Following years of triumphant performances on both the regional and national level, the Binghamton University Speech and Debate Team recently finished off their 2023-2024 competition season with success at the District 8 Qualifier, with two students, Eli Louis, a senior majoring in Africana studies, and Akif Choudhury, a junior majoring in economics, qualifying for the National Debate Tournament (NDT).

Joe Schatz, director of debate at BU, described how the team, which accepts members of novice to varsity skill levels, has started to gain recognition on a national scale.

“We have consistently been ranked in the top-10 nationally and have repeatedly qualified for the National Debate Tournament,” Schatz wrote in an email. “In recent years, we have shifted our focus to national competition over regional dominance and our successful showing at our district tournaments stands testament to our strength at the top level of competition.”

The BU Speech and Debate Team participates in a style of competition called cross-examination policy debate. Teams debate one topic the entire year, focusing on both the affirmative and negative sides of the argument at hand. Schatz explained that the BU team holds weekly practices where they run debates, watch videos of competitors and focus their research on their rivals’ arguments in order to try to gain the upper hand in debates. This season, the subject that students are debating involves the United States’ nuclear posturing, and competitors must be prepared, especially as the season goes on and arguments evolve.

“[The] tournaments toward the beginning of the season often have teams presenting new arguments to catch opponents off guard,” Choudhury wrote in an email. “In contrast, tournaments toward the end of the season have nuanced renditions of arguments teams have been reading throughout the season that we must think through.”

The District 8 Qualifier Tournament, which took place at the end of February, put BU up against schools such as Cornell University, Dartmouth College and New York University for a chance to obtain a bid to the NDT. There are six rounds of debates, each evaluated by two judges, and the teams that collect the most ballots from the judges over the course of the competition receive a bid. Choudhury and Louis completed the tournament without dropping a single bid, going 12-0. This is the first time a BU team has ever gone undefeated at the District Qualifier.

Louis reflected on competing at the District Qualifier and how it led to her receiving a bid to the NDT.

“I believe it is important that people question and [re-question] their thoughts, motives, ambitions and relations in the spaces they occupy — self-accountability and awareness,” Louis wrote in an email. “However, because I am hard on myself, I am often unsure of whether I am going the right direction, whether I am making sense, et cetera. But because I knew my material, I was able to just sit and say, ‘I’ll let the universe take it from here.’”

However, this tournament was not the BU Debate Team’s only success this season. The varsity team won the West Point Debate Tournament this past October, while Choudhury and Louis reached the quarterfinals of the Harvard Debate Tournament. The pair will travel to Atlanta, Georgia for the NDT, which will take place at Emory University from April 5 to April 8, 2024.

Louis expressed her excitement about being able to make “herstory” at the NDT this year.

“My existence in debate is kind of enigmatic,” Louis wrote. “So, I have a goal — grandiose, but who cares. I want to, and will, meet it.”