The debate goes on: High school students verbally spar at U-M Debate Program camp

July 12, 2012
Contact: Jared Wadley

ANN ARBOR—It’s the great debate at the University of Michigan.

Hundreds of high school students have converged here to hone their debating skills at the annual Michigan Debate Institutes.

“These students are among the best and most argumentative students in the country,” said Aaron Kall, director of the Michigan Debate Program, which is housed in the Division of Student Affairs/Dean of Students Office.

Started in 1985, the Michigan Debate Institutes is the largest policy debate camp in the country. More than 350 students from 35 states and three countries are in attendance, including several members of the National Urban Debate League.

This year’s national debate topic at the camp, which continues through Aug. 4, is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.”

Camp faculty consists of national champion high school and college coaches and outstanding intercollegiate debaters, who teach a range of debate formats as well as speaking and research skills. About 20 U-M students and debate coaches are involved in the camp.

One coach—Calum Matheson, a doctoral candidate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill—said coming to a debate camp is a different experience than practicing debate at home or at school.

“Exposure to new learning styles, intense competition, and the chance to work with new people are all invaluable for young debaters,” Matheson said. “The larger classroom environment at a debate camp also allows students to work with their competitors from other schools and watch them debate. If they use that opportunity well, they will learn skills and information that could not possibly be taught at home or in school.”

Second-year camp participant Madeleine Hage agreed.

“The nice thing about practice rounds at Michigan is that they’re against admirable opponents, yet, there isn’t the same pressure that there is during a real round,” said Hage, a senior from Edina, Minn. “This creates a safe space where trying out new arguments and new techniques is welcomed.”

Campers also have access to U-M’s comprehensive library collections. In the workshops, students are taught basic and advanced debate research techniques, utilizing computer-based databases and the internet.

Mia Gil Epner, a high school senior from Chicago, said her files from last year’s camp were more comprehensive and well-researched, which helped her compete effectively in high school debates.

“Additionally, my ability to think off my feet—and my flow—was substantially improved,” she said.

First-year “camper” Humza Tariq, from Houston, learned about the program from friends who debate on the national circuit.

“The best part of this experience has been working with the educators who are all accomplished debaters,” Tariq said. “The concept of a student-dictated curriculum allows the students to get the most educational value out of the camp, and that concept is something that rarely appears elsewhere.”

The Michigan Debate Institutes is one of the top “feeder” programs for nationally ranked high school and collegiate debate programs. The winners of the last nine high school debate national championships have attended the camp. Most of the current U-M Debate Team attended the camp while in high school. Nearly one hundred alums of the Michigan Debate Institutes applied for admission to U-M this year.

For more information about the Michigan Debate Team, visit