Emerson debate team wins big on international stage


August Fowle

The Emerson Forensics Team in Tokyo

By Bishop Marshall, Correspondent

This spring break, the Emerson Forensics Team traveled to Tokyo for the International Forensics Association’s Annual Speech and Debate Tournament and Conference—a trip three years in the making. 

The team has only three active members: junior communication studies major August Fowle, senior political communications major Aayush Bajpai, and senior journalism and political communications major Jacob Blumenthal. Despite being one of the smallest organizations on campus, the team advanced a debater in every tournament they attended this season, ending the first semester with a team victory at Hofstra University where the debaters won 20 out of 21 rounds.

In Tokyo, it was business as usual. Out of 53 debaters from around the world, Fowle took second overall, with Blumenthal and Bajpai taking 12th and 18th places, respectively. 

The team is coached by Assistant Professor Deion Hawkins of the argumentation and advocacy department and Assistant Professor Sharifa Simon-Roberts of the communication studies department.

“A lot of people don’t know about the debate team mainly because it is a skill-oriented student organization, and so our coach Deion Hawkins, he prefers to scout people from his classes,” said Blumenthal.

The COVID-19 pandemic had prevented the team from traveling internationally until this year. They had been looking to attend since 2020 when William Rowley ‘22 won the national tournament, Blumenthal said. In the years following, the team was only able to attend tournaments virtually, except for a few in-person tournaments at Bowling Green State University, Hofstra University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

No debaters on the team had any prior high school debate experience, which Fowle believes is the “strangest thing” about the Emerson team compared to other schools at the international competition. 

“Most of those kids competed on the national circuit in high school and are scholarshipped into their school for their speech and debate teams; their entire life is speech and debate, whereas Jacob, Aayush, and I all do things outside of debate, this is just one of those things that we do,” Fowle said.

The tournament was organized by the International Public Debate Association. IPDA tournaments follow an individual format, where debaters are paired bracket style. Once paired, debaters agree on a topic of debate out of five possible topics. A coin is flipped to determine which side of the argument debaters will argue, then participants get 13 minutes of preparation before the debate begins. 

Hawkins has been a professor of argumentation and advocacy, as well as the director of debate at Emerson College since the fall of 2019. He is a “nationally recognized” speech and debate (forensics) coach, according to the college’s faculty website, and one of the few coaches in the country with multiple debate and speech national championships within his first 10 years of coaching under his belt.  

“He’s very willing to see a student’s potential and to work with them and make it into something,” Fowle said. “[We] truly regard him as one of our biggest mentors on campus.”

Hawkins said debate teaches his students confidence, oral advocacy, synthesis and research skills, how to cross examine an argument, and the ability to think on their feet—all skills that his students take beyond the classroom.

After the debates ended, the team toured Tokyo and the surrounding area, namely visiting Mount Fuji, Harajuku, Shibuya, the Imperial Palace, and the Sky Tower.

“My personal favorite was the fish market … I was having wagyu blocks on sticks for $5, oysters the size of my hand, grilled eel, skewered octopus, just the craziest stuff,” Blumenthal said. 

Fowle noted cultural differences in particular.

“Nowhere in the United States would you find a clean subway bathroom,” he said. “Everything was clean, it was great.”  

Blumenthal agreed, noting that tattoo culture was drastically different in Japan than in the U.S.

“I have my legs and my entire stomach tattooed,” he said. “So I had to decide how I would dress for the day knowing that there are certain things I wear in America that may make people uncomfortable in Japan.”

The debate team will be recruiting debaters starting April 23. Any student interested should send an email to [email protected]. They are looking for “any student that enjoys a challenge in advanced critical thinking,” said Hawkins.