March 29 2011
Isaac Todd, BSILR '11, Judges the World Universities Debating Championship in Botswana
Over winter break, I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to Southern Africa to judge the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) on behalf of the Cornell Forensics Society. WUDC is the largest debate tournament in the world and teams from universities across six continents traveled to Gaberone, Botswana for this year’s event. This was the first year that the tournament has been held in Africa and it is the largest international event that Botswana has hosted. Not surprisingly, WUDC was a very exciting event to be part of and a very rewarding experience.
One great aspect of this tournament is that it brings together a hugely diverse array of perspectives on various social, political, economic, and moral issues. A debater from New Zealand will have a different point of view than one from Qatar. To be a fair judge, it was necessary for me to expand my conception of the norms and values that could reasonably support lines of argumentation. This was challenging but I think it was an important skill to develop. In the future, I may be working with people from around the world. In order to effectively do this, I will have to understand how the unique backgrounds of colleagues and clients lead to different ways of thinking about issues.
A second important skill that my experience at WUDC allowed me to develop is critical thinking. Judging highly competitive debates required me to listen to, understand, and critique complex arguments. To determine a winner, I needed to evaluate the various arguments related to the issue at hand and also evaluate the way each argument responded to and interacted with the others. Similar critical analysis has been a focus of my ILR education and my involvement in debate has benefited my academics immensely. Both ILR and debate are helping to prepare me for my future legal career.
Another interesting part of my experience was the opportunity to see a developing country as it worked to make strides forward. By hosting WUDC, Botswana affirmed its commitment to allowing freedom of speech, thought, and belief in a part of the world where many governments stifle public and private discourse. I witnessed the largest pizza order in Botswana’s history be botched, learned from, and successfully carried out as administrators learned strategies for managing the logistics of an event of that magnitude. It is amazing how in the U.S., we take for granted such large productions and the know how behind them.
I want to thank the ILR International Experience committee for granting me the resources to make this trip possible. During my month abroad, I developed important skills and had valuable experiences that will aid me throughout my life. I would urge other students to take advantage of opportunities such as this and for the ILR school to continue its focus on producing well rounded graduates with real-world experience, particularly in an international context.