Four Emory debaters win study tours to Paris in Lafayette Debates

By April Hunt | Emory Report | June 24, 2019

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Emory Scholars (left to right) Ryan James, Sukriti Rawal, Gabi Yamout and Tanner James won study tours to Paris by placing among the top speakers in the prestigious 2019 Lafayette Debates U.S. National Championship.

Four Emory Scholars, all members of the Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation and Dialogue, won study tours to Paris this June, having placed among the top speakers during the prestigious 2019 Lafayette Debates U.S. National Championship in April. 

Rising senior Gabi Yamout, rising junior Ryan James and recent graduate Tanner Lewis will spend June 25-30 as part of the Lafayette Debates Young Ambassadors program. They will explore this year’s Lafayette Debates topic – “Democracy is the best hope for peace” — with French diplomats, politicians, academics and others. The fourth winner, rising junior Sukriti Rawal, is unable to travel for the study tour. 

“While their collective success is noteworthy and a testament to their hard work, one should not be surprised when you consider that they are among the most driven and intellectually engaged students on our campus,” says Ed Lee III, senior director of the Barkley Forum. “Additionally, having one of the best debate coaching staffs in the nation available to help them construct arguments and refine their speeches is tremendously helpful.” 

The Barkley Forum’s emphasis on creating critical thinkers who can deliver under pressure supports Emory College’s focus on educating students in the liberal arts to prepare for the real world.

Some of the skills are easy to spot, such as when the winners displayed their leadership qualities and comfort speaking in front of an audience while working with high school students on campus this summer for the Emory National Debate Institutes

In a civic atmosphere that increasingly resembles a verbal slugfest, well-honed research and rhetorical skills can truly set students apart.

“I can already see how knowing how to ask good questions and be comfortable listening while making my argument has helped in college. Those things help sort the real from the fake in the news and in life in general,” says Yamout, a public policy analysis and international studies double major who is weighing a career in law or data science.

Rawal, a double major in economics and quantitative sciences (QSS) with an emphasis on political science, plans for a data analyst job in health care. Beyond gathering information, such a job requires she also build her argument for action based on data.

“Debate really enhances your ability to make an argument and organize your thoughts,” Rawal says. “Focusing on impact is how you win debates, and examining material impacts how you succeed in business.”

Debate also helps connect different disciplines in much the same way the liberal arts do, finding common ground in the skills to unite the topics. Lewis, who graduated with a QSS and economics degree in May, has translated those skills in government relations work and as an entrepreneur.

A business major, James developed his interest in becoming an entrepreneur as part of Emory’s first team to reach the Hult Castle Accelerator round in the $1 million Hult Prize competition. His debate skills, he says, will help find investors for future projects.

“Debate gives you an opportunity to step out of your own thoughts and understand another person’s perspective,” James says. “Being able to present an idea in the best way possible, not just from your viewpoint, can make the difference in winning someone over.” 

Emory’s intercollegiate debate program has won 26 national championships since 1950, including the Lafayette Debates national championship in 2014. More than 100 students participate in the program, which also supports campus dialogue through events such as Dooley Debates and the Emory Conversation Project.

The Barkley Forum also encourages community connections through a partnership with the Atlanta Urban Debate League and an annual high school tournament.