Two tight knit teams overcome beginner status and win both spots in final
Four Mount Allison students attended and won the Up for Debate Maple League competition at Bishop’s University on Feb. 9. The team was comprised of first-year student Helen Yao, third-years Aminah Simmons and Arianna Woodley, and fourth-year Sertara Wilkinson. Yao is a member of the Mt. A debate team, while this event was Simmons, Woodley and Wilkinson’s first time debating at a university level. Other members of Mt. A debate team were unable to attend the competition, so Woodley, Wilkinson, and Simmons were invited to compete. Teams from Acadia, St. FX, Bishop’s and Mt. A attended the competition.
Two groups were formed at the competition, with Wilkinson and Yao on one and Simmons and Woodley on the other. The two teams each participated in three debates and won all three. Yao and Wilkinson debated whether sexual assault cases should be tried in a different court system, whether blasphemy should be protected under freedom of speech, and whether prisoners with life sentences should be allowed to choose the death penalty. Simmons and Woodley’s debates covered whether police should require a warrant to receive information from tech companies, whether laws regarding animal rights should first consider human needs, and whether CBC president Catherine Tait was wrong in comparing Netflix domination to British and French colonization. The teams were assigned which side they would argue for.
The debates happened at the same time, so the two teams were not aware of whether the other Mt. A team had won until they met up after each debate. “My favourite part was going to Sertara and Helen’s debate after we won, because they were so good,” said Simmons. “We’d win our debates and then go into their room and see that they won their debates and at the end we would all freak out. After the last debate, we made so much noise.”
Since both Mt. A teams won, they were not able to debate against each other in the final debate. To ensure both teams were represented, they decided that one member from each team, Yao and Woodley, would act as a team in the final round and compete against St. FX on the topic of whether teachers should be allowed to wear religious symbols. Yao and Woodley argued for the right to wear religious symbols and won the debate.
Although only one member of the team, Yao, had recent experience debating, the others attributed their success to being socially conscious. “It’s a matter of being aware of what’s going on around you, and being aware of the news and what people are saying, and being able to formulate those points and be well-versed in it,” said Woodley.
Wilkinson attributed her success to the support of her team members. “I was there with people who supported me even though I have never debated before in my life and they reassured me that I was okay,” she said. “We just went to have fun and we went into it with the expectation that we were going to lose.”
Yao also appreciated how close-knit the team was. “I really appreciated how our team got along,” she said. “We were very close and we were definitely not competing against each other. We were working together for the sake of working together.”
Their win was especially significant because members of the team felt that they defied an expectation that they wouldn’t win. “I don’t think when we first got there anyone took us too seriously,” said Simmons. “But then when we started to win everybody was like, ‘Oh shoot, they actually know what they’re talking about.’ ” Wilkinson agreed, saying, “The most valuable thing that I took away was to not underestimate myself.… I followed the rules, I spoke from my heart and the passion came out and I was articulate and I loved it. And then we won.”
The team brought home a trophy bearing all their names to represent that both teams should have been included in the final debate. Each of the four team members were also awarded a cash prize.