Small but mighty: A look into Northwestern’s Debate Society


Daily file photo by Joanne Haner

The Hardy House, which houses the Debate Society. Members often meet here to run practice drills and research together.

Anita Li, Reporter

As a 15-time winner of the National Debate Tournament, the Northwestern Debate Society is one of the most successful debate teams in the country. The 10 students on the team spend months researching and preparing for national competitions throughout the school year.

Although the team is open to all students, members said they had difficulty figuring out how to join. The program, which is part of the School of Communication, doesn’t have a Wildcat Connection page or social media. However, after becoming members, students said they enjoyed finding community and learning from experienced coaches.

“We do want to foster an educational, fun experience for everyone regardless of experience level,” Debate Coach Jeff Buntin said. “We try to take every student and meet them where they are in terms of their experience level (and) in terms of what they’re interested in.”

The coaches’ efforts and the students’ extensive research have led to great results this season, Weinberg freshman and team member Amy Liao said. Last weekend, two Wildcat teams debated antitrust law at the National Debate Tournament, an invite-only competition for the top-ranked collegiate teams. 

Weinberg freshman Akash Deo and Weinberg senior Nina Fridman finished in the top eight. The pair have championed four major debate tournaments this year.

Buntin said coaches usually find new members through high school debate tournaments or when interested high school students email them.

However, Liao said the team’s recruitment process felt confusing to her.

While debating in high school, she received Northwestern Debate Society Director Daniel Fitzmier’s email from a friend who was “much more connected to the whole debate community.”

“When I got here, I found so many other people who wanted to join the team but didn’t know how, so I gave them their contact info,” Liao said.

Weinberg freshman Kevin Kim, Liao’s debate partner, said he was accepted onto the team after he emailed in August. However, he didn’t receive more information about how to join until four months later, so he and Liao joined during Winter Quarter.

Once Liao joined the team, she said the environment felt welcoming.

“They’re super nice, they love to have new people join,” Liao said. “Everyone on the team seems to be very friendly, very open … and down to talk.”

The team has its own building on campus, the Hardy House. It also pays for all its tournament fees and expenses.

Kim said he felt very supported by the team.

“In high school, no one made your own evidence for you, you had to do that yourself,” Kim said. “The coach to student ratio is really low (here), so we get a lot of support before rounds and after rounds. I think that’s one of the best parts about Northwestern Debate.”

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