New students trying to start debate club

Allison Sanders

 When freshman Daniel Jamison came to St. Edward’s University this fall, he noticed that a debate team was not available on campus. So he set out to change this and is in the early stages of beginning a club.

“We want to be within the system by next year,” Jamison said.

But Jamison is jumping into territory where others have failed. His attempt to start the club with fellow student Zachary Miranda will be the third in the past several years.

Jamison and Miranda are currently seeking help from the Communication Department where they hope to find an academic advisor for the club.

“We’re getting a feel for which teachers will support this,” Jamison said. “All the teachers we have talked to so far seem really interested in helping us out.”

Along with an academic advisor, funds are also needed to guarantee the success of the club. Funding for this year’s possible debate team is still needed and it is a slow but steady process, Jamison said.

“We want to start ground work first before trying to get funding,” Jamison said.

However, problems with getting funds and finding a sponsor for a debate club have hindered students’ attempts in the past to set up the club beyond the preliminary stages. Former St. Edward’s student Luis Baez attempted to start a debate club in the fall 2007 semester but was met with several obstacles, including a lack of funding and support from Student Life.

“I was just given the papers needed to make the club official and that was it,” Baez said. “It was frustrating.”

Finding an advisor with experience that would help support the club was hard to find, Baez said. Getting funding and finding locations for debate tournaments also hindered any progress of the club.

“Even if we had money there is only one tournament a year in Austin, and that’s at UT,” Baez said. “Others are in Houston or out of state.”

With little progress in getting a debate team off the ground, Baez eventually ceased his attempts.

“The university didn’t really care, so I stopped caring,” Baez said. “I just gave up.”

Baez is currently a junior at Texas State University, where he transferred to for his sophomore year when he heard of the competitive debate team there. After a meeting with the debate coach at Texas State, Baez made his decision to transfer there to join the team.

“For a political science degree it probably would have been better to stay at St. Ed’s, but I guess when you like something and really want to do it, you just go with it.” Baez said.

According to Baez, lack of help from Student Life was one of the bigger issues in establishing a debate club. Tom Sullivan, director of Student Life, said that he had never heard of a debate club trying to get started and that whoever was trying to was doing it incorrectly.

“We have organizations start all the time,” Sullivan said. “It’s really easy to do. If people haven’t responded to the debate club then it is reflective of the topic itself.”

With the establishment of a debate club still under construction, students can participate in the annual debate tournament sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Leadership and Campus Ministry. The tournament was started two years ago by James Puglisi, assistant director of Campus Ministry.

“The tournament is very user-friendly,” Puglisi said. “It’s a learning experience for students. There’s a good mix of experienced and inexperienced debaters.”

Puglisi borrowed the idea of holding a tournament after he saw many students participating in debate at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, the institution where he previously worked.

“Debate is in line with the Catholic tradition of developing intellect through society’s issues,” Puglisi said.

The debate tournament at St. Edward’s has seen success since its start two years ago. Student interest has grown significantly as the number of participants in the tournament increased from 19 to 32 within a year. Faculty and staff members serve as judges for the tournament and this has also helped spread interest campus-wide.

“It would be a great thing for the university to start a debate team,” Puglisi said. “I would love to see that type of progress.”

For now, Jamison and Miranda are focusing on steadily gaining other students’ interest in a debate club. The pair is not looking to start tournaments in the spring 2010 semester as they know it will take time to establish the club.

“Things won’t pick up speed immediately,” Jamison said. “But we plan on sticking to it.”