Gladis Gonzalez engages her audience while taking part in Spanish debate. Natasha Nguyen | Courtesy Photo

“Los Legados de Valladolid”, the first-ever public Spanish debate, was hosted by the Cal Poly Debate Team and the Department of World Languages and Culture. It was held March 9 – 11 against Allan Hancock College. 

The topic of the debate was inspired by “Junta de Valladolid,” the first moral debate held in Valladolid, Spain to discuss colonization and human rights from 1550-1551. Throughout the weekend, Cal Poly and Allan Hancock students engaged in passionate debates in Spanish covering the topics of nativism and fundamental human rights.

Debate has a long history at Cal Poly. Cal Poly’s debate team was the first team at Cal Poly to win the school a trophy in 1905, according to world languages and cultures professor Marion Hart. Since then, debate has been a platform for students to foster intelligent discourse while simultaneously developing their critical thinking and communication skills. They have had countless successes in recent years, both in national and regional competitions. 

While debate has been on campus for decades, Spanish debate is a very new division at Cal Poly and a recently developing division of debate in the United States. Biological sciences junior Gladis Gonzalez is a native Spanish speaker and a member of Cal Poly’s Spanish Language Debate team.

“I think it’s really interesting to be a part of this new and emerging group,” Gonzalez said. “We know that Cal Poly is well-known for its English debate, but its Spanish debate is kind of in the shadows, so being a part of this just makes me feel like a part of a pioneering group at Cal Poly.”

Founded in January 2017 by Hart and communication studies professors Christopher Skiles and John Patrick, Cal Poly’s Spanish Debate Language Debate team aims to bring the community of Spanish speakers at Cal Poly together. Hart heads the Spanish debate team and hopes the team helps students find their voices through intelligent dialogue. 

“Finding a space where we can practice our voice and hone our voice and at the same time speak intelligently about certain issues that are really important, in Spanish, is exactly the point of debate,” Hart said.

During the recent debate, Cal Poly students exercised their voices by debating nativism in relation to human rights against students from Allan Hancock College. The debates were Lafayette style in which students had approximately two weeks to prepare and debated in teams of two, with one team holding an affirmative position and the opposing team holding a negative position. Although two weeks may seem like a significant amount of time to prepare, students still had to think on their feet because their position was determined by a coin toss before the debate.

Sociology sophomore Cecilia Solorio said arguing for a position that does not align with your own personal experiences proves to be a challenge, but there is value in seeing the opposing perspective.

“This touches home, this topic in particular,” Solorio said. “We heard from the other school and it was hard to argue for the negative side for this topic because they have their own experiences that contradict the ideas that they were expressing.”

In contrast, financial management senior Kyle Austin noted a different value that debate encompasses: the value of genuine self-expression.

“It is very important in today’s world to express yourself, and debate is being able to practice how to express complex and even contentious ideas in a controlled setting,” Austin said. “It’s being able to talk and argue with someone instead of just having an irrational, emotional yelling match.”

Embodying the values of self-expression and educating oneself about ideologies that stand in opposition to your own, debate is a method of communication that requires both argumentation and listening. After six rounds of carrying out attentive debates in Spanish, the champions of the “Los Legados de Valladolid” debate were Adilene Rojas and Elisa Velasco from Allan Hancock College. Jennifer Camacho Tiburcio and Erick Ramirez Medina from Allan Hancock College also made it to the final round.

The Spanish language section of the Cal Poly Debate Team plans to host this debate annually and to participate in other international and national debates, including the Pan-American Universities Debate. Last year, Cal Poly’s Spanish Language Debate team sent biology senior Megan Boyd and business administration alumna Yessenia Sanchez to Guatemala City, Guatemala to debate as finalists in the category of Spanish as a second language at the Spanish Worlds Debate, Campeonato Mundial Universitario de Debate en Español.

The Spanish Language Debate team aims to participate in this debate again this year and hopes to continue making strides both within the community and in larger competitions. Solorio highlighted that this experience is a unique one.

“We have a large group of students whose first language is Spanish, and I think it comes more naturally to argue in Spanish,” Solorio said. “It’s an opportunity, that’s not something you come across easily.”

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