By Kat Hind
On 14th August, Durham Union Society sent a squad of ten Durham University students and recent graduates to participate in the six-day European Universities Debating Championship 2016 held in Warsaw, Poland. The event saw universities from across Europe compete in nine debates before the top 24 teams advanced to the knockout rounds.
Durham’s A team, made up of recent graduates Joshua Bailey and Kit Mercer, earned the top spot out of over 200 teams speaking in the competition, going on to reach the semi-final stage. Durham’s B team, which consisted of graduate Katie Heard and second-year Kez Exley, came sixth overall at the end of nine debates, making them the best all-women team at the competition. They then advanced to the quarter-finals.
“Breaking top was more than I ever imagined, and the feeling when we did so was fantastic,” Kit Mercer said. “It was also an achievement of everyone in the squad who practiced together and supported everyone in Warsaw.”
Mercer’s debating partner, Joshua Bailey, echoed this sentiment, stating: “This was the culmination of years of work by successive years of Durham debaters to build up an institution that has allowed us and future years to deliver this level of performance.”
The Durham squad also saw individual success with Joshua Bailey and Kit Mercer being announced as joint third in the individual speaker rankings, along with Katie Heard achieving eighth and Kez Exley placing tenth. This saw Durham University have more individual top ten speakers than any other institute at the championship with 40% of the positions, more than both Oxford and Cambridge combined.
Durham University’s ten-person squad consisted of recent graduates Imogen Maclaren, George Bainbridge, Katie Heard, Joshua Bailey, and Kit Mercer, second-year students Kez Exley and James Mills, and first-year student Ellie Markham. Fellow fresher Hannah Speed and second-year student George Goddard, were judges.
When asked about the experience from a first-year student perspective, Ellie Markham said that “it was quite bizarre to see that many people all in one place to participate in a rather niche hobby, but that’s what made it really fun at the same time.
“Ten months ago I knew nothing about debating, but now I’ve travelled internationally to compete which is something I never expected.”
Although debating is often a male-dominated circuit, Katie Heard emphasised that “Durham has a precedent of having top female debaters and all our exec are women. Things are changing on the circuit as debating is being taught in schools more, especially through charities like the ESU and Debate Mate. Our debaters at Durham are a mix of people from different genders, schools and nationalities.”
Durham Union Society will hold their debating launch on Monday 17th October at 7pm in the DUS chamber. They will also have a DUS stand at the Freshers Fair where new and current students can find out more about the society and debating opportunities for all levels.
Photograph: Kuba Mozolewski