A debate-able change

Civility comes in small quantities these days, especially in an election year. Too often words are used like whips in the hands of the inexperienced. They often miss and frequently inflict pain and confusion. Instead of civil discourse, we are too often assaulted with sarcasm, snarky name calling and unsupported assertions.

One group of JMU students is changing that. They are practicing the art of civil debate — and apparently doing it very, very well.

“In the final sweepstakes rankings JMU finished as the fifth ranked team in the country according to the National Debate Tournament sweepstakes rankings,” says Mike Davis, JMU director of debate.  These comprehensive rankings that measure an entire season are the highest JMU has attained since 1991.

The team was ranked 11th by the Cross Examination Debate Association and second in the American Debate Association national ranking, finishing for the third straight year in the debate world’s top three rankings.

Individual debaters racked up significant accolades as well. Nine JMU debaters were named National Debate Scholars, the debate equivalent of Academic All Americans, according to Mike.

The team of history major Mark Waugh (’12) and communication studies major Oliver Brass (’13) were named to the CEDA All-American team putting them among the top 30 debaters nationwide.

Daniel Spiker (’13), a public policy and administration major, and his partner Cari Rand (’15) won the DEBA Nationals Tournament Novice Championship.

Allison Bailey (’13) and Alexandra Norby (’15), both international affairs majors, took home top speaker honors at the James Madison Invitational and Liberty University Debate (novice division) Tournaments, respectively.

But JMU’s debate team is doing more than winning debates. They are spreading the art of civil discourse. Overall the team was named the second best public debate program in the U.S. in part because of “efforts to expand the Madison Cup and our efforts to reach out to area high schools,” Mike says.

The debaters offer a debate camp, a middle school camp and a coaches camp every summer. This year’s debate camp starts on June 19. And as the result of a $49,000 Arthur N. Rupe Foundation grant, a new class on public debate will be offered this fall — no doubt spreading the wisdom and sensibility of civil discourse.

Maybe all the talking heads at CNN, CBS, ABC, FOX and MSNBC should enroll.

To learn more about JMU’s award winning debate team, visit their website: http://www.jmu.edu/debate/

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