Debate Team

With an established track record of success and support, debate has been a part of WWU's campus culture for a majority of its history. Western Debate is focused on providing quality educational and competitive opportunities to the student participants of the program. Western competes in tournaments throughout the Pacific Northwest region and the United States. Unlike sports activities which are divided up into divisions based on size, the Western Debate team may compete against a university the size of Michigan State or a small private liberal arts college like Macalester College. 

Memberships and affiliations

  • American Forensic Association (AFA)
  • Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA)
  • National Debate Tournament (NDT)
  • National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA)
  • Northwest Forensic Conference (NFC)
  • International Debate Education Association (IDEA)
  • World Debate Organization (WDO)

Western Debate Offers

Parliamentary Debate

Parliamentary style of debate has no pre-set topic. Debaters are given a resolution 15 minutes before the start of a debate, and the Government comes up with a case in support of the resolution while the Opposition negates.  Parliamentary debate requires quick thinking, a wit on ones feet, and a high level of presentation skills for success.

Individual Events

These are differing public performance events ranging from limited preparation events, public platform speaking events, and interpretive events. For those wanting to polish their style and range of presentation, individual events offer a chance to refine ones skills in competition with some of the nations finest speakers.

Program Philosophy

The activity of debate is a unique opportunity for students to exert personal control over their intellectual development. A successful debater is one that can think for him/herself and still be a part of the greater community of persons and ideas. As a means to affirm and develop this attribute Western’s program provides opportunities for students to take part in the choices that effect their participation and competitive experience. These decisions involve colleague choice, tournament selection, and argument selection. The coaches are available for consultation and guidance on these matters, but ultimate responsibility lies with the student. The coaches will take responsibility for issues of team management and organization, and make sure that the access to the privileges of the team are based on the merit of effort. The goal is to operate within a framework of consensus for squad level decisions, and to make sure that student input and discourse are elements in the decision making process.

Why Debate In College?

It’s Practical

There are many good reasons for including debate experience as part of your higher education. Employers will look for practical skills in their employees. Those applicants that can demonstrate an ability to think on their feet, express complex ideas, and be able to identify and solve problems will be in the highest demand. All of these skills are not just developed in college debate, but honed to a fine level of ability.  Even in college, you will notice how debate helps you organize assignments and papers for other classes.

It’s Preparation

Debate is important for those considering post-graduate education. For those considering law school, a majority of law school deans identify debate as an important preparation for the rigors of legal study and practice. Those considering a graduate education in a variety of disciplines will find that not only does debate provide a critical preparation in almost any discipline, but that debate experience can translate into graduate teaching and coaching assistantships that help cover the costs of a masters or doctorate degree.

Unlock Personal Power

Debate is an important personal development tool. The ability to think critically and interact with the information avalanche that is the present is a real priority. Debate will not just teach you about ideas, but how to research and discover ideas in an ever changing body of knowledge where the ideas and facts are in constant flux. No matter what you do, you will need to think about, and know, information related to your career, society, and causes of interest. Debate is the key that unlocks personal power and competence.

Debate: an Intrinsic Good

Western Debate offers a unique opportunity to interact socially with other inquisitive minds, not just on the campus, but with peers and noted scholars from across the country. Debate is the basis for a unique student centered intellectual community that appreciates and rewards individuals who think ideas are important. No other campus activity offers you the chance to use your brain and explore ideas in the fun and functional ways that debate can.

It’s A Limited Time Offer

Unlike many other pursuits or interest you have, once you graduate from college, there are no more opportunities for structured academic debate. College is your last chance to take part in the thrill and the competition in a challenging and fun academic setting.

Access to Debate

Western Debate strongly believes that the opportunity to debate should be open to all that are interested. It is a goal of the program to provide opportunity to all that seek it and to provide an appropriate level of competition to help them develop their skills. To meet this goal, the program will seek out talented students with a successful history in high school to join the team, but also students with little or no experience. Those from both high profile and less competitive squads are welcome, as well as those who may be trying it for the first time in college. The program also recognizes that those with limited experience need the same amount of competitive opportunities to develop. In response to the recognition, the program uses an effort-based standard for participation over a talent-based or exclusively performance-based reward system. Those students who work hard to prepare, and make an effort at improvement will be the students who are given the priority to travel regardless of experience.

Debate and Academics

The primary purpose of a student’s presence at Western is the pursuit and successful completion of their baccalaureate degree. The debate program acknowledges this priority as well. In this spirit, Western has a standard of academic eligibility for participation, and a "no penalty” policy for opting out of tournaments for academic reasons. Debaters are expected to be in good academic standing and making progress toward graduation to compete. Participating students must be enrolled full-time and have a GPA above 2.0 to compete. Debate is also a co-curricular activity through COMM 236 and COMM 436, which offer the chance to earn academic credit toward graduation for participation. 

Community Service

In addition to competitive activities the team is involved in service opportunities throughout the academic year. 

NFC Equity Project Student Group

A diverse student group dedicated to resolving issues of equity in the speech and debate community. This group is open at all times to any speech and debate participants who wish to have a greater role in fostering an inclusive and ethical debate community. Students participating in the Equity Project will devote time both at tournaments, and outside of competitive settings to actively create, coordinate, and implement solutions to issues in the debate community."

