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Last year, Ethos brought on Jadon Buzzard as a coach and sourcebook writer. From the beginning, Jadon showed a real knack for grasping Ethos’ core mission and teaching it to his students. Today – we sit down with Jadon and talk about his debate career, and specifically, what college debate is like!

There are a lot of different styles and leagues in the college debate circuit. Jadon mainly competes in policy and parli. If your interested in what kinds of the debate leagues are available in college, and how they all work – we will be publishing a piece on that later so stay tuned! Remember that there are a LOT of varieties out there, so don’t ever think that all college debate is the same. Without further ado, here is our talk with Jadon:

Ethos: So, Jadon, tell us a bit about yourself and your debate history.


I’m a junior here at Hillsdale College studying both Economics and Philosophy. I operate as the team manager of our debate team here, competing in both LD-Policy debate and Parliamentary at the national collegiate level. I’m also Vice-President of our debate honorary Phi Kappa Delta. When I joined the team, I fell in love with the fast, complex argumentation employed in college policy debate. I felt at home. But debate used to be much different for me.

During high school, I debated in Stoa for three years—sophomore through senior—for Chicago CHARGE, the only main Stoa debate club in Illinois. Two of those years I operated as co-captain of our club, checking evidence, giving lectures, and helping my fellow students.

I like to say that my story is like a feel-good Disney movie when it comes to debate. Even though I spent 2+ hours on debate every day in high school, I only qualified for NITOC one time. Even then, my partner and I went 3-3. I did well at non-national tournaments, and I was captain of a large debate team, but my success during high school was pretty limited. I often wondered why.

Fast-forward to college. My freshman year I placed in the top sixteen nationally at the national collegiate tournament for our league. I won the largest parliamentary tournament in our region two years in a row with my partner, broke in both policy and parli debate at almost every single tournament I competed in, and I was recently promoted to manager position for the team. The difference, I think, is in the environments, and that’s what I want to talk about.

Ethos: So what would you highlight as the “differences” or things to look for in college debate?


As an overview, most people look at collegiate debate as more of a game than a presidential-type debate. The arguments are highly technical, the pace is quick, and there’s a lot of lingo you can use to sound cool (like condo, shell, disad, K, perm, spread, frontline, etc). It’s all about impact calculus and collapsing to the best position, showing how your impacts outweigh or come before your opponent’s.

The first difference is speed. Collegiate policy debate tends to be very, very fast. Top-tier debaters speak at around 400 words per minute, sometimes faster. For context, the average person speaks around 160 wpm at the faster end of the average range. The reason? Speaking faster allows for more arguments, evidence, and analysis to be brought into the round. The practice is known as spreading. Policy debaters will train their ears to be able to process information very quickly and respond to it in a like manner. Collegiate debate is a different game from the slow, homeschool debate style. It is meant to be weight training for your mind, not a rhetoric exercise. As such, it is mostly judged by experienced members of the community who can keep up with the fast pace. Most policy debaters will also participate in parliamentary debate in order to supplement this side of persuasion. While debaters can be fast, they must also be clear. One of the more interesting sides of policy is that if a debater becomes mush-mouthed (i.e. they start slurring words because they go so fast) one can yell “Speed!” or “Clear!” and reasonably expect them to slow down. This practice is also used to shield novices from getting demolished by fast debaters at tournaments. Speed is often the thing most worrying to those looking into policy in college. My advice? Don’t worry about it. Most judges look down on using speed as a club to whack people who aren’t as fast. As such, most debaters are nice and slow it down for you if you’re just starting out (and if they abuse you with speed, you can run a Speed Kritik on ‘em). Once you get into it, you’ll realize that you have a weird super-human ability to understand and speak incredibly quickly if you practice. And at that point, especially if you have an analytic mind like me, debate becomes very, very fun.

Next, policy is highly technical and theoretical. You’ll almost always structure cases in a comp-ad way (aka, Inherency, Plan, Advantages), and everything will be highly outlined. Also, throw out those rhetorical flourishes you had from high school (such as reading an Abe Lincoln quote before every speech). In this game, all that matters is what your evidence says and how you can use it. Theory positions are big. Neg almost always runs some kind of procedural argument (an argument about the rules, usually impacting out to education and fairness). Usually at least one Topicality shell is read, that way if all else goes wrong you can collapse to the theory shell and win the round. Judges will usually go by the flow, so if you can win a theory shell technically, you’ll usually end up winning. Disadvantages are ALWAYS run, and they are structured—AKA, if you don’t have Uniqueness to your disad, you ain’t winning. Most judges look at the debate round in terms of net benefits, not the stock issues. This means that while the aff still has to prove solvency and inherency and the like, if the Neg runs no offense (i.e. Disads, Kritiks, CPs etc), then most judges will vote Aff no matter what other arguments Neg runs. If there’s no bad thing the Aff causes, then we should try to do it even if it is unlikely to work. The round is evaluated on cost-benefit, so Neg needs to pair defensive arguments (such as no solvency and significance) with their DA’s. Also, counterplans and Kritiks are way more commonplace in the collegiate circuit. You’ll learn a lot about these theoretical positions as you debate, and I must say, they are very interesting. As I said with the speed, don’t let this intimidate you. It looks scary from the outside, especially coming over from a slow, rhetorical homeschool league. I was intimidated too, but once you jump in, I think you’ll find the critical thinking skills you’ll garner highly rewarding.

Ethos: What other things would you say to high school debaters who want to debate in college?


There were many other surprises for me coming over from Stoa. First, policy in college is a lot less formal. You probably should dress up, but you can wear more comfortable clothes. It usually depends on where you are and what tournament you’re attending. Generally, judges are more interested in how you argue than what clothes you are wearing. Also, say goodbye to paper. Most college debates are completely electronic. That means you store all of your evidence on a computer file system (usually shared by your teammates), and you’ll read off of a computer screen. You’ll either flash over your documents to your opponents, or you can use an interesting website called Speech Drop. In college, there’s so much evidence that the general practice is that you give your opponent the speech before the speech actually starts. That way they can follow you if need-be. Also, there’s no designated place for Aff and Neg to sit. You just go into the room and plop down. Pretty crazy.

The biggest surprise about college debate was probably the far-left-leaning biases. Debating in Stoa I had learned to just trust my judges’ preconceived values in my argumentation. Freedom was good, after all—we live in America! But the collegiate debate circuit is full of socialist/communist intellectuals. And I don’t mean that disparagingly—these people are very, very intelligent. As such, I had to learn to adapt to my argumentation style.

College debate has been an incredible learning experience. I’ve gotten significantly more adept at going line-by-line, impacting my arguments, fleshing out and understanding theoretical positions, and just getting a grasp on where the debate ought to be going (something called round vision). There’s way more to debate than most people learn in high school, and college policy revealed that to me. The skills are applicable to the real world too—I can take notes faster in class, I can defend arguments better, and I can follow links in logic like I’m strollin’ down the straight and narrow. Because there’s a left-leaning bias, I have been able to explore the intellectual arguments for the other side of the aisle and solidify my own beliefs. In order to defend your values, you need to have a good grasp on the best that the left has to offer—you can get that in college.

Ethos: Jadon – thanks for sharing your thoughts!

And there you have it! Like we said earlier – stay tuned to see our post on various forms of college debate, and what they all look like. At Ethos we have coaches who have done EVERY form of collegiate debate, so we are always free to answer questions. Shoot us an email or comment on our social media!

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