Practicing the Art of Argument with the Fulton Debate Society

Boston College debate isn’t your average laid-back organization. Students and faculty alike work tirelessly during the competitive debate season to craft intelligent arguments that answer questions related to anything from public policy to philosophy. Headed by John Katsulas, who acts as the director of the debate team, BC students work to understand, research, and perfect their debate subjects in order to give themselves the best chance of succeeding in competition.

BC’s debate organization, the Fulton Debating Society, has a history spanning more than 150 years. In 1863, the Society was founded and Rev. Robert Fulton S.J. led the group, which was initially called the “Senior Debating Society” before its name was changed to Fulton Debating Society in 1890. During its existence, the debate society has transformed multiple times to reflect the changing atmosphere of collegiate debate. As Katsulas frames it, “debate mirrors the changes in the academy—30 years ago it was public policy-oriented arguments grounded in political science. Now [debate] has veered off into philosophical arguments.”

In today’s competitive debating scene, there is a vast array of possible angles of attack and defense, making each debate an unpredictable and fascinating intellectual battle, both for the observer and the participant. Traditional competitive debate often incorporates speeches that are designed to fit in as many facts as possible in an allotted timeframe, and there are also public debates which often include large crowds and impassioned speeches. The Fulton Debating Society participates in competitions and debates at universities across the country, allowing its members to travel throughout the semester.

Debaters must work on  improving their research and speech skill, as they prepare to make their cases. In today’s collegiate and post-graduation landscape, these skills have high value. It should come as no surprise then that in previous years, the majority of debate club members went on to study law or originally came from a political science background. In the most recent years, however, Katsulas has seen an influx of students from other areas of study.

“Now, virtually none of [the students] go to law school,” he said. “The vast majority of [the students] are actually school of management majors; which has been a big change.”

Since the debate club is a demanding time commitment, with multiple meetings a week and numerous hours spent researching and perfecting arguments, the club sees a high turnover rate of newcomer debaters. But despite that, some students commit themselves to the rigor of the Debate Society and participate every year. Sean MacDonald, a senior student leader in the Debate Society and a two time winner of the Fulton Prize, which is awarded each year to the winner of the Fulton Prize Debate, has been involved in the organization since his freshman year.

“Overall it’s been a great experience, it gives you the opportunity to engage with students from other schools,” MacDonald Said. “[The debate club] has taught me how to think effectively.”

MacDonald functions as both a student leader and a member of the varsity team on the debate club.

Throughout the course of the debate club’s history, the organization has routinely won prestigious awards and competitions, most recently winning the West Point tournament as well as winning the University Club Championship. Through the guidance of faculty like Katsulas and the experience and leadership of students like MacDonald, the club continues to experience competitive success. The club also survives on the influx of new students at the beginning of each debate season, which includes both seasoned high school debaters and those who have not debated before, called novices within the club.

Whether new or old, each member brings strong argumentation to the Fulton Debating Society. Together they continue to pursue success in competition, while also developing important skills. With over 150 years of history, the society is still going strong and building on its long-standing tradition.

Featured Image Courtesy of John Katsulas

Walker Raymond

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