Liberty’s debate team will compete in a year-end tournament series

Do artificial intelligence and robots deserve the same rights as human beings? Your opinion doesn’t matter; you must prove both sides of the argument.

Liberty University’s Debate Team answers and defends questions like these on a regular basis. The team will prepare to compete in its final series of tournaments for the year, ending in an invite-only championship. 

The team, consisting of 15 students, participates in tournaments from three different organizations: the National Debate Association, the American Debate Association and the Cross Examination Debate Association. The ADA crowns a championship school based on season-long performance and a championship team based on ADA Championship performance.  

These debate tournaments have three levels of debaters, depending on experience and skill level, and the levels include novice, JV and varsity. Liberty has members of each tier. Upon starting debate at Liberty, students join the group that best fits their skill set based on their prior knowledge and previous experience, with the opportunity to move up. 

The Debate Team is photographed on December 1, 2022. (Photo by Eva Soderstrom)

Liberty’s Debate Team will compete in its final ADA tournament this weekend, which concludes the ADA’s season-long championship. The following weekend, the team will bring its novice and JV teams to the CEDA JV Novice Nationals. After that tournament, the team finishes its season-long meets and will compete in two final tournaments — the NDT from March 31 to April 3, which is exclusively invite-only, and the CEDA National Tournament from April 7-10, which teams must register for.

Michael Hall, Liberty’s director of debate, talked about how the organization of competition and the type of competition determine the team rankings.

“CEDA’s season-long championships are what we call the sweepstakes championships. Those are usually announced at the end of the tournament, so we’ll know who won that individual championship on the day that tournament ends,” Hall said. “For the NDT and ADA, the season long championship announcement comes a little bit later, which will most likely be in the second or third week of April.”

Hall said the team has overall rankings for the season as well. These rankings are announced at different times of year depending on the organization. Currently, Liberty has notched the No. 1 ranking in the ADA and third in the CEDA.

“The NDT rankings are the ones that are the most opaque. They just get announced a couple of times a year,” Hall said. “The other rankings we can see as we go.” 

Jackson Posey, a senior on the debate team, said these upcoming tournaments and the possibility to win in their final championship excite him. Posey explained how debate has provided him with great memories
and opportunities.

“We got to travel to New York City for the New School Tournament. We went a day early, (and) the day before, we just got to walk around New York City with our friends and just visit and explore,” Posey said. “We get to travel and have opportunities that not everyone gets to experience.” 

Senior Justice Wallenmeyer said that being on debate has become an important and fun portion of his college career. Wallenmeyer noted that debate has taught him a lot, and he believes that it has prepared him for his future.

The Debate Team is photographed on December 1, 2022. (Photo by Eva Soderstrom)

“I’ve learned how to engage in the process of research and argumentation. I’m a pre-law major, so this blends in a lot with what I’m doing in my degree,” Wallenmeyer said. “I’ve definitely learned how to quickly find sources, how to quickly cite sources and find correct information by examining a large amount of information and deciphering which one is the most true, and that process comes with debating and preparing for tournaments.”

At every tournament, teams debate one universal topic, which is usually announced in July, right before the start of their season. A committee determines this topic in the spring before the season from papers submitted. A legal topic that deals with the issue of legal personhood and giving rights to nonhuman entities composes this year’s debate topic. The teams must argue and defend the topic, putting in extensive time toward research and practice. 

Students from debate have learned a lot from this year’s topic and how they can apply it to everyday life.

“This year’s topic is giving rights to non-human entities, and one of the largest controversies in the literature about this is giving rights to things like robots or artificial intelligence,” Wallenmeyer said. “I’ve definitely learned a lot about the mechanics, viability and future of artificial intelligence.”

Liberty’s team already has one team qualified for the final NDT tournament, and the members hope to have another. 

To learn more about the team and the outcome of the final tournament, visit their website

Zagursky is a news reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter

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