GW Debate Club Wins National Championship

The GW American Parliamentary Debate Society won its first national competition.

GW Debate 2021
The GW American Parliamentary Debate Society won its first national championship this year. (Courtesy photo)
May 03, 2021

By Tatyana Hopkins

The George Washington University American Parliamentary Debate Society, the university’s only student-run debate club, has won the 2021 American Parliamentary Debate National Championships.

Nathaniel Sumimoto, B.A. ’20, and Jared Stone, a graduate of American University reaffiliated to compete with the GW club, became the first debaters in the club’s history to win the tournament hosted by the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), earning the GW student group its first ever national championship.

“[This win] was really just a culmination of decades of hard work for the GW team,” Mr. Sumimoto said. “There's been a lot of talented teams, some way more talented than even me and my partner, but the stars aligned for our team, and it was the first win for a D.C. school and the first win for a team south of [Johns] Hopkins.”

Mr. Sumimoto, who joined the debate club in 2016 as a first-year student and graduated last year, called this year’s competition his “return to glory” after he and Mr. Stone were allowed to compete because last year’s championship was canceled due to COVID-19.

The contest consisted of six preliminary rounds with all teams with a 4-2 record or better being seeded into a single-elimination bracket, where the winner of each match advances to the next round and the loser is eliminated, until the final round. After beating Tufts University in the semifinal round, Mr. Sumimoto and Mr. Stone beat Yale University in the final round.

Parliamentary debate is an extemporaneous form of competitive debate where a pair of two-member teams compete in five-round case tournaments. It differs from public forum style debates, which competes with pre-assigned cases and is traditionally more formal.

Members of a government team, labeled “prime minister” and “government member,” propose a resolution 15 minutes before the round begins. The opposition team then works to rebut the proposal without the use of external evidence. 

Mr. Sumimoto and Mr. Stone competed in the final round as the government team. Mr. Stone, who served as prime minister, presented a case written by Mr. Sumimoto.

“When I found out I was government for my [national’s] final rounds, it was a really special moment because you can really make a special statement with the case or topic that you chose in that round,” Mr. Sumimoto said. “For me, it was kind of a no-brainer. There was a case that I had the entire latter half of my senior year of debate where I knew if I was in that special moment [I would use it].”

Inspired by his senior thesis, the proposal came from the perspective of a second-generation Japanese American during World War II and argued that other second-generation Japanese Americans should identify with Japanese cultural nationalist groups rather than those that performed American patriotism and identity.

The opposition team had to argue from the pro-American perspective.

Under APDA rules, teams and individuals are awarded points in each case tournament they participate in, and clubs whose members had the highest combined scores advance to the national championships.

Robin Gloss, a junior studying international affairs and the team’s current president, said the team has about 40 regularly competing members.

The GW club has previously ranked among the highest in the nation. However, Ms. Gloss said APDA club ranking has been paused due COVID-19 disruptions.

“There’s no ranking of colleges in terms of their success because of COVID, so it’s little harder to gauge how stack up against [other schools],” Ms. Gloss said. “But I think that matters a lot less than the fact that we still have a lot of active members, people coming to tournaments and wildly diverse recruits. Our team is made up of undergraduate students from all across the university, and our members study everything from computer science to history.”

Through the 2020-2021 academic year, the GW team sent pairs to APDA’s weekly tournaments, which all took place virtually, to compete for points against clubs along the East Coast.

APDA is the oldest parliamentary debating association in the country and is one of only two collegiate debating associations. It sponsors over 50 tournaments a year as well as a national championship for its nearly 100 participating college clubs.

This year, four GW teams competed in the national championship, which began with more than 50 teams.

Ms. Gloss and her partner, Ananya Kalahasti, a senior at Johns Hopkins University reaffiliated to compete with GW, advanced to octo-finals in the championship, meaning they were among the top 16 teams nationwide. Mr. Sumimoto, Mr. Stone and Ms. Kalahasti also won speaker awards, meaning they placed among the top 20 individual debaters at the national championship.

The other two GW final teams included junior Isabella Sorial and sophomore Olivia Saunders, and junior Jonas Poggi and first-year student Sidra Hussain.The other two GW final teams included junior Isabella Sorial and sophomore Olivia Saunders, and junior Jonas Poggi and first-year student Sidra Hussain.

“Being so successful at a tournament like nationals is especially exciting because we're competing against—and beating—teams from Yale, Harvard, and the University of Chicago,” Ms. Gloss said. “This is the first time that a GW team has ever won the national championship, so this was very exciting.”

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The GW American Parliamentary Debate Society credits the team’s success to a culture of diversity and inclusion.