William & Mary

W&M debate team No. 1 among public universities in the U.S.

  • Harvard Cup
    Harvard Cup  Left to right: Aaron Murphy '15, Jerusalem Demsas '17, Gerry Jamison '16 and Keegan Paugh '18 pose with their prizes from the Harvard debate tournament.  Courtesy photo
Photo - of -

There’s no debating it: William & Mary has one of the top debate teams in the country.

Aaron Murphy ’15 and Jerusalem Demsas ’17 took first place at the Harvard debate tournament, Oct. 10-11, beating varsity teams from 43 universities across the country, including Brown, Yale, Princeton and Columbia. The victory makes William & Mary the current, top-ranked public university for parliamentary debate in the nation.

“The team is ecstatic about Aaron and Jerusalem's victory at Harvard,” said Ben Marks ’16, president of the W&M Debate Society. “Their success is the culmination of a tremendous amount of preparation and effort. We couldn't be more pleased about the results of the tournament, and are looking forward to see how the team fares during the rest of the season and at nationals!”

The W&M Debate Society has approximately 70 members and competes at about 20 regular season tournaments throughout the year with the American Parliamentary Debate Association. The Harvard event is the largest and most prestigious of the tournaments, and approximately 150 teams competed in it this year, said Venu Katta ‘17, media manager for the society. In addition to Murphy and Demsas winning the Harvard Cup, Gerry Jamison ‘16 and Keegan Paugh ’18 also won awards at the tournament.

Murphy, a math major who has been on the team for four years, and Demsas, a government major who has been on the team for two, prepared for the Harvard tournament by doing practice rounds with “motions,” or topics of debate. The Harvard tournament presented teams with motions 15 minutes before each round instead of having teams bring their own cases, said Murphy.

“So our practice rounds basically amounted to getting a list of potential debate topics and giving ourselves 10 minutes after hearing the topic to prepare seven-to-eight minute speeches to defend either the government or opposition side of the resolution,” he said. “We did this for several weeks before the tournament in addition to preparing for other non-motions based tournaments.”

Murphy said that one of the strengths of his pairing with Demsas is their complementary knowledge bases.

“Neither of us are weak on any of the topics that debates typically center around, but she knows a ton about things I have only a cursory knowledge of and I know more about some fields she hasn't taken as many classes in yet,” he said. “This is important at a motions tournament because you may be called upon to debate topics of all types.”

That’s exactly what happened at Harvard. The W&M team debated a number of varied topics, ranging from hedge funds to educational policy. In the final round, they argued in the affirmative on the motion: “This House would assassinate Vladimir Putin."

Demsas and Murphy were delighted when they found out that they had won the tournament.

“I can't believe it! We put a lot of work in so it feels like that has been validated and I really just can't wait to see what the rest of the season brings,” said Demsas.

“It feels great,” Murphy added. “To me this is just more proof that hard work pays off, and I just want to keep working to win even more for the Tribe.” 

Participating in the debate society is more than just a hobby for the pair; they call the team “a family that we’ve found here on campus” and said that participating in it has helped them academically.

“This type of debate requires you to have an incredibly high level of organization in your thought process in order to succeed,” said Demsas. “This helps when comparing and contrasting ideas in any field, and it definitely helps when writing papers as well.”

Murphy agreed.

“Debate is an activity that teaches communication,” he said. “Our specific style of debate teaches us to go into any room with any judge, anytime, anywhere in the country -- hear a topic and convince them that we are correct. That is applicable to any fields where we will be interacting with people and in the short term it makes writing essays a lot easier as well.”

The American Parliamentary Debate Association nationals will be held April 17-18, 2015, at the College of New Jersey. For more information on the W&M Debate Society, visit its Facebook page or send an email to debateteam.wm@gmail.com.