Hill Lincoln-Douglas Debate Abroad: Debating when there’s “no incentive”


Mr. Malinak presenting a graph about the election to us in our Zoom discussion on the 2020 election.

*Editor’s Note: The following is a first-person account of Staff Writer Harry Zhu’s ’22 experience debating as a remote student part of the speech and debate team.   

The Hill Speech and Debate, like other co-curricular activities, has been tested by the COVID-19 pandemic. On-campus debaters managed to compete virtually, but how about those living in different time zones with limited competitive opportunities?   

Last September, Coach Nick Malinak and I created “Hill Lincoln-Douglas Debate Abroad” (LD is one of the two debate events at Hill) that aimed to provide weekly debate practices for LD debaters at home via Zoom. We had welcomed about 12 students across American boarding schools, all of whom are experienced debaters, philosophy lovers and news enthusiasts. In the first few meetings the crew was drawn to the LD September topic titled, “In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory,” and read relevant political theories, finding evidence and constructing cases under the guidance of Malinak.

         As school got tough, granting us limited time for debate prep, I advocated retailoring the format to low-pressure current news discussions–one would come with a self-picked news/topic–  discussing and debating it out with peers. Covering important topics such as the 2020 U.S. Election, worldwide vaccine distributions and the riots at the Capitol, the crew kept developing a habit of using evidence to back their arguments up, considering counterarguments, not from textbooks but from peers, cross-firing each other, and getting emotional when they felt their beliefs and values were being challenged, so much that Malinak had to occasionally moderate.  

Hill LD Abroad concluded in mid-February as many of us would begin our journeys back to the U.S. 

         When reflecting on his experience, Jifan Zhu ’23 said: “the focus of our weekly section is something rare to see and is quite intriguing for all involved. Often in our meetings I was able to see new perspectives on common issues.”

         “I think what I enjoyed the most is that it provided me with an opportunity to find like-minded people in the field of political science and have time to discuss them,” Carl Guo ’22 from St. Mark’s School said. “The highlight would be our discussions on the 2020 U.S. Election.” 

         Athena Zhong ’22 from Tabor Academy does not have lots of previous experience in debate, but she nonetheless feels very rewarding to be a part of the team.

 “I mostly enjoy talking with people with different backgrounds and to actually get in touch with real debaters, because it brings me into a very competitive atmosphere to polish my delivery, to practice my logical thinking, and to make me more competitive in my future debates and journey in school.” Zhong then remarked on a particular highlight from our discussion.

 “When we were talking about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine in society, Jifan actually brought up the point that we need to have two principles for distribution: one is preventing the spread of COVID-19, and the other is reducing the maximum death rate caused by COVID-19. With these principles, we need to formulate two different policies.”

In a time when “being awarded” seems to be the biggest incentive for doing things, in a season when debate is getting more and more associated with tricks and aggressions, I can see the members of Hill LD Abroad keep cherishing perspectives, evidence and values; I can see us keep having a cause to read, think and engage with peers intellectually and constructively; I believe we are bringing insights to what debate is actually about.