Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.9

January 29, 2004


Women hone their skills at debating tournament

By Shannon Devine

If 50 female debaters from across North America got together, what would they talk about? Just about anything, said Concordia Debating Society president, Penny Ortega.

During the first-ever North American Women’s Debating Open, hosted by Concordia, Jan. 16 to 18, women deliberated on topics from linking foreign aid to women’s equality to religious paraphernalia in public schools.

The reason for the all-women tournament was twofold. “We see a lot of good women debaters and we really wanted to give them the opportunity to showcase their skills by debating together and to network,” said tournament organizer Michèle Bury, a second-year political science student.

Although there are often many novice female debaters, participation by women tends to dwindle at the higher levels, she added. Both Bury and Ortega believe that upper-year female debaters can provide important encouragement and mentor the younger women.

The tournament attracted clubs from central Canada, Vermont, Maine and California. During the weekend, the women participated in five rounds of debate, two with set topics and the other three with loosely linked resolutions, in which one pair prepared a previously unannounced case and the other pair had to argue against it.

Students also participated in public speaking competitions where topics like Martian invasions and botched elections were thrown their way.

While some may question the need for women-only debates, those who attended felt it was a worthwhile project. “The tournament allowed more women into the break, to get experience and get their voices out there,” said Joanna Nairn, a student from the University of Toronto.

Also included in the weekend was a forum on women in debating, hosted by the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate on Saturday afternoon.

Despite the glowing reviews, the idea for the tournament wasn’t immediately popular. Among CUSID members, there was discussion as to whether or not the tournament would be appropriate in this day and age.

“We decided there was no way to know whether it would be productive or counter-productive until we actually went and did it,” Ortega said. “It was like an experiment, to see if it actually does help retaining female debaters.”

In her spare time Ortega coaches two high school debating teams. She sees a direct link between women developing debating skills and entering politics.

“Women are still grossly underrepresented in politics,” said Ortega, a third-year student in political science. “I think if you do have women involved and they remain involved, you will actually see some results with regards to their running for office and winning because of their public speaking and critical thinking skills.”

The women’s open also caught the attention of local politicians, such as city councillor Dida Berku, who stopped by for the public speaking finals held at City Hall. While the judges deliberated, Berku took the opportunity to address the audience.

She said, “The challenges that face women in politics at a local, provincial or federal level are the same.” She encouraged the women to develop their public speaking skills and take up leadership positions in the community.

The debating society meets every Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm on the 7th floor of the Hall building. For more information, visit: