The Duke University Debating Society

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Duke university signage

The Duke University Debating Society

The Duke University Debating Society is not just a group, but a community of students united by their enthusiasm for debate and the art of persuasion. Established back in 1897, this society is one of the oldest and most admired groups in the university’s active campus life.

Each Thursday, at precisely 7:30 pm, the society assembles for its regular practice sessions, fostering a disciplined and committed environment for honing debating skills. Additionally, they offer optional practice rounds on Saturdays, catering to those eager for extra preparation or skill enhancement.

What sets this society apart is its active participation in British Parliamentary debate, a challenging format that features two teams advocating for a proposition and two teams arguing against it. This format not only sharpens their argumentative skills but also nurtures critical thinking and quick reasoning among its members.

The society’s calendar is packed with opportunities to engage in debates, offering its members a chance to travel extensively almost every weekend. This not only includes local and national tournaments but also international ones, thereby exposing members to diverse cultures and perspectives.


A remarkable aspect of the Duke University Debating Society is its inclusivity. The society proudly emphasizes that no prior experience in debating is necessary to join. This open-door policy has seen many of its members, who had never debated before college, rising to become some of the best in the team. This testament to the society’s nurturing environment highlights its commitment to growth and learning.

Joining the Duke University Debating Society is more than just joining a debating group; it’s about becoming part of a dynamic, supportive community. It’s a place where friendships are forged through shared experiences of learning, traveling, and growing together. It’s a chance to be part of something special that helps you improve your skills and adds to the great experiences you can have at Duke University.


The recruitment process of the Duke University Debating Society is fast and easy! This fall, there will be multiple information sessions for those interested to learn about the team and the debate format used in competitions. During tryouts, participants will respond to a short argument with a speech and also give an unplanned speech on a light-hearted topic. Social events are also planned for everyone to become better acquainted.

You’re invited to visit the society at the Student Activities Fair on East Campus. The society is excited to welcome dedicated students from all classes to the tryouts.

view of Duke University


Here are some results and accomplishments from tournaments in the previous school years.


Hart House IV

    • Dan Reznichenko and Dilys Wang Novice Champions
    • Dilys Wang 10th Novice Speaker

North American University Debating Championships

    • Dan Reznichenko and Dilys Wang Novice Champions
    • Nick Bayer and Manon Fuchs in Open Quarterfinals
    • Manon Fuchs 5th Novice Speaker
    • Dan Reznichenko 13th Novice Speaker

Novice Nationals

    • Dan Reznichenko and Dilys Wang Semifinalists
    • Harrison Cole and Manon Fuchs Quarterfinalists
    • Manon Fuchs 8th Best Speaker
    • Dan Reznichenko 21st Best Speaker

Oxford IV

    • Dan Reznichenko and Dilys Wang Novice Semifinalists

Duke Pre-USUs:

    • Harrison Cole and Alex Du in Novice Finals

US Universities Debating Championships

    • Duke 1 (Shen and Subramanian), Open Quarterfinalists, 9th on team tab
    • Duke 2 (Bayer and Gwaltney), Novice Semifinalists
    • Nitin Subramanian, 4th Open Speaker
    • Evan Shen, 7th Open Speaker, 1st Novice Speakers

Yale IV

    • Dan Reznichenko and Dilys Wang Novice Champions
    • Dan Reznichenko 13th Best Speaker
    • Dilys Wang 25th Best Speaker

Colgate IV

    • Dan Reznichenko and Manon Fuchs Semifinalists
    • Dan Reznichenko 3rd Best Novice and 14th Speaker Overall
    • Manon Fuchs 10th Best Novice Speaker

North American Spar Open

    • Dan Reznichenko 2nd Best Novice Speaker and 20th Best Speaker Overall


Hart House IV

    • Duke BW (Bae and Williams) Open Semifinalists, 9th on team tab
    • Jayun Bae, 10th Open Speaker

North American Universities Debating Championships

    • Duke JS (Jung and Shen) Novice Finalists, 6th on novice tab
    • Evan Shen, 2nd Novice Speaker
    • Jeff Jung, 6th Novice Speaker

