Northwestern debate wins 15th national championship


Source: Northwestern Debate

Arjun Vellayappan speaks during this year’s National Debate Tournament. Vellayappan and his debate partner Alex Miles won this year’s national tournament, the 15th victory at that tournament in Northwestern’s history.

Tyler Pager, Campus Editor

After winning almost all of their debates in the fall, Northwestern students Alex Miles and Arjun Vellayappan hit a rough patch at the start of Winter Quarter.

The pair had lost only three debates before dropping four matches at a round robin tournament at Dartmouth College in January and then lost in the Sweet 16 round at the University of Texas at Austin in February.

Last week, however, they capped off their record-breaking college debate careers by winning the 2015 National Debate Tournament. Miles and Vellayappan defeated a team from the University of Michigan in a 3-2 decision.

“It was unbelievable and also a little bit of a relief because we had been working so hard for almost eight years,” said Vellayappan, a Weinberg senior. “It’s still sinking in. It was awe-inspiring.”

Miles and Vellayappan also won the Rex Copeland Award, which recognizes the team with the best record entering the national tournament. The pair also won the award last year, making them the first pair to win the Copeland Award twice and the national championship, said Communication Prof. Dan Fitzmier, the director of the NU debate program.

The duo said the final debate, which concerned legalizing prostitution, lasted about two-and-a-half hours. The NU team was assigned to argue for legalization, and they framed their proposal around human rights. They argued prostitutes should be treated as any other worker and receive similar benefits, which they said would help protect sexual violence and abuse.

Both Miles and Vellayappan said a big part of the their success was the support they received from their teammates and debate alumni who traveled to the national tournament.

“Especially in the run-up to the (national tournament), everybody realizes that even if they are not debating that their role in the run-up … they are a critical piece of the machine,” said Miles, a Weinberg senior. “Everybody really buys into that team philosophy.”

Fitzmier, the debate director, said the historic win was made possible by all the work they have put in throughout their years in debate, both in high school and in college.

“They put their time in to support their teammates in a way that kept them engaged. That’s really, at the end of the day, a tribute to the Northwestern debate tradition,” he said. “They really put our values into practice. I’ll always be quite proud of them for the way that they did that.”

Their victory marks the 15th time NU has won the national tournament, extending its record for the most national tournament wins. Harvard University and Dartmouth trail NU with six wins each.

Fitzmier said he still has a hard time believing the numbers.

“It’s the tradition, it’s the people and their history together that really makes this program special and that kind of gives life to the numbers,” he said. “(It) helps make some sense of how one institution can have such an impact on a competitive activity like this.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @tylerpager