Debate Thrives in Houston: UH Debate Fall 2020 Newsletter

Caption: The squad at the University of Texas tournament, Spring 2020


Dear UH Debate Alumni, Supporters, Coaches, and Students:

Welcome to our new UH Debate newsletter. As we gear up for a new year of debate, we wanted to update you on what happened last year. We were hoping to be able to invite all of you, alumni and debaters alike, to an end of year celebration of the University of Houston’s Speech & Debate Program last spring. Unfortunately, circumstances dictated otherwise. Nevertheless, we hope that this newsletter, which we plan on sending out three times a year, can serve in some small fashion to connect you the debate community that has brought us all together, whether in the past or in the present, so that we can build a future for debate here in Houston.


The UH Debate Team


UH Fields Largest Policy Debate Team in Texas

No college in Texas fielded more debaters than the University of Houston during the 2019-2020 debate season. Since the 2019-2020 topic was on international space cooperation, perhaps it’s no surprise that Space City came out in force to debate whether working with Russia and China was a productive way to solve problems on earth, and beyond. Over the course of the season, UH put more than two dozen new and experienced students into policy debate competitions across the country, from Harvard to Wake Forest to right here in Houston. This was more than any other college in Texas, and forty percent more than the next largest team (UT-Austin).

The Cougars took home four first-place finishes overall, three second-place finishes, and won over twenty-five top-ten awards. Although the season was cut short by the coronavirus, the team still managed to make it to two capstone national tournaments, the National Junior Division Debate Tournament and American Debate Association Nationals (both the NDT and CEDA Nationals were cancelled). The team of Patrick Fox & Austin Koort took home third place at the NJDDT and Jake Huling & Sai Gudapati took home second in the novice division, and the team took home three top-ten speaker awards as well. At ADA Nationals, Austin Koort & Neville Tom placed in the top five, making an Elite Eight appearance and both winning top-fifteen speaker awards.


The UH Speech & Debate program is pleased to announce the inauguration of the Honors Hibbler Debate Scholarship. It will be a four-year scholarship that awards $1000 annually. The recipient will represent the University of Houston in intercollegiate debate competitions across the country as an active member of the UH Policy Debate Team. This scholarship will give the team the ability to attract new students and showcase all that the university and the Honors College has to offer in terms of intellectual growth, community, and excellence to the national debate community. Be sure and read our next newsletter for a spotlight on the Class of 2024 recipient.


Our idea for this “From the Coaches” section was it would be an end-of-year reflection on the importance of debate not as a competitive activity, but as a cornerstone of American democracy and global culture. Perhaps that has never been so important as today. In a recent blog post, Coach Garner, has written about some troubling trends in democratic openness and accountability that we have seen cropping up in this time of lockdowns and social distancing. How can debate as we know it not only survive, but thrive in a time of social distancing? The answer is first and foremost that we must emphasize that debate in a democracy is not a luxury, but a necessity. After defending debate from first principles, we must then begin to build creative solutions that balance the necessities of this pandemic with the fact that, in the end, there is no substitute for a culture of face-to-face deliberation that brings diverse Americans from across the country to the same place, at the same time, to renew our commitment to the project of democracy. You can read Professor Garner’s full post here: “In a Pandemic, We Need Democratic Deliberation More Than Ever”.

Senior Spotlight

UH Debate Class of 2020: Jess Spiehler, Eduardo Rosales, Andrew Trinh

Jess Spiehler (Honors ‘20) is a past president of Pi Kappa Delta, the debate honor society, having also served as Vice President and Treasurer. A double major in philosophy and political science, Jess came to UH from Lafayette High School in Lafayette, Louisiana. Amidst all the COVID chaos, she has no idea what she is going to do this summer, except for hopefully some extreme social distancing: traveling to national parks like Big Bend, Pinnacles, and Death Valley. One of Jess’s favorite arguments from debate was biopolitics, something which has had a sustained impact on her future plans. “Aside from all the ways debating helped me grow as a person, I would say debate taught me that as long as I can persevere I will always be able to pursue the changes I want to see in the world.” In the near term, she is planning to look for a job in public health before returning to school to do graduate studies to pursue a dual-degree program with a J.D. and Masters in Public Health.

Eduardo Rosales (Bauer ’20) and Andrew Trinh (CLASS ’20) round out our spotlight. Both joined UH debate as seniors and both embody the teams commitment to bring debate to as wide a variety of students as possible. Eduardo, a finance major who came to UH from Pasadena High School, joined the team as a brand new novice and while he had to learn a vast array of arguments quickly, he says that the aliens debates on this year’s topic “really rattled the arena.” He’s spending his summer preparing to take the CFP Exam on his way to becoming a financial planner. “I was nowhere near the best debater on the team but man did I have fun! Debate made me more durable and helped me open my eyes to ideas I’d never even thought about.”

Andrew is a philosophy major who came to UH with debate experience from Klein and Dulles High Schools, but took a break when he wasn’t sure if college debate was right for him. He was glad that he finally gave it a shot before he graduated. “Debate has shaped the way that I viewed the world. It was one of the main contributors to why I majored in philosophy in college. It taught me to be open minded and to listen to others that were different from me.” Andrew is spending the summer studying for the LSAT as he prepares to apply to law school next year.

2020-2021 Resolution: Alliances

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should reduce its alliance commitments with Japan, the Republic of Korea, North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states, and/or the Republic of the Philippines, by at least substantially limiting the conditions under which its defense pact can be activated.

Follow Us