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Low Attendance Hinders Speech and Debate Open

By Susan Buchman

Thirty students from MIT and Wellesley gathered on Saturday for the first Speech and Debate Open, an intramural debate tournament sponsored by the debate and speech teams and Counterpoint.

The purpose behind the SDO was to both give MIT and Wellesley students a chance to improve their speaking skills as well as allow them to express their opinions on current student issues at MIT.

"It was an opportunity for people to speak openly about issues at MIT," said Michael Stanley '99, former president of the debate team.

"Debate has always seen itself as a training ground for students to improve their communications skills," said Gary Li '00, president of the debate team.

Last minute changes affect event

Originally, SDO was to have both a speech category and a debate category. However, "the line [between speech and debate] was blurred," said Stanley.

"Some speech topics were discussed in a debate format. In that sense, we were able to utilize topics and merge formats [of speech and debate]," said participant Chimi Tornow, a junior at Wellesley.

Despite the slight change in format, the SDO provided the participants with a chance to both compete and to work on improving their communication skills.

"I'm pretty uncomfortable speaking in public and I now feel tremendously more comfortable," said John Fries '01. "Coming from a technical background, you worry if you will be able to get your ideas across."

Tornow said that SDO helped her to realize the common issues facing student governments at MIT and Wellesley.

SDO has also helped to rejuvenate the defunct speech team. "The speech team has really taken off [as a result of SDO]. SDO has shown that speech has a place at MIT," Stanley said.

Fries agreed that "[SDO] sparked a long-term interest in speech for me and my friends."

Although the event was originally scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday, the debate team realized that few competitors would be able to participate on both days. The entire event was rescheduled for Saturday.

"We have to be aware of the time constraints of MIT students. They have one day free, but to have two days free is significantly harder," said Stanley.

Event struggled to find funding

Planning for the SDO began last spring as a result of the debate team's desire to contribute to the MIT community at large, according to Li. After categorizing the event as an intramural debate, the team began searching for sources of funding.

The team initially applied for Undergraduate Association finance board money but its request was rejected.

After hearing that a portion of the provost's allocation would go to events that were sponsored by more than one group, the debate team enlisted the speech team and Counterpoint as co-sponsors, and named the event the Speech and Debate Open.

That funding request was also rejected, but the Association of Student Activities suggested the Campus Activities Complex Programming Board as a possible source of funding.

The CAC agreed to partially fund the event and the SDO group found other sponsors, including CopyTech and Chicago Pizza.

To recruit participants for the event, the SDO group placed posters in the infinite corridor, a drop poster in the lobby of Building 7, and advertisements in The Tech. It also contacted groups whose members would likely be interested in public speaking, such as the Quiz Bowl team.

The SDO group hopes to make the SDO an annual event. "The CAC seems firmly behind [an annual event]," Stanley said.

"I hope they do this every year," Fries said. "It was really quite an experience."