The University of Rochester Debate Union recently completed its most successful season ever with a ninth-place ranking in the nation's largest collegiate debate organization. This is the first time the program has ranked in the top 10. Three hundred colleges and universities participate in the Cross Examination Debate Association, including powerhouses Cornell, Berkeley, West Point, and Michigan State.
The University's ninth-place ranking caps a rapid climb from nowhere. Although debate has a long history at Rochester (the first forensic society was formed two days before the institution opened its doors on Nov. 5, 1850), it had fallen on hard times in recent years.
When Coach Sam Nelson arrived in 1992, the team, unranked and coachless, consisted of only a handful of devoted enthusiasts. Five years later, the squad is fully four times larger than the average at other institutions. While other schools typically send three or four 2-person teams to a tournament, Rochester can show up with 17 or more.
And, in contrast to the traditional white male ranks of debate teams elsewhere, the Rochester squad is known for its diversity: More women and people of color debate for Rochester than for any other debate team in the country.
The team collected another honor at this year's national tournament in Kansas. Senior Ryan Pitterson was among 30 debaters named Academic All-American. Pitterson plans to attend law school next year at either Harvard or Columbia University. This marks the second time a University student has been selected for All-American honors. In 1995, Anne-Marie Mason was the first University debater so honored. She is now a third-year law student at New York University.
The University also has been selected as the site of next year's national tournament, to be held in March. More than 400 debaters, representing almost every state in the country, will compete in the event.
"It's quite an honor to be selected to host the world's largest debate tournament," Nelson said. "Most of the sites chosen to host the tournament are much larger than the University of Rochester."