QM Society Review #1: The Debate Society; ‘Rating the Debating’

 


The Society Review Column: 

Not sure what societies to join? Afraid you’ll waste your money on a membership you won’t enjoy? Feel like Freshers’ fair does not give you enough information? Don’t want to turn up to a society trial day, and then never come back? Here, at CUB Magazine, we intend to alleviate your fears. Accompany me, Joshua Fraser, on extensive reviews of Queen Mary’s societies, showing you what you’re signing up for and what you get for your money.


 

What is the Debate Society about?

Queen Mary’s Debate Society is like a sports club. But, instead of working their biceps and triceps, the members of the Debate Society exercise their brains. The Society aspires to help their members develop their debating skills, critical thinking and public speaking. A membership to this Society will increase your ability to absorb information and quickly develop thoughts. However, the Debate Society also aims to promote enjoyment in debating. In this vein, the Society regularly takes trips into, and outside of, London, debating and making friendly connections at other universities. The Debating Society also encourages social meet-ups independently of, or directly after, their debating sessions. They are one of the more socially active societies on campus.

 

What’s a Debate Society event like?

At 18:30 pm, Monday the 9th of December, I push open the doors to Bancroft 1.15. A fierce discussion on the reasons why Cornish pasties have a crust is already in full swing. It is clear that the members of the Debate Society are hungry. I quietly take a seat, in a surprisingly comfortable office chair, and within moments the Debate Society’s co-president Hugo introduces himself to me. After a brief chat, I turn my attention back to the mood of the room. A plethora of snacks has been produced, upon which many of the students are munching. Hunger satisfied, the discussion turns to the concerningly untruthful state of modern politics. While there are more dominant speakers amongst the ten members, a quiet night for the Debate Society I am informed, everyone gets a chance to speak, at regular intervals.    

Reflecting Queen Mary’s international community, I notice some of the individuals engaging in the talk about Jo Swinson’s ‘robotic’ personality and campaign, have distinctly non-British accents. I approach an American Film student, Ryan, to ask him about his experience as an International student in Queen Mary’s Debate Society. 

“Debate Society is highly inclusive and very friendly. There are plenty of people from different backgrounds, like myself.” – Ryan.

The Debate Society, I learn, has an ‘equity officer’, who is also an American international student, studying History at Queen Mary. 

“We try to ensure that we are very receptive to people from different countries, the atmosphere is very chill. We are not cliquey at all.” – Izzy, Debate Society equality officer.

I am informed, by Izzy, that the Debate Society employs ‘Trigger Warnings’ before their sessions to make sure that all members know the topic of debates beforehand, so they can avoid potentially stressful situations. 

“What is the most heated debate you guys have had?” I ask. 

After some thought, Izzy replies “Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie” at my surprised look, “Yep, that one got spicy.”

Izzy also tells me that the debate society operates a pronoun disclosure policy. Before each debate, the participants announce their preferred pronouns, to ensure that nobody is misgendered in the intense back and forth. 

I am introduced to Gemma, the president of the Debate Society. I notice, out of the corner of my eye, that Izzy is brought to the side by a mischievous looking student, who tells her something that makes her grin. Thinking nothing of it, I focus on talking to Gemma.

“As a BAME woman, what is your experience of the debate society, do you feel as if you fit in?”

“Yes absolutely, I feel very comfortable here. We have plenty of BAME people, and there is no sense of a divide between backgrounds.” – Gemma, Debate Society president.

Suddenly, our conversation is interrupted by a slam on the table. It is the same student who brought Izzy to the side before, William, the Society’s social secretary whose turn it was to run the debate that night.

“Shall we get started then?” he says. 

Instantaneously, the, otherwise relaxed, room becomes a hive of activity. The table is pushed apart, people declare their intent to debate or judge, a list of possible topics is presented, dispelling the concern that the debating topics (known as motions) may be boring (see below).(THB: This House Believes’, THS: ‘This House Supports’, TH: ‘This House’.)  

After a vote, ‘The House’ chooses the motion: ‘This House Believes the Joker is the victim’; the debate is in session. At this point, I find out what it was William told Izzy, earlier. 

Turning to me he says, with a mischievous smile, “You’ll like this. Our back up option (for an indecisive vote) was ‘This House Regrets Student Journalism’”. 

A tidal wave of laughter follows. I reply, a smile on my own face “Shame, that would have been a great debate to cover.” 

