Debate Union Places in 5th at National Championship

Allison Westfahl ’07 and debate partner Kari Wohlschlegel (POM ’08) placed fifth among 234 competing teams at the 2007 national debate championships at Colorado Collegethe largest intercollegiate debate event in the United States this past year. The March 22-26 tournament was sponsored by the nation’s largest college debate organization, the National Parliamentary Debate Association.

Debate topics ran the gamut from reassessment of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia and school district requirements for HPV vaccinations, to proposals for restrictions on free speech and the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Westfahl and Wohlschlegel had 25 minutes to prepare for each of their 13, 90-minute rounds, without prior knowledge of the topic or the side of the topic they were required to argue.

The national competition in Colorado was Westfahl’s last tournament, ending a decorated, four-year run on the Debate Union. The McKenna scholar and double major in mathematics and government, was also selected by a national panel as one of three American students to debate the Irish national debate champions in a recent public event to open this year’s national championship tournament.

“Knowing the nationals in Colorado would be my last event, I’m thrilled that it turned out so well,” she said.

This is the 15th consecutive year that members of the Debate Union have placed among the nation’s top 10, including top-five finishes for the past six years. Debate Union director John Meany says the 2007 competition proved an extraordinary opportunity for students to test their persuasive speaking and critical thinking skills in competition with outstanding intercollegiate debaters from many top universities.

“This year’s competition was particularly challenging,” he said. “Unlike many of their opponents, Allison and Kari began serious competitive debating in college. The majority of successful contestants have additional years of national tournament travel from high school. Despite that, they had a magnificent tournament, placing ahead of rivals from Carleton, Grinnell, Notre Dame, Rice, and Berkeley.”

Westfahl received a standing ovation at the concluding awards ceremony, from more than 1,200 people gathered for the event. Meany says the national tournament director singled her out as “the model for successful intercollegiate debating: brilliant, assertive, and engaging.”

Acknowledged by peers and judges as one of the country’s finest debaters for the past several years, Westfahl is one of the few students to have won team awards at four consecutive national championships. Meany said. She won additional honors at international competitions featuring graduate student contestants, including first place at the 2004 Northeast Asian Debate Championship in Seoul.

Westfahl says she owes a great deal of her success to coaches John Meany and Kate Shuster, director of debate outreach. “They are brilliant, hardworking, and supportive,” Westfahl says, “and I will really miss them.”

“I have participated in this activity for four years and this was my very last tournament so I’m thrilled that it turned out so well.”