Southwestern College Policy Debate Team: Just Call Them Champions

CHULA VISTA, CA – Southwestern College student Priscilla Romero was looking for a class to fill a necessary General Education requirement when she enrolled in a communications course this fall. Weeks later, her professor, Jordan Mills, suggested that Romero join the Southwestern College debate team.

Now she is part of a juggernaut, a debate team powerhouse, that had two squads capturing top honors at the recent Robert Barbera Invitational Speech and Debate Tournament at California State University, Northridge, for the third time in five years. Not only did they win the competition, the two squads advanced to the final round—shutting out the competition and making a final round unnecessary. What’s more, Southwestern had the only community college debate teams in a field dominated by universities across the Western United States.

“It feels awesome,” Romero said. “We’re having fun, we’re learning a lot, and we’re doing pretty well, too.”

In fact, Southwestern College is consistently ranked among the top community college, NDT-CEDA Policy Debate teams in California.

CEDA, an acronym for the Cross Examination Debate Association, sanctions more than 60 tournaments throughout the nation, including an annual National Championship Tournament that brings together more than 175 individual debate teams from across the nation to compete on the basis of research, persuasive speaking, argumentation, and philosophy. The NDT, an acronym for the National Debate Tournament, began in 1947 at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the country take part in competitions, including Harvard, Michigan, and Northwestern universities. Competing against Southwestern College at the Cal State Northridge competition were some of the larger public universities in California and Nevada.

“We’re just a tiny, little community college that’s doing pretty well against all these big universities,” said Southwestern College debate team champion Jorge del Castillo. “That’s pretty cool.”

For del Castillo, the Robert Barbera Invitational Speech and Debate Tournament at Cal State Northridge marked the third straight competition in which he captured an individual speaker award. 

Policy Debate is the most challenging form of debate on the speech and debate team circuit, and teams must be quick on their feet in debating a given argument. This year’s theme: “The United States should significantly reduce its military presence in one or more of the following: The Arab states of the Persian Gulf, the Greater Horn of Africa, Northeast Asia.” Each college has two, two-person teams, and each team member must advocate both for and against the proposition.

“We have students on the Policy Debate team who really had never debated before this semester,” said Professor Mills. “For them to win a tournament like Cal State Northridge is pretty remarkable.”

Del Castillo said the skills he’s learning on the Debate Team benefit him in other areas.

“It helps me organize my thoughts and think things through when getting into a discussion or a disagreement with someone,” he said. “And it’s helped me with my research skills, too.”

Mills said he looks for a lot of characteristics when recruiting for the Debate Team. A couple, however, stands out. “You want someone who is open minded and can argue both sides of the issue. And you want someone who is not afraid to do a lot of research.”

The debates themselves, however, can get pretty intense. “There will be times when it gets extremely heated going back and forth,” said Debate Team member Francesca Beaird. “But when the competition is over, everybody is on good terms. It’s a very collegial setting.”

The intensity isn’t about to let up. Next up: tournaments at UC Berkeley in January, followed by USC in March. The competition figures to get tougher, but the Southwestern College squad is hardly intimidated.

Southwestern College debaters are the best in the state. Pictured L-R: Daniel Smiley, Francesca Beaird, Priscilla Romero and Jorge del Castillo.
Southwestern College debaters are the best in the state. Pictured L-R: Daniel Smiley, Francesca Beaird, Priscilla Romero and Jorge del Castillo.