Whitman debate tournament provides opportunities, conflicts
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About 600 high school students from the Northwest are expected to flood campus as part of the 38th annual Whitman College Remy Wilcox High School Speech Tournament on Nov. 4-6, bringing with them tubs of evidence and plenty of conflict. The tournament helps fund the debate team financially and is estimated to generate approximately over $130,000 to Walla Walla’s economy.
While the tournament allows hundreds of students involved with debate the opportunity to survey the Whitman campus, it is also a source of inconvenience and tension for Whitman students and staff.
“While we can accommodate a large number of students in the facility, we quickly run out of tables, chairs, couches–things needed to comfortably hang out,” said Barbara Maxwell, the associate dean of students for student programs and activities.
The sudden influx of students is expected to stay on the south end of campus when not participating in debate rounds, at Reid Campus Center and Hunter Conservatory.
Reid staff keeps facility is clean and safe, but must accommodate a much larger demand than usual.
“Staff we hire ensures that the facility is safe and clean. This is no different from what they are expected to do anytime they work at Reid–it is just done on a much larger scale because of the number of students using the space,” Maxwell said.
Junior Seth Dawson, like many Whitman students, tends to avoid Reid during the tournament because it becomes so crowded.
“I actually avoid getting my mail during the debaters’ weekend; it’s too much work,” he said.
Debate rounds will occur in academic buildings and, most controversially, lounges and study rooms in certain residence halls. According to Jim Hanson, director of forensics, students are allowed to come into their lounges quietly to get through to lounge kitchens; still, some students are concerned.
“It’d be a little annoying if I wanted to get into a lounge,” said first-year Becca Peterson-Perry in response to having debate rounds in first-year residence halls.
However, Peterson-Perry feels that since it is only for a weekend, it is not a huge conflict.
“It’s a small sacrifice to make for one weekend when it could have a lot of possible influence on a high school debater,” she said.
Hanson’s aim in hosting the tournament is to provide high school students with the means to practice their sport.
“It’s a service to the high school forensics community,” he said.
Hanson also sees an increase in high school student interest in coming to Whitman once they have attended the tournament.
“A number of students come specifically to the tournaments because they’re here visit to Whitman,” he said. “It draws attention to Whitman, some of the best students in the nation are seeing Whitman, and so it’s getting word out to 10,000 of the best students in the nation.”
Sophomore Mitch Dunn, who currently is on the Whitman Debate Team, agrees.
“The tournament offers hundreds of high school students from around the country the opportunity to visit and experience the Whitman campus and atmosphere,” he said.
Dunn also participated in the Whitman debate tournament as a high school student, and decided to come Whitman after attending the tournament.
“I had already planned on attending Whitman but the tournament cemented my decision,” he said.
Hanson hopes that his fine tuning of the tournament ensures that both high school debaters, Whitman students, staff and faculty are happy and do not conflict. Last year Hanson had few complaints, and he hopes that this continues.
“One of the complaints was too many signs, so I’ve cut back on those,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve done a better job of it this year.”
Hanson’s team has placed pink fluorescent signs with directions to participating debaters in addition to placing guides in Olin and Maxey Halls to direct debaters in-between rounds.
Although Dawson agreed that it can be a struggle sometimes having so many students on campus at once, he noted that the struggle comes from the sheer number of students coming in and out at once rather than the students themselves.
“Last year I had a class in a space some debaters were using for prep work, but they were courteous and moved out as quickly as possible,” he said.
But those sheer numbers still make the weekend hectic. Peterson-Perry plans to catch up on homework this weekend and steer clear of debate zones to avoid crowds.
“I’ll just stay in and be avoiding Reid that weekend,” she said.