Students Debate Their Way to the Top

Jimmy Wittrock ’10 and Phylicia Clifton ’10 competed with speech and debate teams in high school and wanted to continue that experience at Westmont. So they started a student-led speech and debate club this year through the Westmont Activities and Club Council.

Jimmy, a political science/pre-law major began the process last spring after running Westmont’s annual speech and debate tournament. He talked to leaders in college debate programs and Westmont faculty before setting up the new club.

Jimmy Wittrock ‘10 and Phylicia Clifton ‘10 started the speech and debate club on campus

The young team has already participated in three events. Westmont made a strong showing at the California Double Up Debate Tournament hosted by Biola University. Jimmy ranked seventh out of 56 speakers and Phylicia finished No. 2. The five-student Westmont team, one of the few without a coach, debated against students who had been competing on the college level for several years. They eliminated the top-seeded school to get to the semi-final round, and they finished among the top four teams.

When not debating off campus, the team hosts events and partners with other clubs on campus to help broaden the knowledge of the student body on current news, policy and events. “Everybody is always talking about how there’s a Westmont bubble, so our theme for this year is Bursting the Westmont Bubble because we want to encourage students to get out and experience what’s going on outside of Westmont,” Phylicia says.

The theme inspired a Presidential Dinner and Debate; 50 students participated and learned more about the 2008 presidential candidates’ positions on health care. The debate team argued the pros and cons of various health care policies with members of the Westmont College Conservatives club. The speech and debate club plans more events on campus in conjunction with the presidential election and will compete in five off-campus tournaments next semester. They will also participate in Westmont’s annual speech and debate tournament sponsored by Bob and Jean Svoboda.

“We plan to take on our opponents with passion and civility, the hallmarks of the Westmont debate tournament,” Jimmy says. They hope that approach will result in continued success.

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