Debating club victorious at North American championships

U of T students Kaya Ellis and Louis Tsilivis holding championship trophy
Thursday, January 30, 2014 - 2:16pm
Gareth Trickey

The University of Toronto has argued its way back into the top spot at the 2014 North American Debating Championships.

Kaya Ellis from U of T Mississauga and Louis Tsilivis from U of T’s St George campus pooled their powers of persuasion to finish in first place ahead other prominent universities from Canada and the United States.

The U of T Hart House Debating Club duo faced off against McGill University in the final round of competition last Sunday, with the seven judges awarding Ellis and Tsilivis a convincing 6-1 win.

The first place finish sees U of T reclaim the title after finishing runner-up to Harvard University in last year’s final.

U of T now boasts a record six championship victories, ahead of Yale with four and McGill and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with two apiece.

Ellis, a student at U of T Mississauga’s Master of Management of Innovation, was also awarded third place in the top debater category and becomes only the seventh female champion in the competition’s 23-year history.

“It’s an exhausting but exciting experience to compete at such a high level,” Ellis said.

“The final day of competition consists of four elimination rounds with each debate lasting about 45 minutes.

“You get topics thrown at you that you know nothing about and you have only 15 minutes to prepare.

“It’s challenging but it’s exciting to engage in a discourse with opposing teams.”

The format for the debate was a hybrid of the Canadian and US parliamentary systems.

Teams of two were assigned the role of either government or opposition, with a government speaker opening proceedings, followed by a seven-minute rebuttal from the opposition before returning to the government and then final opposition speaker. The first government speaker was also afforded three minutes of closing remarks.

Topics ranged from the introduction of economic sanctions in the Kyoto Protocol to the internet privacy rights of foreign nationals and the publishing of information from anonymous sources.

Ellis said that despite popular perceptions of debaters being argumentative, debating clubs mainly attracted students who were open to new ideas and the chance to hear the opinions of others.

“The University of Toronto has been extremely supportive of the debating team,” Ellis said.

“The university treats debating as seriously as it does varsity sports and helped to finance the team's trip to the championships in Ottawa.

“The debating club does require a lot of commitment but it’s also a great outlet from course studies and you become friends with a lot of students from other universities.”