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Debate: It’s the art and sport of persuasion

Ian Lising, assistant professor of speech and debate and chairman of the department of speech communications, outlined the ins and out of debate featured in his new book, “Across the House: The Art and Science of World Universities Championship Debating.” Lising’s talk, for the faculty lecture series was held Nov. 22 in the President’s Dining Room. His ideas for the book came from the time he spent as an adjudicator and championship director for the World Universities Debating Championships. / photo by Christopher Guzman

Christopher Barnes-Baxter
Staff Writer

Assistant Professor of Speech and Debate Ian Lising captivated his audience as he conducted a lecture titled “Championship Debating,” on Nov. 22 in the President Dining Room.

Before an audience of approximately 25 faculty and students, Lising explained the importance of debate in academia.

“Debating is not just about just being right, it is about persuading other people who do not believe what you believe, it allows you to point out with reasoning, why your way of thinking is valid, and your opponent’s is not,” Lising said.

Lising discussed the fundamentals of a good debate, the art of persuasion, and how debate is a very unpredictable sport.

“A truly good debate is balanced, if you as a spectator walk away from the debate and thought ‘who won?’ Then the debaters did their jobs well,” Lising said.

What many people do not realize is that debate is actually considered a sport.

“Debate is … unlike any other sport around. It is unpredictable, meaning any and everyone has a shot at winning, I have seen world class debaters get schooled by first time rookies,” Lising said.

“Debate helps you understand the importance of understanding someone else’s perspective, which not only relates to education, but in the world as well,” junior business administration and psychology major Nawal Atoura said.

Among the interesting questions raised during the question and answer portion of his lecture, waswho is more is persuasive, men or women?

“Nowadays it is very equal,” Lising said.

“Back in the day, men were considered to be better persuaders and debaters, simply because they were thought to be more logical than their female counter parts, which were deemed as too emotional,” Lising said.

Lising gave an example of how the debaters of the “old days” viewed aggressive female debaters.

“A woman cannot seem too forceful during a debate because it makes her sound shrill, as one of my predecessors put it, though the problem was not her tone or manner of debating, it was just that the audience of that time was not ready for an aggressive woman debater,” Lising said.

Not everyone’s opinion of debate is as positive as Lising’s.

Some people see debate as a way of making people better liars, since debaters usually have to argue and convince people to believe a particular point that the debater does not necessarily agree with.

Most of the world’s top debaters have careers in law and politics, which is another reason why debate has such a negative stigma.

Lising quickly dispelled this idea by pointing out that debaters do not usually say during their speeches “I believe.”

It is more common to hear them say “The house believes.”

“I really do not see debate as making people better liars, lies have a different intent, they are malicious, a debaters goal is to simply present the facts and reasons on why their point of view is valid,” senior liberal studies major Rebecca Valdez said.

There have been efforts in many institutions to take debate out of the curriculum.

This has caused some controversy in different locations.

Many people have noticed that this effort has had a negative effect.

“The average student now a day is not as eloquent as the students of the past use to be, it has become quite common for many students to just accept any and everything that teachers tell them, no one challenges authority,” Atoura said.

Christopher Barnes-Baxter can be reached at

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