A team of dedicated speech and debate enthusiasts are pioneering the relaunch of the formerly defunct UA Speech and Debate team on campus this fall.
Devyn Hinds, a fifth-year student, took the reins along with five other students and faculty advisor Patrick Stewart, a professor of political science, to kickstart the team over the summer.
Speech and debate has a checkered history at the UofA. Beginning in 1896, the university saw several different iterations of a debate team over the course of a century, according to a 2012 master’s thesis by Barry Regan. The popularity of the team waxed and waned before it was finally terminated amid controversy and funding issues in 2009. Students have made multiple unsuccessful attempts to revive it in the years since.
Hinds said university officials shut down the old team over concerns it did not represent the university well. She and her team hope to break the stigma surrounding speech and debate on campus.
“We are very much trying to differentiate ourselves from the old team and become this new team that is completely competitive-minded and not strictly for socialization,” Hinds said.
The speech and debate team is currently a dues-funded independent Registered Student Organization, although the students are working to obtain RSO funding from the Office of Student Activities.
Other universities host the tournaments that the new UA team will compete at, and
Hinds said these events’ judges often dislike fully student-led organizations like the old team. Organizers sometimes think those teams are less serious and goal-oriented, Hinds said.
“A lot of coaches do not really appreciate the wildness of student-led organizations and how they are not really focused on how they are representing themselves,” Hinds said.
Hinds said she thinks the team’s new coaches will help lend credibility to the fledgling organization.
Speech and debate coach Hannah Morris, a UA alumna, has participated in speech and debate since 2014 at both the high school and collegiate level. She has earned four national championships on the International Public Debate Association circuit, she said.
The IPDA was founded in 1997, and former UA debate coach Keith Peterson was among its pioneering members. IPDA-style debate features a smaller set of rules and a less technical approach to rhetoric than more traditional styles of intercollegiate debate, like that of the Cross Examination Debate Association.
“I really wanted to make sure that with the revitalization of the University of Arkansas Speech and Debate society, that we saw back into our family, where we came from, and where the foundation of the IPDA came from,” Morris said.
The new team comprises sub-teams in 15 different speech and debate event categories, including IPDA debate.
Faith Carter, a junior, is on the IPDA team, the poetry team and the prose team. She said there are spots available for every type of event a student might be interested in, ranging from comedic interpretation to dramatic storytelling.
“Our goal is to set this up to be a long-term organization at the university and for this to be a successful organization,” Carter said.
Competitive speech and debate is not as popular among the Southeastern Conference schools as it is in other regions of the country, Morris said. The team members hope to prove they can be successful in order to gain a competitive edge and RSO funding.
The UA Speech and Debate team competes for the first time Sept. 25-26 at the University of Mississippi Hub City Swing. The team will also have a free showcase at the UofA on Sept. 26 to give interested students insight into their program.
“Whether you are in the political science field, nursing field, or music field, at some point in your life you are gonna have to know how to deliver a speech,” Morris said. “The earlier you learn to do that in a professional manner, the better off you are going to be.”