The Northwestern University Debate Society
The oldest continuous debate program in the country, the Northwestern Debate Society has a heritage going back to 1855. The University’s forensic success across the years is a record of unequalled distinction.
But more importantly, debate is regarded as an educational tool for developing students’ analytical and communication skills with independent research, individual coaching, small group discussions, and intercollegiate competition.
The program is designed to allow students to progress as fast and as far as their aptitudes and diligence permit. The program consists of between 20 and 30 debaters at varying levels of activity and ability, and students with or without high school debate experience can participate. Experienced high school debaters may be able to join the team before the start of classes in the fall with some preliminary preparation.
Members of the Debate Society have active schedules in the school year, often traveling to seven or ten intercollegiate tournaments a year, trips that are paid for by Northwestern. There also are frequent opportunities to debate on campus, including the Owen L. Coon Memorial Debate Tournament, the largest intercollegiate tournament in the nation, and the National Novice Debate Tournament, which decides the national championship for first-year college debaters.
Each year, Northwestern awards Hardy Scholarships to two debaters who demonstrate financial need. These scholarships help to subsidize the students’ personal expenses during the academic year. All students who apply for financial aid and demonstrate need are considered for University grants administered by the Office of Financial Aid.
The program is designed to allow you to progress as fast and as far as your aptitudes and diligence permit. Usually there are between 20 and 30 debaters, at varying levels of activity and ability, in the program.
If you have limited or no high school experience, you may join the junior varsity or rookie program and enroll in the fall quarter course Argumentation and Debate, which prepares you for intercollegiate competition in the spring. If you are an experienced debater, with permission of the director of forensics, you may join the group that begins work before the school year starts in the fall.
The intercollegiate debate topic for the academic year is announced each August 15. Debaters are expected to do a considerable amount of preliminary research on the topic before coming to school. Many debaters come to campus around Labor Day, approximately three weeks before New Student Week, to augment the resources of their home libraries with the facilities of the Northwestern University library. Students with at least two years of high school debate experience are eligible and encouraged to attend.
Over the years, this informal program has evolved into a preseason workshop, during which debaters systematically research the topic, engage in work sessions with the debate coaches, and participate in practice debates on the topic. The workshop typically features a teaching ratio of approximately one coach to every four debaters. The coaches guide group discussions on issues pertaining to the topic, lecture on contemporary academic argumentation debate theories, and instruct students in basic debating skills.
Debaters have an extensive travel program. Students are selected for the various tournaments on the basis of their degree of preparation and ability and on the judgment of the coaches that the tournament will be a valuable educational experience. Our goal is to allow each student to achieve to the best of his or her abilities. Most debaters attend between seven and ten tournaments during the academic year. Freshmen tend to travel less often than the juniors and seniors accustomed to the academic demands of Northwestern. All members of the society are expected to maintain an outstanding academic record as a precondition for travel. Expenses on trips, including a meal allowance, lodging, transportation, and entry fees, are paid by Northwestern.
In addition to the intercollegiate program, there are frequent opportunities to debate on campus. Each year, the Northwestern Debate Society sponsors the Owen L. Coon Memorial Debate Tournament, the largest intercollegiate tournament in the nation. The society also hosts the National Novice Debate Tournament to decide the national championship for first-year college debaters. In addition, the society often sponsors public debates on a variety of issues that interest the campus community.
Each spring, the Society sponsors the Clarion Dewitt Hardy National Invitational Tournament for high school students. Northwestern also sponsors debates with students from Japan, Great Britain, and Russia.
Each year, Northwestern awards Hardy Scholarships to two debaters who demonstrate financial need. These scholarships help to subsidize the students’ personal expenses during the academic year without the need of part-time employment and, therefore, to free up their time for debate. All students who apply for financial aid and demonstrate need are considered for University grants administered by the Office of Financial Aid.