Yale IV

    • Duke JS (Jung and Shen) Novice Finalists, 1st on novice tab
    • Evan Shen, 3rd Novice Speaker
    • Jeff Jung, 10th Novice Speaker

Huber Debates at Vermont

    • Duke SS (Shen and Subramanian) Open Champions, 6th on team tab
    • Evan Shen, 8th Open Speaker, 1st Novice Speaker

Cornell Novice Nationals

    • Duke JS (Jung and Shen) Novice Finalists, 2nd on novice tab
    • Duke BO (Bayer and Oh) Novice Quarterfinalists, 9th on novice tab
    • Evan Shen, 5th Novice Speaker
    • Jeff Jung, 8th Novice Speaker

U.S. Universities Eastern Debate Championships

    • Duke SS (Shen and Subramanian), Open Finalists, 1st on team tab
    • Duke IW (Ivanescu and Wilcox), Open Quarterfinalists, 8th on team tab
    • Nitin Subramanian, 1st Open Speaker
    • Evan Shen, 2nd Open Speaker
    • Chris Sheerer, 10th Open Speaker

Doxbridge Online Open

    • Duke SS (Shen and Subramanian), Open Finalists, 4th on team tab
    • Evan Shen, 2nd Open Speaker

VIT-DT Round Robin 2020

    • Duke MS (Mitra and Subramanian), Champions, 1st on team tab
    • Nitin Subramanian, 6th Open Speaker
    • Salil Mitra, 8th Open Speaker

Imitation Cup 2020

    • Duke SS (Shen and Subramanian), Open Champions, 1st on team tab
    • Evan Shen, 1st Open Speaker
    • Nitin Subramanian, 2nd Open Speaker

Impact and Significance

The Duke University Debating Society’s impact and significance extend well beyond the confines of its meetings and competitions. The society has been instrumental in developing critical thinking and communication skills among its members, and its effects can be observed in various aspects of their academic and personal lives.

Intellectual Development

Participating in debates through the Duke University Debating Society hones participants’ analytical and critical thinking abilities. By researching complex topics, formulating arguments, and responding to counterarguments, members cultivate a deep understanding of the issues they discuss.

They are not just memorizing facts or regurgitating information but are actively engaged in the process of dissecting, evaluating, and synthesizing ideas. This experience equips them with the skills necessary to excel in their academic endeavors and beyond.

Communication Skills

Duke University Debating Society places a strong emphasis on effective communication. In debates, members are required to present their arguments clearly and persuasively.

This necessitates a refined ability to articulate thoughts, structure arguments, and engage with their audience. The mastery of persuasive communication, which the society fosters, is not confined to the debate stage. Members often find that these skills are invaluable in their coursework, in their future careers, and in their personal relationships.

Research and Information Literacy

To construct compelling arguments in debates, members must conduct extensive research on a wide range of topics. This requirement cultivates their research and information literacy skills, teaching them how to find reliable sources, critically evaluate information, and synthesize findings. These research skills are transferrable, allowing members to excel in their academic work and become informed, discerning citizens in the information age.

Confidence Building

Engaging in debates, particularly in a competitive context, builds self-confidence. Members learn to articulate their thoughts under pressure, defend their positions, and engage with opponents respectfully. This confidence extends to their academic and professional lives, enabling them to participate more actively in class discussions, present research with poise, and navigate interviews and negotiations with assurance.

Public Speaking and Leadership

Duke University Debating Society provides a platform for members to develop their public speaking abilities. Through regular debates and competitions, they learn to speak in front of audiences confidently and persuasively. These skills are not only advantageous in the world of debate but also in leadership roles, where effective communication is often a critical element of success.

Fostering Open-mindedness

Debating often requires individuals to argue positions they may not personally hold. This process fosters open-mindedness and the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives. It encourages members to consider alternative viewpoints and engage in constructive dialogue, which is an essential skill in today’s diverse and interconnected world.

