Sunday, November 3, 2013

Debate Night in Rye Brook

Yale, Harvard and Brown debaters squared off again at the Westchester College Debate in Rye Brooke, Nov. 1.  Leah Pierson and Diego Arene-Morley (mid-right) represented the winning team from Brown. Emcee Bill Nightingale '53 and his wife Nancy (above), during intermission (Mattison photos)
All the debaters and almost everybody in the audience grasped the topic and found it relevant. Presenting strong, cogent and winning arguments, pro or con, wouldn't necessarily be easy for the debate teams from Yale, Harvard and Brown at the annual debate Nov. 1, sponsored in part by the Yale Westchester Alumni Association.

Should schools be permitted to conduct surveillance to monitor the online presence and digital footprint of students?  The team from Harvard presented arguments in favor of surveillance.  Brown opposed surveillance of students' activity in social media (Facebook and Twitter, in particular.) The Yale team straddled the middle, arguing in favor of monitoring only during school hours.

The debate, held at Blind Brook High School in Rye Brook, featured the college teams, six high-school teams from Westchester and an attentive audience of parents, students and alumni of about 100.  The Westchester debate program is in its 16th year.  Bill Nightingale '53, who has been a primary leader, organizer, and coordinator of the program during the 16 years, was once again the evening's emcee.

One by one the college debaters marched to the podium to present their arguments, rebut the views of others, and re-state their positions.  Some spoke swiftly to cram bits of data and squeeze in persuasive points before timekeepers bang a gong to signal time had run out.  Some spoke forcefully to polish their points or strip apart their opponents' statements.

Ann Gaylin, an associate dean from Brown, and Eve Rice '73, YWAA board member and president of the Alumni Council of Yale, did their best to absorb wide-ranging arguments, take notes and be as fair as possible in choosing a final winner.

Judges Eve Rice '73 and Ann Gaylin (top left) chose the winners "in a squeaker." The college debaters on stage after the event (top right). YWAA board members during intermission (mid-left). All the debaters, high school and college, convened on stage at the end. (Mattison photos)
Harvard argued that a district-wide moderator should be responsible for monitoring student Internet activity for evidence of cyber-bullying, mental illness or puzzling behavior. Brown argued that students' rights to privacy should be respected or, if they knew they were watched, they would find other means to express themselves. Yale presented a case that surveillance should be permitted when students are on school grounds.  Brown rebutted that resources to hire professionals to watch students should be deployed elsewhere.

"I've been to a number of debates over the years," Rice told the audience when it was time to announce a team winner, "and this was one of the closest."  The judges decided "in a squeaker" that Brown had triumphed.

High-school teams followed.  Ardsley competed against Blind Brook.  Hackley took on Horace Greeley, and Rye Neck debated Yonkers. The topics were challenging, almost daunting for them, but they eagerly took the podium, some inspired by what they had observed from Harvard, Yale and Brown students.  They had been coached by Yale-Harvard-Brown debaters and were encouraged by parents and classmates in the auditorium:  Should security officials in airports take measures based on ethnicity?  Should convicted whistle-blowers be eligible for pardon?

Shikha Garg '15, a Plano, TX, native, and Aunica Steele '15, from Moline, IL, represented Yale.  Harvard's team included freshman Alauna Sessoms-Hall and sophomore Advik Shreekumar.  The Brown winners were Diego Arene-Morley, a sophomore from Washington, DC, and Leah Pierson, a sophomore also from Washington.

YWAA board members during intermission (top left). The college coaches with high-school debaters (mid-left). The high-school teams gather on stage (bottom left). (Mattison photos)
YWAA debate co-chairs were Susan Kaminsky '86, Scott Sherman '72 and Nightingale, all YWAA board members.  Board members B.K. Munguia '75 and Dana Sands '83 served on the debate committee.

For his years of leading the debate program in Westchester, Nightingale will be honored at a dinner Nov. 8 in West Harrison. YWAA is also launching the Nightingale Debate Fund to help fund the program and make awards to outstanding debaters in the future. (Click DINNER-FUND to purchase dinner tickets and donate to the fund. Click NIGHTINGALE for more background.)

"We knew it was going to be a heated debate," Nightingale, as emcee, said to the audience during an intermission, "which is why they turned off the heat (in what was a chilly, after-school-hours auditorium)."


College debaters from Harvard, Yale and Brown take the podium to present arguments.  Emcee Bill Nightingale '53 (top left) explains the rules and procedures to the audience. (YWAA photo)

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