Debate Union: Travel & Quilted Trophies?

I sat down with sophomore Miriam Kohn, linguistics major and vice president of the U of R Debate Union. She shared with me her experience in the club so far.


Debate team is my primary time commitment. Some weeks, it’s probably even more than my classes!

I wandered into the debate office by accident. My high school didn’t have a debate team, so it was something that was completely unfamiliar to me. I kind of thought, “maybe I should do this in college,” but then I thought, “maybe I’m going to get way too into it,” and, surprise… that’s what happened!

Overall, it’s a very positive experience, so I stick around. I work hard at debate. I’m a hard-working person in general. I enjoy reading things like Foucault. It’s probably hyperbolic to say I spend more time on it than my classes, but I certainly do spend a lot of time on it.

None of my trophies are shiny

Miriam Debate clubI was in the novice bracket last year. I was a real novice, unlike a lot of people on the circuit who walk in [with high school experience].

There are three formats of debate; Rochester does two. With one of them, Policy, you don’t have novice eligibility if you do it in high school. The format I do primarily is British Parliamentary, or Worlds. You get a lot of people who take the novice eligibility [for Worlds], who are really not novices. They could have done four years of high school British Parliamentary.

I’ve had a fair amount of success on the circuit with my partner; we won the novice bracket of regionals, novice finals at North American championships, and we were semi-finalists at Northwest regionals. They didn’t have trophies for the novices. I wanted hardware! There was one trophy which I took home from my first tournament freshman year, at SUNY Binghamton. That was a quilted trophy; not so shiny.

Traveling debate

We travel a lot of places, primarily up and down the Northeast. That’s where a lot of the most competitive tournaments are. Nationals for USU, that’s United States Universities, are in Alaska this year. We were just up in Toronto, on Mel weekend, because the University of Toronto debating society at Hart House always hosts a big, really well respected tournament there. They actually hosted North Americans last year.  We also we went to Europe last year!

The rule is the team won’t send you anywhere it can’t afford. If you get chosen to go, then the team pays your way, The team pays your transportation, your hotel fees, and your tournament entry fees. It includes a few meals a day. That way debate’s not just an activity for those who can afford it.

It’s free to join

We have a really, really big alumni base. There are lots of lawyers and doctors; a lot of them tend to do pretty well and they help support us. We also get very generous support from the school. It used to be the students’ association, now we’re part of the athletic department. We get more money, more support, and more infrastructures. It’s free travel; you just have to make it clear that you actually care.

To be chosen to travel to the most competitive tournaments you have to put in the time. There are some that everyone gets traveled to, like the one on Halloween weekend. And there are some of them that everyone wants to go to, like Europe, and Florida. We sent some folks to Miami for the Pan-American championships, for those, you have to work harder.

Pinky and The Brain

We joke around all the time, all the time: I think “irreverent” would have to be the first adjective I’d go with to describe us.

We give each other stupid nicknames, and there are lots of running jokes. For example, two of the assistant coaches have been trying to convince my partner and myself that we should go for Halloween to this tournament we’re having as Pinky and The Brain. Apparently I’m Pinky. I mean, I would like to take over the world, but that’s a separate issue!

It’s really a very relaxed atmosphere; debate draws in a nice crowd of people. The coaches are wonderful. They work very hard to make the program accessible to everyone. They’re willing to help anyone out that cares to get help from them. That sets the tone as very welcoming.

Whether it’s trying to take over the world, or discussing the latest hot-button issues, the Debate Union is among the U of R’s strongest student organizations, with meetings on Monday and Thursday nights at 7:00.

“WWOOF” Away Summer in Puerto Rico

By Som Liengtiraphan ‘17
University Communications

“What did you do this summer?” is a common conversation starter at the start of the fall semester. Some undergrads picked up work skills internships or made some extra case with a seasonal job. Nina Listro, though,  ‘17 traveled to Puerto Rico and spent part of her summer “WWOOFing” at an organic fruit orchard.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), Listro explained, is an organization that connects farmers to people who want to learn and experience organic farming. Volunteers receive food, accommodation, and the opportunity to “dig in.”

Listro, along with two friends, Katie Wolfe and Steven Whitney, spent three weeks at an organic fruit orchard this summer in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. A typical day on the farm started at 7:30 am with a breakfast of oatmeal. Then from 8:00 to 11:30 am, the volunteers took care of chores and manual labor on the farm. These tasks include planting cacao trees and weeding. This was followed by a three hour lunch break. After the siesta, another three hours of work was completed before dinner.  Dinner was usually included fruits and vegetables grown on the farm.

