URI debate team talks their way into the
KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 17, 2000 -- For the majority of Americans, public
speaking is their number one fear. For members of the University of Rhode
Island's debate team, public speaking is what they do for fun. The debaters
are quite good at it, too. The team recently completed one of their most
successful seasons ever.
For the first time, URI advanced to the National Tournament, thanks to
the cumulative achievements of three members of the URI team: Neil Alpert,
a communications major from Port Washington, N.Y.; Jaime Bourassa,
a management major from Sterling, Mass.; and William Massey III,
a communications major from Rumford, R.I. Each placed respectably.
"This is very impressive, considering it was everyone's first time.
There were 88 schools at the tournament and most of the competitors who
participate in the tournament have three to four years of experience,"
said John Devine, director of the Debate Team.
Alpert, who is ranked the number one college orator in the state, also
earned a spot in the elite 127th Interstate Oratory Competition. The competition
is the oldest collegiate competition in America and only invites the top
two oratory speakers in each state. Alpert participated in the persuasive
speaking section of the competition, presenting a speech on the World Trade
Organization and why it is problematic for the world.
The debate team is part of a long tradition at URI that dates back to
1903 when URI hosted debates on the quadrangle with other local colleges.
Since then, the format in which the team competes has become much more
structured, but the same spirit of simply proving your point continues.
Today, the team is part of the National Forensics League, a league which
includes such competitors as Boston University, Cornell, Northeastern, and
Harvard, among others. The URI team hosts a tournament in the fall and travels
across the country to compete in tournaments hosted by league schools.
One debate takes months of preparation and research. This year's topic,
"The federal government should significantly increase restrictions
on the use, sale, and development of genetically modified organisms,"
allowed for debates on a variety of subjects including genetically modified
crops, gene therapy processes, oversight regulations, and the spread of
Beyond all the research and preparation, sometimes a debate just comes
down to quick-thinking, according to Alpert.
"Basically it's how fast you can think on your feet and analyze
the opponent's position. The best debaters don't actually even need evidence.
They just need to be able to analyze a position and have a rapid response,"
What the team has taken away from this season goes beyond medals and
accomplishments. Members have forged strong friendships, gained invaluable
communication skills, and enriched their college experience.
"One of the nice things about being on the debate team is that it
encompasses every part of the college experience from English and communication
skills to how to do research to the social aspect," said Alpert.
"We have discovered the very basic formula of success, great teammates
and great leadership. We all worked very well together and just seemed to
gel this year."
For Information: John Devine, 401-874-4739,
Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116,
Jennifer Smith, 401-874-2116