William Pitt Debating Union, the University of Pittsburgh’s Intercollegiate Policy Debate Team Breaks Records at the 75th National Debate Tournament
The 75th National Debate Tournament—debate’s most prestigious tournament and national championship—has just concluded, and William Pitt Debating Union, the University of Pittsburgh’s intercollegiate policy debate team has broken several Pitt records. Two of our teams (each team has two members) qualified for the tournament: the team of Alex Reznik and Zach Lim, and the team of Christian Mendoza and Kwudjwa Osei. Both teams reached the elimination rounds, which is roughly equivalent to a college basketball team qualifying for March Madness. Most debaters never even qualify for the NDT, so reaching the elimination rounds is a major accomplishment. This is a first in the history of Pitt’s debate program. Even more exciting, Mendoza and Osei reached the semifinals, meaning that Pitt’s debate team finished third in the United States, surpassing schools including Harvard, Cornell, Emory, Georgetown, Berkeley, and NYU. This is the best debate performance for Pitt since we won the NDT in 1981. Still more significant is that among the four Pitt undergraduates who qualified for the NDT there are no seniors, meaning that we expect all of them to return next year.
Intercollegiate debate is one of the most rigorous, research-intensive activities available to undergraduates anywhere in the country. Undergraduate debaters of all majors undertake hundreds of hours of research every year in addition to speaking practices, argument development, and strategizing with graduate student and faculty coaches. A disproportionate number of politicians, lawyers, academics, and business leaders are drawn from the debate community—as I watch this year’s Senate confirmation hearings I see a number of faces that I remember from my own days in college debate now picked by President Biden for important leadership roles. Debaters learn to analyze arguments carefully and to process information and make decisions under great pressure with incredible speed, competing against some of the brightest students from around the country. It also provides a space for traditionally marginalized students to engage in conversations over social justice issues, and for students who are excluded by more traditional academic cultures to find an intellectual home. Especially in this time of rampant disinformation and political polarization, debate teaches vital skills that contribute to civic engagement. The William Pitt Debating Union is a co-curricular program housed in the Department of Communication with a century-long history at the University of Pittsburgh.