Photo by Ryan Brinkman | Photo Editing by Haley Hoidal
Debates are par for the course for the members of Pepperdine’s Debate Team — it’s in the name. As such, members are taught to check their biases at the door and to form arguments based on facts rather than their personal preferences and opinions. Morals are relative, so arguments are usually based on logistics such as efficiency, said Hannah Kate Albach, a senior International Studies and Hispanic Studies double major and vice president of finance for the debate team.
Explaining the Word “Opinion”
When she debates, Albach said she puts herself in the shoes of someone who holds the opinion she is arguing.
Q: What do opinions, or what does the word “opinion,” mean to you?
HKA: “When you join a debate team, you’re taught how to lose strong opinions, because you are able to recognize all sides of an issue. And it forces you to be able to argue from a perspective that you may not have or from a side that you may not agree with. So if I had to define ‘opinion,’ I would say that in my life, there are facts, there are things that are definite and to be true based on evidence. And then there are opinions, which are things that we agree with or believe based off of our own experiences, our values and our culture. So debate allows you to expand your experience to develop more articulate opinions and ones that are more based in reality and on a variety of different experiences. And ones that are not as set in stone.”
Defending Contrary Opinions
Junior Teddy Flunker, Political Science major and British Parliamentary debate chair, said when building an argument, he finds a way to boil the argument down to one sentence and then fleshes out his ideas from there. In British Parliamentary debate, participants receive their topic at the competition and are given 15 minutes to prepare an argument with no outside sources.
Q: How do you approach debating an opinion you don’t agree with?
TF: “It’s a really good exercise. When I got involved in debate, most forms of debate are dichotomous and with two sides that were assigned, or that could be assigned. One of which may be more aligned to what you believe in, and the other that doesn’t, but you can be prepared to speak as if you believe that opinion. So the skill is essentially being as effective or advocating for another opinion as your own. And by doing that, again, you’ll also get familiarized with that opinion, and that helps you improve your own discourse as well if you have an opinion on that issue.”
Applying Lessons Learned in Debate to Daily Life
Third-year senior Coco Zhao is a Liberal Arts for Education major, Hispanic Studies minor and vice president for the Let’s Argue elementary school program. She said her time in debate has challenged her opinions because of the variety of people she had met through the organization. As vice president, Zhao coordinates and finalizes curriculum with partner elementary schools.
Q: Do you take your experience in teaching kids how to argue — and your experience participating in the debate team — and utilize this in your day-to-day life at Pepperdine?
CZ: “It helps me be not so close-minded. It helps me be more open because, even on the debate team, there’s a differing of opinions, and through debate, you listen to other people’s reasoning, other people’s stances, their perspectives — and oftentimes behind each perspective and each opinion, there’s a personal reason why they believe these things. So on the day-to-day basis, that lets me be more aware that people deal with different things, and that might be the reason why they have different opinions — not just because they’re, like, a horrible person, but they’ve gone through stuff that makes them who they are in that way.”
How Debate Alters Opinions
Sophomore Advertising major and Multimedia Design minor Courtney Wisniewski serves as publicity chair of the debate team. Wisniewski said participation within the team helps her make informed decisions about her opinions.
Q: Have any of your opinions changed as a member of the debate team, and has anything made you reevaluate why you’ve formed an opinion or what the opinion is?
CW: “A lot of us make unwise opinions and decisions. And so in listening to other people agree and disagree on the facts of certain topics, you realize, ‘Oh, I made that opinion from information that I heard from a biased website, or that I heard from a friend.’ And so with the debate, you have the opportunity to know the actual facts, the non-bias, so that you can look at all this information that you’re receiving and be like, ‘Oh, I made an uninformed decision, which is OK, but this is how I’m gonna go about it now.’ So that’s great that we have that opportunity. And it’s not always so serious; we did a pop-culture debate over, like, which Taylor Swift song was the best. So something really silly like that — but you’re listening to people be like, ‘Oh, this album is good because this shows this in her emotions.’ You’re like, ‘Oh, you know what, I never listened to that album, but now I might.’ Same way if it was an important topic and you know nothing about it; after listening to them talk about it, you might be like, ‘Wait, I’m really passionate about learning more about that; maybe I should go do my research.'”
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