For Melissa Fussell ’13, collegiate debating is more of an exchange of ideas than a battle of wits.
The Rollins Debate Team takes on the Beijing Foreign Studies University Debating Society. (Photo by Scott Cook)
The competition was fierce at The Great Debate on Tuesday inside Tiedtke Concert Hall, when the Rollins debate team faced off against debaters from Beijing Foreign Studies University, the top debate team in China. But while the audience saw both teams work tirelessly to produce strong arguments in an effort to triumph over the other, what they may not have seen was the underlying spirit of generosity that has inexplicably bonded the two teams.
“Above all, this has been an opportunity to learn from each other,” Melissa Fussell ’13 said.
Fussell traveled with fellow debate team member Rebecca Wilson ’15 this past summer on a two-week exhibition tour designed to showcase collegiate debating at Chinese universities. “Americans tend to be more aggressive in their debate style, while the Chinese are much more reserved and polite. There is strategic advantage to that; it forces you to slow down and have a more open mind, and I think it creates a deeper debate.”
Liu Dongchen of Beijing Foreign Studies University has also benefited from this opportunity to study his opponents from the West. “Melissa is extremely good; she’s a very logical, effective, powerful speaker, with strong arguments,” said Dongchen, who first met Fussell when she visited Beijing. Tuesday was his first chance to debate her. “I’ve learned to form better arguments. Every debate helps me to understand something we didn’t know before.”
On this night, the teams spent ninety minutes debating the topic of outsourcing to China. The Rollins team, made up of Fussell and Chassidy Cook ’13, argued against with statements dripping with patriotism and a core belief in the social contract that obligates American corporations to keep jobs within the United States. “We’re tired of being mugged in the socioeconomic back alleys of our political arena,” said Cook to thunderous applause. “American companies have an ethical obligation to give back to the community that invested in them.”
The Chinese team was made up of Dongchen and Chang Zhao. While Zhao is a member of the Rollins debate team, she originally hails from Beijing Foreign Studies University. The pair offered up an argument focused on the invisible hand of capitalism and the mutual benefits of reaping profits from outsourcing to China. “People choose to outsource because if the company doesn’t cut costs, they will make less profit,” Dongchen argued. “Saying no to outsourcing is like saying no to capitalism.” To Dongchen’s delight, the audience responded with an equal mix of “shame” and “here here.”
In the end, the Rollins team was decided the winner by a panel of judges made up of Rollins faculty and administrators. But you won’t find Fussell gloating. “The purpose of the debate is always education and discourse,” she said. “Winning is important, but never at the expense of providing education.”
To that end, the Beijing and Rollins team are slated to participate in a series of exhibition debates throughout the area this week, and will face off four more times before the Beijing team travels back to China this weekend. They’ll also continue their mutually beneficial relationship with future plans to once again return to China as well as host the Beijing team at Rollins.
But not Fussell.
Tuesday’s debate inside Tiedtke was the last on-campus debate of her collegiate debate career. As team captain and the #2 debater in the country, she was honored with an award from Smaw as well as an announcement that she’s currently considering an offer of admission to Yale Law School as well as a handful of other prestigious institutions.