Last year’s debate team, from left to right: Lakshay Khosla ‘20, Sonali Bhat ‘20, Robert Adler, Chrismal Abraham ‘20, and April Courbe.
The Brooklyn College Speech and Debate Team has been on a roll in recent years and reached new heights this winter, when the team made it to the 2020 World University Debating Championships, in Bangkok—the first time it has qualified for the prestigious competition. The team earned 11 points, a finish that placed it in the middle tier of competitors, besting the final scores of prestigious institutions from around the world, including Cornell University, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the University of Hong Kong.
“It was a great experience and allowed Brooklyn College to be represented for the first time among the great debating institutions in the world,” says Lakshay Khosla, a senior chemistry major who is the team’s president and has been a member for four years.
Along with Khosla, fellow senior Chrismal Abraham, a computer information sciences major, and Trevor Colliton ’18, currently a high school debate teacher who also coaches the Brooklyn College team and served as a chaperone for the trip, attended the elite competition last December. Nearly 1,200 international debaters from 243 universities competed in nine rounds over three days at the Assumption University Suvarnabhumi. Abraham and Khosla were chosen to represent the team because they had the best debating records and had been practicing for the event for a year. Their trip was made possible with funds from the team’s club. The two wax eloquent on topics that had been in the international headlines for the last 60 days, including Hong Kong’s battle for universal suffrage and feminist ideas around beauty.
“You need to be very well versed on the issues of the day,” says Khosla, who wants to be a doctor. He says his time on the debate team has prepared him to use his “speaking skills and awareness to play an active role” in his future career.
This year, there are some 25 active students on the team, which has competed in at least one tournament a month, including contests at Yale University and the University of Vermont. All team members who participated in the competitions won an award in a category in which they competed. Khosla ranked among the top 25 speakers at Vermont, the highest rank the team has ever earned in British Parliamentary-style debate, the main form used internationally and one considered to have an intense format.
“Yale has some of the best teams. You walk in, and it’s mesmerizing. It’s clear the competition is full of future lawyers and politicians, but none are from diverse backgrounds like our team,” says Khosla, who, along with Abraham, was born in India but mostly raised in New York City.
Abraham, who has been on the team since his sophomore year, says he gleans a lot from competing with the teams from elite universities. “The way they talk, the way they structure their arguments…” he says, trailing off. “It’s intimidating at first, but then you start to pick up on what they know.”
One of the highlights from the Bangkok debates was having one of their rounds live- streamed. The topic: Should feminists uphold a “beauty doesn’t matter” standard or one holding that “all bodies are beautiful”?
“We went deep into philosophy, psychology, economics, government,” says Khosla. “We gave our all in the debate to be sure we made Brooklyn College proud.”
Both Khosla and Abraham say that what they most enjoyed at the Bangkok competition was interacting with people from all backgrounds and learning what’s being taught in other parts of the world.
“Going into debate builds a lot of character,” says Khosla. “I’m open to a lot more things than before, to different ways of thinking and looking at issues from another person’s perspective.”