Hugo, the co-president of the Debate Society, attempts a re-vote. But, much to Hugo’s disappointment, the house is decided. The society organises four judges and six debaters (split into two teams of three), an arrangement dictated by the number of members present. Both teams leave the room, to formulate their arguments, one tasked with defending the motion that Joker is the victim; the other team is tasked with opposing the motion. Meanwhile, the judges enjoy the brief respite before the commencement of the debate.

In this time, I chat with one of the judges, Sathyam, a new Debate Society member and Dentistry student. 

So, as a new member, how are you finding the Debate Society?

“It’s my first time here; honestly, I thought it would be scary. But, I’m really enjoying trying to think differently. The timings are also really helpful for me as a STEM student, [since] they are after my clinics. The group are very supportive and are really helping me fit it, really well.” – Sathyam. 

I also talk to William, the Society’s social secretary, about his role.

“So how difficult is it to chair, judge and referee a debate? I imagine it’s quite difficult.”

“In the beginning, yes. Leading gets easier with practice, it requires a lot of verbal power, but everyone is respectful, and it gets easier the more you do it.” – William, Debate Society social secretary.

I slip out, to see how the teams are doing. Both groups are in different neighbouring rooms, in Bancroft. They are too engrossed to ask any questions; but, one gets the sense of being among boxers or chess masters, preparing their arguments and trying to guess their opponents counter-arguments, so that they might eviscerate them. When both teams re-enter the debating room, they are greeted with an exhilarating drum roll, from the judges. They take their places facing the judges.

Both teams get 15 minutes to make their initial speeches (5 minutes per member of the team). At any point, the opposition team members can stand and say ‘Point of information’. At which point, the current speaker can say ‘yes’ or ‘no thank you’, thus indicating if the opposition may interject a counterpoint which they can address. The most amusing two instances of this where when an opposition member interjected that, while the Joker was beaten in an alley, “the same thing happened to Spiderman”. (It was funnier in person) and the refusal of one opposition member with: “no thank you, I’ll take you in thirty seconds”. Of course, this elicited many laughs. After the teams finish their initial speeches, they are given a limited amount of time to address the other teams arguments. They both then leave the room, while the Judges decide the winner. 

Ultimately, the debate was settled, in favour of the motion, on a semantic difference between the use of the and a, when discussing the Joker as a victim. I was then persuaded to head to the Half Moon Spoons Pub, a favourite joint of both Queen Mary students as a whole, and the Debate Society. While some members relished the idea of a post-debate pint, others opted for Coca-cola. So, if alcohol is not your thing, the after debate hang-outs are not for drinkers only.

On the way to the Half Moon, I spoke to David, a German literature student, and Emmanuelle, a French law student. 

“So you guys both speak English as a second language and took part in the debate. How is it competing against native English speakers?”. 

“Sometimes I will slip up [and revert] back to French. But, everyone is very accommodating. I already spoke English quite well, but Debate Society really helped me speak it even better.” – Emmanuelle.

“Yes, it can be difficult at first. People account for your difficulties and really, I don’t feel disadvantaged.” – David. 

 

Fees, Locations & Meet up times:

Fees: Queen Mary’s Debate Society costs £5 to join.

Locations & Meet up times: Monday 18:30-21:30 in Bancroft 1.15; Wednesday (Debate Training involves a licensed debate trainer coming in, to increase your debating skill) 18:30-21:30 in Bancroft 2.40.   

For any further queries: the Societies email is debatesociety@qmsu.org 

https://www.qmsu.org/groups/qmdebating/

 

Editor’s thoughts:

Queen Mary Debate society, is part of a rich tradition of debating. After ancient Greece, London, beginning in the 18th century, is the next historical hotspot for debating. My evening spent with the Debate Society evoked a sense of being amongst great debaters, such as the likes of Gore Vidal and Willam F. Buckley Jr., minus the venom those great debaters had for one another. The Debate Society is a family, albeit a very argumentative one. 

No doubt, they’ll be debating this article, upon its publishing. 

‘This House Regrets allowing CUB Magazine to review it’.

(A debate — I’m one hundred percent sure — the opposition would win)  

 


I am CUB Magazine’s Columns editor. I spent my first year procrastinating about what societies to join. While Freshers’ fair was a great place to browse societies and get free sweets, I wanted a more in-depth look into what I was committing to. At CUB Magazine, we aim to enrich your student experience as much as we can. In writing this column, I intend to collect all the information I wish I’d had in my first year, so you don’t face the problems I did. And, I hope, this column provides all the answers to your society-related questions. 

Best, 

Joshua Fraser. 

 


 

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