Carleton duo wins international debate competition

Carleton students Matthew Gallagher and Connor Ahluwalia took home the North American Debate Championships (NAUDC) on Oct. 1.  

According to a press release, the NAUDC, held in Geneva, N.Y., featured 124 teams with Carleton being the only Canadian school in the elimination rounds. Gallagher and Ahluwalia, who are both members of the Carleton University Debate Society (CUDS), bested Ivy League schools to win the competition, beating out the Harvard University, Yale University, and Stanford University teams.

The release states that the debates were in “British Parliamentary” format, with four teams in each round—two defending and opposing a motion.

There was a “broad range” of topics including universal basic income, religious teachings, housing developments and others, according to Ahluwalia, a fourth-year public administration and policy management (PAPM) student. He said it was his first debate tournament championship.

“Personally, it was kind of overwhelming and shocking that I had finally actually done that [won a tournament] because it had been a goal of mine,” he said. “But in the moment, you don’t actually really feel very much because it’s such an unbelievable thing that actually happened.”

Gallagher, a first-year political management graduate student and Carleton PAPM alumnus, and Ahluwalia both said they didn’t expect to win the tournament.

“We were definitely debating at our best. We were more focused,” Gallagher said, crediting their preparation. “We’re much stronger and more cohesive as a team [than previous tournaments].”

“I was extremely proud to have represented both Carleton as well as Canada in the finals,” he added.

Gallagher said he usually holds more responsibility for the “big ideas” and establishing the team’s “clear position.”

“I tend to be more focused on preparing responses to the other team, deepening his analysis, giving examples,” he explained.

Ahluwalia said CUDS practices twice per week, but added that he and Gallagher also practiced separately and prepared with research, watching relevant films, and participating in mock debates.

“Sometimes we can have very good in house [practice] rounds where there is strong debate but realistically, to replicate the competitive no mistakes atmosphere of a real debate tournament,” Gallagher said.

The duo participates in tournaments almost weekly from September to November to prepare, according to Gallagher.

“I like debating because it is learning how to communicate extremely effectively in a very limited time frame [seven minutes for each person],” Gallagher said.

The two members said they don’t plan to continue debating after this academic year but noted they’ve learned a lot.

Gallagher said debating helps him improve his critical analysis skills. Ahluwalia said debating has made him “definitely a more analytical person,” and added that it has also exposed him to different viewpoints.

“Having an open mind is really crucial,” he said. “Being able to argue for things you don’t believe in is actually a really useful skill to have and you need to be open to be able to do that.”

Gallagher and Ahluwalia will be competing at the World Universities Debating Championships in December in Mexico, as well as at the Hobart and Williams Round Robin in Geneva, N.Y., next spring.

“It’s a real feeling of accomplishment that you’ve really spoken really well on an important issue and you’ve been really persuasive,” Ahluwalia said. “That moment when you did it really really well and you get feedback saying you did it really really well is what it’s all about.”

Photo by Meagan Casalino