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Pepperdine University Debate Team Earns International Victory and Prepares for Paris Dialogues

Three Pepp Debaters

Pepperdine University’s Civic Debate team recently won the Transatlantic Dialogues hosted by Loyola Marymount University. This achievement qualifies the Waves to compete in the international Transatlantic Dialogues event, which takes place at the École de Guerre in Paris, France, this coming June. 

“I have so much admiration for these students who have taken in a rhetoric of resilience, used different self-care tools throughout this school year, and developed practical solutions that they can articulate to others,” says Abi Smith, Seaver College’s director of forensics. “These students search for and voice solutions that could help society.”

This year’s Transatlantic Dialogues competition challenged students to consider the most pressing military threats facing Western liberal democracies and propose potential solutions. Each team competing in the contest received expert guidance from a senior official of the French military, who helped students formulate their positions. Throughout the course of debate, teams were encouraged to consider conflicting perspectives and synthesize these arguments to create the best possible response.

Two teams of Pepperdine debate students invested a month to research and write potential policy solutions to this given dilemma. The arduous process allowed both teams to win their respective rounds of competition.

Pepperdine Debate Students and French officials

Owen Bradley, a Seaver College sophomore majoring in physics, was recognized for his effort during the debate, earning the Transatlantic Dialogues individual champion honor for his contributions throughout the preliminary and final rounds of competition. This achievement represents the first time that a Pepperine Debate team individual and team both succeeded in winning the Transatlantic event. 

“My goal, no matter the contest, is for the students to learn and grow as advocates,” says Smith. “Everything is judged based on the students' investment in the team. We want them to learn, grow, and support their peers as they engage with the debate process. This strategy has worked out extraordinarily well. Not focusing on the awards has ironically led to many awards.”

This unique approach to debate has inspired the Pepperdine team to involve the Seaver College campus community with a series of rhetoric-focused events. Throughout the 2024 spring semester, the team hosted functions designed to introduce the positive—rather than the hostile—aspects of debate.

“The debate team can help people learn how to heal,” says Smith.“These students are an excellent example of loving your peers across differences. Despite ideological differences, political differences, and religious differences, these students can come together and appreciate the art of challenging their own ideas and challenging one another’s ideas to help make the world a better place.”

By focusing on the constructive aspects of arguing well—listening and learning—Smith and the Pepperdine team have cultivated community and competitive success. In June, three of the top Waves debaters will head to France to continue their pursuit of rhetorical excellence. In the meantime, the Pepperdine organization will continue prioritizing a healthy and interdisciplinary approach to conflict.

“We create an environment where argument is not just for discord's sake,” says Smith. “We teach students that argument is actually intended to solve conflict. That lesson is applicable to any discipline a student could go into.”