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Penn Debate Society (Photo Courtesy of Penn Debate Society).

Penn Debate Society has won several debate tournaments this semester, with Penn first years and novices placing at the top of these tournaments across the country.

PDS, founded in 1984 as the University's student-run debate association, competes in parliamentary debate, which involves two or four teams presenting arguments and debating a given topic. While the topics are pre-selected for a tournament sometimes, other times the team has 15 minutes to craft an argument in the moment.

“Topics range from anything from economic and political issues and cultural events to historical issues to pop culture," College sophomore Ayesha Patel said. "Everything is fair game, which makes it really fun to go to each tournament and have a new thing to talk about each time.”

PDS is made up of about 30 active members that went through a selective tryout process. Students compete within different categories, including one for non-native English speakers, to match up with similar students.

During a debate, after about five preliminary rounds, the teams with the best records advance into a playoff-like bracket where the winner moves on. Competing at colleges like Yale, Columbia, and even at worldwide tournaments, PDS has reached the finals and won in these high-stakes rounds.

In addition to their success in tournaments, members expressed that they have enjoyed the community that they have gained from PDS.

“Debating is a neat opportunity for people outside of the classroom to engage in intellectual interests they actually have,” PDS President and College junior Andrew Vandenbussche said.

Several first years told The Daily Pennsylvanian that PDS has helped them grow as debaters and members of the Penn community. 

“Upon reaching the Yale IV ESL Final, I developed new argumentative skills and discovered that I could aim even further in debate tournaments,” College first year Felipe Carvalho said.

College first year Sage Mehta added that “PDS is a great club to develop my debate skills while also being supportive, sociable, and tons of fun.” 

Wharton and Engineering first year Hasit Nanda and Wharton and College first year Maxwell Delorenzo said that the PDS community has been supportive as they have learned throughout the semester.

In addition to the multiple competitions that the team travels to across the east coast, PDS hosts social events for its members, including an in-house tournament with more laid-back and casual debate topics.

Vandenbussche said that the return of in-person tournaments has boosted the team’s excitement. Having joined the team virtually, he said that he found that the activity was lacking energy. He notes that the first years this year are bringing a new energy to the team. 

College senior Allan Lee and College sophomore Manya Gupta will represent Penn in the World University Debating Championship 2023 in Madrid this December. PDS is also in talks about sending team members to a competition in Vietnam in the coming months.