The Art of Free Speech: Applying tactics from Loyola's oldest student organization to radically revolutionize our world
By Genevieve Buthod
The Loyola University Chicago debate team was founded in 1875. Not only is it the oldest student organization on Loyola’s campus, but it is also one of the oldest debate teams in the country. The Loyola Debate Society is responsible for hosting notable, public events like the Harry Potter debates. The debate team uses the British Parliamentary style of debating and travels to other schools for scrimmages and tournaments. But the unique thing about debating for Loyola is that it isn’t strictly competitive. It’s also about learning how to function well as a member of a team and how to support your fellow debaters. Some students help to write the arguments, but they don’t want to debate at tournaments. All it takes is one quiet suggestion from a teammate to bring a victory. Just like the university at large, the entire debate community stands stronger together. That sense of community stems from Loyola’s roots as a Jesuit institution.
Debate Coach David Romanelli believes that exercising the sport of discussion strongly impacts students. He says, “It ignites a passion in young people to learn about themselves and the world. We’re always five to ten years ahead of what’s happening in a general college classroom. You may learn about some of these trending topics in a 400-level course, but these debate students are learning about it from day one.” Reading about a wide variety of subjects, staying up to date with the news, and even listening to a variety of podcasts can help students hone their debate skills. But at Loyola, debate is deep knowledge combined with cura personalis, or care for the whole person. According to Romanelli, students are encouraged to deeply examine the relationship between privilege and power. The issues that come up in debate are always going to find their way into the classroom. As a result, students, “…feel more empowered to speak from a place of knowledge and understadning. Many have become advocates for others on campus. We had one student, about 24 years ago, who stopped debating as often to start an anti-racism group on campus. He ended up becoming an expert on white power music and infiltrating that movement. He was a senior in college when he started doing this work.”
The moral of the story is this: Great debaters are more than just well-informed students. They are the kind of students who seek out knowledge and use it ethically as a tool for positive change, not just on campus but throughout the rest of their lives. If you are interested in joining the Loyola Debate Society or the debate team, please reach out to David Romanelli at email@example.com.