels of debate and some fundamental reasons we come to college. I discovered the potential debate has for expanding intellectual horizons (I had to think about and heard arguments about a topic, charter schools, I never would’ve thought about), building community (I was able to work with other novices and the varsity member who gave the lecture and criticism) and the possibility to improve writing and argument skills debate (I was given detailed critique about the structure of my argument).

So to improve the college experience, to learn new things, to build a better community (here and elsewhere, as teams typically get to know students from other schools by seeing and competing with them at some tournaments), as well as to plainly have some fun, BADASS is a great club to join.

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