First team of African-American debaters to win a national championship honored in Annapolis
by Simone Johnson
The first team of African-American debaters to ever win a national debate championship was honored by Governor Martin O’Malley this week. Towson University students Deven Cooper and Dayvon Love won the Cross Examination Debate Association’s 2008 National Tournament, held March 20-24th at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. Nearly 200 teams from colleges and universities across the nation participated in over 90 debates during the competition. Adam Jackson and Deverick Murray, also Towson students, were also winners: They were double-octofinalists, losing to the team that Cooper and Love beat in the final round.
This year, the debate topic was titled “The United States’ constructive engagement with the Middle East.” During the final round of the competition, Cooper and Love presented their argument with a unique, outside-of-the-box strategy: Instead, they criticized the practices of the debate community that they believed purveyed white supremacy and instructional inequalities in society. They also presented to the competition judges what they felt were disadvantages debaters face when they separate their own sentiments from their arguments and solely rely on academic authors.
“We talk about specific practices that the debate community engages in, and our argument is that until we fix those practices, then we can’t have effective conversations about Middle East policy,” Love explains. “And that’s why we used hip hop and personal experience as another way to legitimize claims.”
Chris Baron, a co-coach of Towson’s debate team, describes the win as groundbreaking.
“It’s sort of an exclamation mark on their win,” says Baron. “They broke records, but they did it in a way that challenged prevailing methodology. So, to me, this is kind of a breakthrough in debate, itself.”
Both Cooper, a senior political science major, and Love, a junior philosophy major, have been debating since their high school years. Cooper, a graduate-and valedictorian-of Lake Clifton High School in Baltimore, says a free trip to Atlanta to attend a debate camp at Emory University fueled his interests in joining the debate team at Lake Clifton.
“I had a lot of fun there,” Cooper says. “In the camp, there was a tournament, and I won 5 out of 6 rounds.”
During his senior year of high school, Cooper became the top speaker in Baltimore Urban Debate League. He attended the University of Louisville before transferring to Towson University on a scholarship.
Love says he developed an interest in debating by accident. “A friend of mine kept telling me to join the debate team,” he says. “I kept telling him no. Forest Park had practices in the morning. I went in one morning, met my coach and started debating.”
At Towson, Cooper and Love meet with their debate team for two hours, two days a week. Outside of their meetings-and between classes and homework – they find creative ways to prepare constructive arguments and a skeleton of ideas for their debates.
“There’s a lot of reading that goes into preparing,” Love says. “We talk about a lot of personal experiences in debate rounds.”
Cooper uses not only real life experiences but also hip-hop music to prepare for his speeches. “I’m the first speaker (on the team), so my speech has to be the most creative.”
Describing the win as a team effort, Baron says Cooper and Love received a lot of support from the entire Towson University Debate Team, which consists of 20 debaters.
“Students are kind of in charge of their own learning and direction,” Baron says. “They ultimately decide what needs to be done. So a lot of people right now are very interested in where we are going next as a result of this win. They see it as significant from a symbolic perspective, that we may be kind of facing a turning point in the practices of debate, which, to me, based on the impact that the debate activity has on the larger world, has a potentially large ramification, which is very exciting.”
SOURCE: Baltimore Times