Bellingham Debate Cooperative

The Bellingham Debate Cooperative is held on campus each summer. The BDC is an educational program for college students to learn debate skills through both technical training and community building. Participants gain skills in competitive intercollegiate parliamentary debate. The program features both practice rounds and content-oriented sessions on theory, argument structure, strategy, practice, and subject matter lectures on commonly debated topic areas. Content will be offered in a menu model with a variety of sessions being offered at any given session time and targeted at differing competitor levels so that there are options for both beginners and advanced debaters.

Forums and Community Outreach

The Let's Talk campus discussion series addresses campus, national and international issues. This forum provides a chance for students and community members to learn more about topics and to voice their opinions while listening to others. 

The Western Washington University Debate Union has hosted conferences through CASCAID: Community Advocacy Support Center.  CASCAID is an opportunity for advocates, academics and activists to come together to exchange ideas and methods on a selected theme.

Coaching Staff

Director of Forensics, Dr. Steve Woods

Steve joins the program most recently from William Jewell College in Liberty, MO. Steve earned his doctorate from Florida State University in Rhetoric/Communication. His dissertation was “The Rhetoric of the Endangered Species Act” and looks forward to continuing research on issues of environment and public advocacy.

As an undergraduate Steve debated for Kansas State University, participating in both CEDA and NDT policy debate. After graduation, he joined the coaching staff while earning his masters. After four years at Florida State as a graduate assistant he took his first full time teaching position at the University of Vermont as a lecturer and co-director of debate. Steve then moved on to William Jewell College, directing the program for five years.

Steve brings more than 20 years experience in college debate and speech to Western as both a competitor and coach. At this point he has been to tournaments, workshops, or conferences at 74 campuses in 25 states. Highlights include a team in the national finals, and a top speaker while at FSU, and three consecutive years of top twenty finishes while at Vermont (20th, 10th, and 5th).

Steve looks forward to working with the students of Western and working toward not only competitive success, but development of community involvement and public advocacy programs.

Parliamentary Debate Coach, Korry Harvey

As a competitor, Korry enjoyed significant success in both high school and college (qualified for the NDT as a freshman, won numerous tournaments, two-time DRS-TKA National Champion, and 2nd and 7th speaker at CEDA Nationals). As a coach, Korry qualified teams for the high school TOC and contributed to a Community College National Sweepstakes Championship. He has coached policy and parliamentary debate at WWU since 2001. In that time, Western has consistently reached late elimination rounds at National Championship tournaments and ranked in the top 10 schools nationally.

Korry is the recipient of the NFC’s Judge Educator Award, CEDA’s National Public Sphere Award, and has been selected as a critic for the NPDA National Championship Finals as well as the Grand Final of the World Universities Peace Initiative Debates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has coordinated two award-winning service projects—the “Let’s Talk” Discussion Series and Community Advocacy Support Center (CASCAID), co-directed the Bellingham Debate Co-operative, and is the chair of the Northwest Forensics Conference’s Equity Project.

As a faculty member, he has represented Western at international conferences, co-authored a textbook, coordinated the department’s Argumentation and Exposition curriculum, and served on a task force for the faculty union in addition to numerous community service projects. Korry has received Western’s campus-wide Diversity Achievement Award and Phillip E. Sharpe Community Engagement Award, as well as the Scott Silver Teaching Award, the Washington Education Association’s Cultural Education Award, and a Whatcom Human Rights Award. In his free time, Korry is an avid outdoor enthusiast, dedicated community activist, beard grower extraordinaire, and very proud father of an awesome teenage boy.

Assistant Debate Coach, Margaret Rockey 

Margaret joins Western from Whitman College, where she studied History and Politics and competed in parliamentary debate for four years. Though she joined Whitman’s debate team with no previous debate experience, by her junior year she ended the season ranked third in the nation, appearing in finals of all but two tournaments she attended and winning the two largest ones, at Lewis & Clark College and the University of Utah. At Nationals that year she took third-place and was fourth speaker, the highest placement of a junior. As a senior, after Whitman cut its debate program, she competed without funding, coaching, and with a partner who had qualified to the NDT as a sophomore in Policy, but had no Parliamentary experience. Together they took third place at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence in 2016, and Margaret was awarded third place as an individual speaker. Her undergraduate research focused on conceptions of statehood and terrorism in Northern Ireland and on the United States’s policy in Iran.

Margaret coaches the debate team and teaches argumentation classes in Western’s Communication Studies Department. 

Assistant Debate Coach, Joaquin 'Kinny' Torre

Kinny has been involved with debate since 2010. In high school he competed in policy debate before transitioning in college to parliamentary debate at Western Washington University. Since joining Western’s team during his Freshmen year, Kinny has consistently made appearances in elimination rounds. His proudest accomplishments include being bested by his partner at nationals where he was ranked as 2nd best speaker—together, they took 7th place at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence in 2016.

As of September 2016, Kinny started his 3rd year of coaching. He has worked with high school debaters in Policy and Public Forum across a multitude of different teams within Washington and Vancouver, Canada.  These programs have consistently produced successful debaters with notable accomplishments, including placing within the top 8 teams at the Washington State Tournament every year and winning national championships at Georgetown and Stanford.

Kinny’s undergraduate research centered around social movements in the 1900s, the American Legal System, and identity formation within American politics. Currently, Kinny is a part-time anime enthusiast and an argument and advocacy instructor for Western’s Communication Studies Department.