After two weeks on the farm, Listro, an English Language, Media, and Communications major, and her friends traveled through Puerto Rico before returning for a final week on the farm. On the bus out of Mayaguez, Listro and her friends met a villa ownership and his son.

“My friends (Katie, Steven and Max–a student from San Diego that worked on the farm with us) and I met Luis Ortiz and his son Tsunami on the bus from Mayaguez to San Juan for an organized march against Monsanto,” a US company that specializes in developing genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds.

“Luis owned an oceanside villa that he rented to vacationers, and he had a week where he didn’t have any guests,” Listro explained. “He asked us if we wanted to help clean and paint the villa during that week and in exchange we would get to stay there and he’d pay for our groceries.” The villa was in Rincòn, the surfing capital of Puerto Rico. We worked Monday-Friday for about six hours a day cleaning bathrooms, washing windows, painting the exterior….  The rest of the time we were free to do what we pleased, which tended to be swimming in the crystal clear, turquoise water. Max even taught us to surf on one of our days off!”

“One day we were cleaning the kitchen window that looked straight out to the ocean and saw 7 wild manatees. We hurriedly put on our swimsuits, grabbed some goggles and snorkels, and got to swim with them. I even touched one–It was magical! We worked there for a week, and  stayed for a few days longer before we had to go to the airport. We still keep in touch.”

To Listro, this experience was a time of learning. Not only did she learn about organic farming and its lifestyle, she also learned a lot about herself. “What I learned most was to control my own anxiety. There were no parents there and I had to learn to deal with it on my own,” she said. “But I had two friends to support me, and I grew up a little.”

Listro said she would recommend WWOOFing. “Definitely! I wished I had stayed longer than five weeks, but five weeks is a good place to start. I would recommend getting to know the farmer you are working with before you go. Travelling is the best way to be in tune with yourself, and by going, I learned a lot.”

For more information on WWOOF, visit their website.

The Unconventional Life of Jeni Stolow

Do you know anyone who places frozen spoons every morning on her eyes just to wake herself up? Well if you know Jeni Stolow ’14, then you do! If you have not met her, you may have heard her infectious laugh or the “snap, crackle, pop” of her body! Her residents call her a bowl of Rice Krispies because you can hear the effects of her rheumatoid arthritis every time she moves!

Stolow balances four campus jobs with her extensive extracurricular activities and Health Behavior and Society Major, started a Substance Abuse Clinic, and even has a book in the works. On top of work, school, and extracurriculars, Stolow serves as an outreach coordinator for a non-profit organization in Haiti.

She’s “the most interesting person on this planet,” according to Courtney Wagner ’15, co- captain of women’s club soccer with Stolow. “She’ll say anything, whether it’s to make someone laugh or for an intelligent conversation.”

At 21, Stolow has traveled to all 48 continental states and has been proposed to by a stranger in Toronto, but even that doesn’t live up to her most interesting journey. When she was 16, she went on the fairly common trip with her language class over to Europe. Instead of sticking to the itinerary, when she touched down in France, Stolow and two friends embarked on a one month backpacking trip, only going to the necessary checkpoints to get in touch with their parents. The three friends had a joint credit card with an allotted amount for the month. However, one of the girls went on a shopping spree, leaving them with a third of their original budget, and worse still, proceeded to leave her European purchases behind on a train. Stolow, who has the skills to do just about anything she sets her mind to, used atypical means to travel from country to county. She worked in an Italian bakery for money; made it over to France where she waited tables at a café; and, eventually took refuge in Switzerland.

Stolow’s unconventional approach to travel may seem a bit strange, until you hear her family history. Her parents, who met at age 12, recently gave up their home in White Lake, New York (home of the infamous Woodstock) and left behind their pet bear so they could check off an item on their bucket list. Currently, they’ve taken up the pirate life, and are sailing around the Gulf of Mexico treasure hunting. Her parents’ relocation currently leaves Stolow ‘homeless’ but she plans to reside at graduate school following graduation.

One could say that Stolow’s adventures have made her wise beyond her years and helps her maintain a good life perspective. “No one cares about what kind of shirt you wear on a date,” she says, noting that she tries not to dwell on trivial matters. “Don’t take anything seriously, except helping people; that you should care about.”