Peaslee Debate Hosts Weekend Tournament, Mentors Regional Teams

Yiwen Looi '09

Peaslee Debate Hosts Weekend
Tournament, Mentors Regional College Teams

by Yiwen Looi '09
4/10/2009

Julie Baker '09 and Cyrus Stoller '10

Julie Baker '09 and Cyrus Stoller '10, semi-finalists at the Yale Intervarsity Tournament.

If the Swarthmore spirit is that of intellectual inquiry and dialogue, then the Amos J. Peaslee Debate Society must be the ideal embodiment of that spirit. Affectionately known as Peaslee, the society is named after "Uncle Amos," a member of the Class of 1907 and one-time ambassador to Australia who on his death bequeathed part of his estate to the group.

Peaslee members continue to throw a party to celebrate his birthday every year. They also have wisely invested in grooming a strong group of college debaters who are currently having their best season ever. Some of the awards garnered this season include:

  • at the Yale Intervarsity Tournament, Swarthmore was the second-best American team in a very competitive international pool;
  • the team of Kyle Crawford '12 and Linnet Davis-Stermitz  '12 were named novice semi-finalists at the North American Championships;
  • at the World Championships held in Cork, Ireland, in January, Julie Baker '09 and Cyrus Stoller '10 were named octo-finalists out of 300 international teams and were the fifth-best American team in attendance.

Stoller, who is also Peaslee's president, speaks fondly of the experience. "Debate has helped me with my speaking skills and taught me to organize my thoughts on the fly," he says. "When people ask me a question about an issue, I feel comfortable sharing my ideas." Stoller feels that in the classroom, public speaking is often overlooked in favor of reading and writing but, he stresses, "Being able to present your ideas to a group of people is one of the most important skills you can learn."

For those reasons, Stoller, a computer science and mathematics major from San Francisco, Calif., has no regrets getting involved with Peaslee and urges current and prospective students to do the same. Peaslee's budget allows the society to recruit and train debaters of all skill levels, and it does not hold tryouts. Stoller himself did not debate in high school, and yet he says that Peaslee is one of the best things at Swarthmore. "

I have travelled the world and it has opened my eyes to a lot of different opinions that I would not otherwise have encountered," says Stoller, who is also a senior producer at War News Radio. "Debating has also forced me to defend how I feel, and from there, helped me to form my own stance on issues and think about what I am really willing to stand up for." Most importantly, he says, "it is really a lot of fun."

Linnet Davis-Stermitz '12

Kyle Crawford '12 and Linnet Davis-Stermitz '12 were novice semi-finalists at the North American Championships. Davis-Sternitz was also named third novice speaker.

Recently, on the back of its success, Peaslee has mobilized its growing reputation to spread the fun to other colleges in the greater Philadelphia area. Upon Haverford College's request, they have sent debaters over to help at practices. Haverford's debaters are also invited to Peaslee meetings and weekend workshops, where they participate in practice rounds with the Swarthmore teams. Peaslee has extended the same invitation to Franklin and Marshall College and also offers their debaters free rides to regional tournaments. A bi-annual competition between Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania also serves to further hone their skills. Currently, Peaslee has been funding these exchange programs internally, but Stoller says that the society gladly accepts any and all forms of donations. He emphasizes that the money will be put to good use because, "it is particularly crucial for people in our age group to know and talk more about politics and current issues."

However, if you are looking for other ways to help, this weekend (April 10 and 11) Peaslee hosts one of the largest debate tournaments of the season, welcoming to campus 200-300 debaters from the Midwest and all along the Eastern seaboard. "People love coming here because we are the only tournament that asks the judges to provide individual oral critiques after each round," Stoller says. "The constructive feedback really helps the debaters get better." Peaslee is still looking for judges, hosts, and other volunteers. This is a good chance to dip your toes in Peaslee, and who knows - you might be traveling to the world championships next year!

For more information on Peaslee, contact Cyrus Stoller '10 or visit the Peaslee website.