Engaging with Current Issues

Duke University Debating Society debates cover a wide array of topics, from social and political issues to philosophical and ethical dilemmas. By engaging with these issues, members become well-informed about current events and are encouraged to think critically about the world around them. This heightened awareness of global issues makes them more active and informed citizens.

Multiracial university students

Fostering Connections and Networking

Beyond the sharpening of intellectual and communication skills, the debating society plays a role in nurturing personal connections and networking. The bonds formed among members during debates and competitions extend beyond the university walls.

These connections can lead to lifelong friendships, partnerships in academic or professional projects, and collaborations in various fields. As members often come from diverse backgrounds and majors, the society serves as a hub for cross-disciplinary interactions, fostering a rich tapestry of ideas and experiences.

The Role of Mentoring

Duke University Debating Society also offers opportunities for mentoring. Experienced debaters often take novice members under their wing, guiding them through the complexities of debate, research, and public speaking. This mentorship not only enhances the learning experience but also builds a sense of community within the society. Novices receive invaluable insights, and mentors develop leadership and coaching skills that serve them well in their future endeavors.

Preparation for Future Careers

The skills developed through participation in the Duke University Debating Society have a direct and positive impact on members’ future careers. Whether in law, politics, academia, business, or any other field, the ability to think critically and communicate persuasively is a valuable asset.

Employers highly regard these skills, as they are essential for positions that involve decision-making, negotiation, and leadership. Alumni often find that their experiences in the society set them apart in job interviews and professional settings.

The Global Perspective

In an increasingly interconnected world, the society offers members the chance to engage with global issues. The society’s debates frequently tackle international topics, fostering a broader understanding of world affairs. This global perspective is invaluable, as it prepares students to engage with the complex challenges and opportunities that the 21st century presents. It encourages members to be well-informed and responsible global citizens.

Group of students walking in the campus.

The Alumni Network

The impact of Duke University Debating Society doesn’t end with graduation. It boasts a robust alumni network, connecting former members who have gone on to make significant contributions in their respective fields. This network serves as a valuable resource for current members, offering mentorship, advice, and opportunities. It demonstrates that the benefits of the debating society extend well beyond the university years, making it an enduring and supportive community.

A Gateway to Leadership

Duke University Debating Society often serves as a launching pad for leadership roles both within and beyond the university. Many former members have gone on to become student leaders, holding positions in student government, academic organizations, and various clubs. The leadership experience gained in the debating society equips members with the skills needed to take on these responsibilities, fostering a culture of active engagement on campus.

An Ever-Expanding Legacy

As the debating society continues to thrive and adapt to the changing times, its legacy grows stronger with each passing year. Its commitment to promoting critical thinking, effective communication, and open-mindedness ensures that it remains a cornerstone of Duke University’s educational experience. With each new generation of members, the society’s impact ripples outward, influencing not only the university community but also the broader society.

The Duke University Debating Society has a rich history and a well-structured framework that fosters critical thinking and communication skills among its members. This student organization has played a pivotal role in the intellectual development of Duke University students for over a century.

Duke University Debating Society equips its members with the tools necessary to excel in academia, preparing them to think critically, research effectively, and communicate persuasively. These skills have a lasting impact that extends far beyond the debate stage, influencing their academic and professional careers, as well as their personal lives.

The society’s emphasis on open-mindedness, research, and public speaking makes it a valuable asset for Duke University students, enhancing their education and enriching their overall college experience.

Joining the Conversation

In conclusion, the Duke University Debating Society is more than just a student organization—it’s a transformative experience that molds its members into thoughtful, articulate, and confident individuals. From its historical roots to its modern-day impact, the society plays a pivotal role in fostering critical thinking, communication skills, and a broader understanding of the world.

It’s not just a society; it’s a gateway to a lifetime of intellectual growth and personal connections. So, if you’re a Duke University student looking for an enriching and transformative experience, consider joining the debating society and becoming part of a legacy that spans over a century. Join the conversation, and let your voice be heard in the world of debate.

debate icon

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