News

Debate Team Garners Prestigious Bid to National Debate Tournament

Add This

With just five collegiate debate seasons under its belt, the Debate Team at Rutgers University-Newark joins an elite class of debaters. For the first time in RU-N history, its debate team will compete at this year’s National Debate Tournament (NDT) in Indiana, March 27-30. Considered to be the most competitive and prestigious policy debate contest in the country, only the top 16 teams in the United States out of a field of hundreds are afforded the opportunity to participate. The duo of Elijah Smith and Christopher Randall and the pair of Kevon Haughton and Hannah Stafford will represent RU-N this year.

“This is one of the greatest, but least widely known stories of student success at Rutgers University – Newark,” says Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “The debate team’s tradition of excellence demonstrates compellingly how profound the student talent pool is at RU-N—and with many of them having come from Newark, how profound our city’s talent pool truly is. Our current team is burnishing that tradition and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Smith and Randall are expected to fare well at the NDT as Smith is the reigning champion of both the 2013 NDT and the 2013 Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national championship. At the close of fall semester 2013, CEDA, the largest intercollegiate policy debate association in the United States, ranked Smith as the #1 speaker in the nation, and Randall held the #19 speaker spot. In a December 2013 national poll of CEDA coaches, the team of Randall and Smith garnered a fifth place ranking overall. Throughout the season, Smith and Randall have sparred with highly competitive teams, including Harvard University's top debaters, trading wins and losses along the way.

The RU-N Debate Team finished the first semester of the 2013-2014 academic year ranked first in the Northeast and 12th in the country, according to CEDA. Last year, the Debate Team finished first in the Northeast and 16th nationally.

The RU-N Debate Team unofficially began during the fall semester of 2008 when then-sophomores Chris Pinho and Kevin Cenac joined forces to win the junior varsity division of the Binghamton Debate Tournament at Binghamton University. Under the leadership of Kurt Shelton, an official debate team debuted in 2009 as a result of a partnership among the Office of the Chancellor, the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA), and the Jersey Urban Debate League, now known as the Newark Debate Academy. Shelton served as the debate coach for three seasons, and in 2012, Christopher Kozak, a SPAA graduate student, took over the reins. During his inaugural year, Kozak led the team to its first #1 ranking in the Northeast.

With as many as 13 debaters, since its inception, the team has debated in tournaments hosted by Binghamton University, George Mason University, Monmouth University, United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, Wake Forest University, Western Connecticut State University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Vermont, and has outranked many first-tier schools like Emory University, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Debaters range from freshmen to seniors with varying majors such as history, English, political science, criminal justice, and economics.

No longer regarded as a neophyte in the collegiate policy debate community, the RU-N Debate Team hosted its third annual tournament on Jan. 24-26, 2014. The team welcomed eight schools, 30 debaters, and 26 judges to Hill Hall at Rutgers University-Newark.

In addition to policy debate competitions, the RU-N Debate Team has participated in a series of public debates in open space called the Streetcar Debate Series. Topics have addressed whether the New York Islamic Cultural Center should be built near Ground Zero and whether cyberbullying should be criminalized. Dr. Mary Segers, RU-N professor of political science, and Dr. Elizabeth Sloan Power, RU-N assistant professor of social work, have served as moderators.