LaToya Williams-Green, senior communications major, is the first African-American woman on Emporia State’s debate team in the history of the university. She and her partner, Ryan Wash, junior communications major, are also the very first African American duo in ESU debate.
At the National Debate Tournament on March 24-29, Williams-Green and Wash were the first ESU team to break into double octo-finals since 2003 and they were among the top 32 debate teams in the country. Only 78 teams qualified for the national tournament in Dallas, Texas.
“It was overwhelming for me because we worked so hard, done so much as a team and as individuals, so to get to that place was just awesome…I’m still kind of digesting it all,” Wash said.
Wash acknowledged the fact that his partner was the only African American woman to be involved in NDT in any capacity along with being recognized as one of the top 20 speakers.
“She (was) the seventeenth speaker in the country at NDT to represent on behalf of all African American women and the participation of African American women in debate itself,” Wash said.
Williams-Green said the experience was both humbling and a blessing.
“To be a part of that top 20 – you could have told me that I got twentieth and it would have felt like first place,” Williams-Green said. “It resonated and was very symbolic for me…it’s a white male dominant activity and so for any minority to come in and do well is not only unheard of but speaks volumes to the evolutionary patterns of debate – it was good, it was real good.”
There are two national debate tournaments, the Cross Examination Debate Association, which was an invitational held at Binghamton University in New York this year on March 18-22, and the NDT, which is a qualifying tournament. There were 139 teams at CEDA this year.
Williams-Green and Wash competed in CEDA along with their teammates Matthew Cook, senior English major, and Paul Mose, junior communications major. Cook and Mose were “surprised” when they placed ninth in the tournament.
“It was pretty phenomenal,” Cook said. “I’d say it was kind of surreal because, to be blunt, (Mose) and I’s year up until that point had been below our expectations.”
Cook and Mose have been debating 11 and nine years respectively and have been debate partners for more than a year. Mose said the partnership works because they have fun and provide stability to one another.
“We’re kind of Yin and Yang because he keeps it cool – I’m a little more hot-headed in debates, a little more aggressive, so we balance each other out,” Mose said.
CEDA was Cook’s last tournament for his debating career as he will be ineligible after this year. Cook said he had no regrets for his final season.
“There’s really no professional debate league to graduate to, and this is my last year, I’m not going to be able to do it anymore, so I knew I had to get every single bit of enjoyment out of it that I could, and I think this year was proof of that,” Cook said.
Wash was recognized at the fourth speaker and Williams-Green as the 10th at CEDA, although they did not place. Days later, they travel to Texas for NDT.
Williams-Green has been debating for seven years while Wash has been debating for six. They’ve been partners for three years and in that time, they have come up with a system for success.
“We match,” Wash said. “Clothing wise we need to look like a unit.”
Wash and Williams-Green have also invented a unique catchphrase to sum up their debates.
“It’s about bizness,” Wash said. “That’s the motto, that’s our mantra…bizness with a ‘Z.’”
But debate is not all “bizness.” Williams-Green said there is more to debate than simply researching and presenting the argument.
“Debate is about swag,” Williams-Green said. “You can be the smartest person in the world, but these are not computers talking to computers – these are people connecting and communicating with another person, so if you don’t have any aesthetic appeal, nobody’s going to care.”
Mose said debate is often misunderstood by those outside the community.
“A lot of people think that when we tell them we’re going a debate tournament, they think it’s like we’re going to a chess tournament or we’re going to trivia night, which is not even close,” Mose said. “There’s so much work that goes on before we ever enter that room and speaking is just a small part of it.”
Mose said he has not yet decided whether or not to continue debating next year, but Williams-Green and Wash said they’ve already set their sights on the next season.
“Ya’ll ain’t seen nothing yet,” Wash said.