University of Austin judges high school debate league national championship
debates
Admissions
Apr 14, 2024

University of Austin judges high school debate league national championship

‘It was inspiring to watch these young people model healthy public discourse,’ UATX Director of Admissions and debate judge Stephen Asoli said

Maggie Kelly
Maggie Kelly
University of Austin

The University of Austin sponsored the 2023-2024 tournament series for Incubate Debate, America’s fastest-growing high school debate league. On April 6-7, UATX Director of Admissions Stephen Asoli judged Incubate Debate's National Championship in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I was impressed by the quality of the debates, the strength of students' arguments, the extensive research and clear command of the subject matter, and the compelling delivery,” Asoli said.

“These students had to confront those whose views regarding important policy matters differed from their own,” he continued. “It was inspiring to watch these young people model healthy public discourse and demonstrate how debate can serve us well in the fearless pursuit of truth.” 

“More than one debater admitted to changing her mind or modifying his position after engaging with others' arguments,” Asoli said. The event “was a joy to be a part of.”

University of Austin Director of Admissions Stephen Asoli judges the Incubate Debate National Championship

Out of hundreds of debaters participating over the past year, less than 2% qualified for the national championship. Eight students progressed to the final round, where they tackled the question, “Should college DEI programs be abolished?” 

Incubate Debate National Championship finalists prepare to debate the question: 'Should college DEI programs be abolished?'

Debater Briana Whatley claimed first place and a $10,000 prize provided by Incubate partner Open to Debate, the nation’s only nonpartisan, debate-driven media organization dedicated to bringing multiple viewpoints together for a respectful exchange of ideas.

Open to Debate will broadcast the entire final round of the championship on its podcast next month. 

University of Austin Founding Faculty Fellow Peter Boghossian, a philosopher and co-author, with James Lindsay, of “How to Have Impossible Conversations," led a session of his distinctive “Spectrum Street Epistemology” program during the event.

Using the Socratic method, Spectrum Street Epistemology engages participants in real-time exercises to examine their beliefs on controversial issues through reason and evidence. During the Incubate Debate Championship SSE exercise, participants physically indicated the strength of their beliefs by standing on set positions and moving from one to another as their viewpoints shifted. 

Philosopher Peter Boghossian (second from left) leads a session of Spectrum Street Epistemology

Boghossian and his team have led tens of thousands of people worldwide in SSE, inviting them to participate in conversations across divides. 

Says Boghossian: “For those who have been down about the current state of affairs in the United States, Incubate Debate is the tonic you never knew you needed.”

“Smart, sincere, thoughtful students are being trained to be informed educated citizens capable of getting beyond ideology and articulating well thought out positions across divides,” he said. “Incubate Debate is educating the future leaders of our country and that should fill you with tremendous optimism."

Incubate Debate President and Founder James Fishback: Incubate ‘is honored to partner with the University of Austin’

James Fishback, a former national high school debate champion and volunteer debate coach, founded Incubate Debate in 2019 as an alternative to the “ideological echo chamber” he thought traditional debate had become, as he described in a May 2023 essay in The Free Press.

Fishback said Incubate is “honored to partner with the University of Austin.”

“UATX believes, like we do, that education is first and foremost about truth-seeking, and that in order to seek truth, students must engage in open debate,” he continued. 

“Our finalists succeeded because they advanced excellent arguments and did so with respect, humility, and civility,” Fishback said. 

“This year’s final round serves as a blueprint for what open, honest, and truth-seeking debate looks like."

The University of Austin has a rolling admissions process, and applications are open. If you know an exceptional high school senior who has what it takes to join the University of Austin’s intrepid founding class, encourage them to apply.

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