Students, Advisor Found Debating Society at Westminster
BY JIM MALVEN
The newly formed Westminster Debating Society held its inaugural meeting on Oct. 8, after more than a year of planning by its founding members.
The preparation began in the fall of 2014, when Joseph Opoku, ’18, noticed the absence of a debate club at the Student Involvement Fair.
“I looked at all the organizations there, and there was no debate club,” Opoku said. “At my former school, I spent over four years doing competitive debate, and so for me, [this] was really disappointing. I personally believe that the backbone of a liberal arts education is centered on critical thinking. That is something that debating brings out.” He added that he began to think of ways to model his previous debating experiences at Westminster.
Fellow founding member Shrijan Amatya, ’18, showed a strong interest in a debating organization from the beginning.
“Before I came to Westminster, I emailed Pat Kirby and [asked] if we had a debate club because I was involved with my high school debating team, and I really enjoyed debating,” Amatya said, adding that he was “very surprised” to learn that no such club existed.
“There are clubs like toastmasters, and you [can] go to some political science classes that have debate, but there’s no structured debating that engages people across all disciplines,” Opoku said. “We wanted to change that, and that is where the initial conversation started.”
Later that fall, Amatya and Opoku met and started talking about starting the club together.
“What happened was that . . . [Joseph and I] were just talking in front of the Berlin Wall, and we talked about how we need to do TedX and how we should also start a debating club,” Amatya said. “Joseph started with the initiative of the debate club. He put a lot of energy into it, and that’s how it started, just in front of the Berlin Wall. We were just hanging out and chatting and brainstorming, and that’s how it happened.”
Nicolas Lopez-Cano, ’18, a third founder, said that he, Amatya, and Opoku discussed the formation of a debate club while eating in the dining hall.
After a few of these exchanges, Opoku drafted a constitution, but no one followed up due to “schoolwork piling up,” Amatya said.
According to the founders, the ball really got rolling the following spring, when Opoku and Lopez-Cano approached Dr. Kali Wright-Smith, assistant professor of political science, to help get the organization started.
“The whole idea became more pronounced when we began to have conversations with faculty, and one of the first people [we talked to] was Dr. Kali Wright,” Opoku said. “She has been one of the founding members, because she has not only played the role of an advisor, she’s [also] helping us figure out a whole model for what we want to do.”
Opoku said Wright-Smith’s idea was to start slow in the beginning, develop skills, and then become more competitive as the organization becomes bigger and gets more support from the college.
“There are a number of people behind us working to make this happen, and there are five people who are currently pushing the agenda,” Opoku said, referring to himself, Amatya, and Lopez-Cano, as well as Adesola Adeyemo, ’17, and Scovia Aweko, ‘17. “We have the SGA approval; we’ve become a club, and we’ve started working towards our goal of engaging the Westminster community”
The founding members agree that their efforts in creating the club and preparing for individual debates have been worth it because of the skills they have learned and been able to use.
“Debating culture is important because it fosters a community of intellectual engagement,” Amatya said. “In a liberal arts school, it’s especially important to have a debate club. It’s just part of that curriculum, you know? It’s important to learn argument, but it’s also important to use [that skill].”
Wright-Smith said she thinks these skills will help lead to success in the future.
“To become a good debater means to become a good researcher, a compelling presenter, a sharp thinker, and someone who can quickly and effectively synthesize and organization information,” Wright-Smith said. “These are transferable skills that will help students be successful in a number of fields. Finding new avenues of personal development and growth is what Westminster is all about, and I think a club like this has the potential to contribute to that goal.”The introductory meeting drew 15 students, while 10 attended the first debate on Oct. 21, where two teams of five argued over the issue of gun control.
The topic of the next debate will be Planned Parenthood. The time and date are to be determined.