USC debate team takes on UCLA at Saturday event

USC faced off against UCLA Friday and Saturday night in two parliamentary-style debates, which covered the war in Syria and U.S. immigration policy. The first debate, which had competitors debate the U.S. backing of Syrian rebel groups, ended in victory for the USC team.

The event was followed by a multi-school roundtable debate on Saturday, which set teams from USC and La Verne University against UCLA and Pepperdine. The debate, over the costs and benefits of building a wall across the United States’ southern border, ultimately went in UCLA and Pepperdine’s favor.

The debate took place at Politicon, a nonpartisan political convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center that hosted political commentators, comics and politicians including Newt Gingrich, David Axelrod, James Carville and Trevor Noah.

The event took place over two days and featured multiple panels, movie screenings and musical performances, all with the goal of creating “a platform for media of all types to present their own events,” according to its website.

Friday’s debate had a USC team of senior business administration major Ideen Saiedian and first-year law student Nathaniel Haas, who affirmed the resolution that the U.S. should remove its backing from any rebel groups in the Syrian civil war.

USC’s strategy centered around denouncing the unpredictable nature and unintended consequences of U.S. support for rebels, citing the rise of ISIS and the ineffective influence of the U.S. program in Syria so far.

“When was the last time the United States successfully supported a rebel group in a civil war that led to the successful transition to democracy?” Haas asked. “It wasn’t even a civil war — it was World War II, where we had to drop nuclear bombs and rewrite a nation’s constitution in order for it to work.”

UCLA’s response emphasized the instability and human rights abuses of the current Assad regime, arguing that the only way to create peace in the region was to arm rebel groups that would fight back against the long-standing dictatorship.

Ultimately, judges handed the debate to USC, citing the “unanswered questions raised from the USC side” as the deciding factor, according to judge Steven Olikara.

Saiedian, a member of USC’s policy debate team, credited his and Haas’s success to the long hours of preparation that went into researching the Syrian conflict. Though they only found out the topic a few days before the debate, it happened to be the same topic the policy team had been preparing for since summer. According to Saiedian, this preparation involved 30 hours per week of research and tournaments every two to three weeks, such as last week’s tournament in Kentucky, in which USC placed in the top 35 teams.

Saturday’s debate had a different format, with teams from two schools partnering up to debate whether a border wall would be a cost-effective way of significantly reducing illegal immigration.

The USC team, consisting of sophomore economics and mathematics  major Kristoff Weakely and freshman economics and sociology major Rebecca Harbeck, argued against the resolution, warning that the wall would not stop illegal immigration, and instead would marginalize immigrants and create a less accepting environment in the U.S.

The opposing side, which supported building a wall, cited the success of cities such as San Diego in reducing illegal immigration, and ultimately won the debate due to the convincing nature of their economic argument, according to the judges.

Though Weakely and Harbeck faced a setback, they plan to continue competing throughout the upcoming school year. Both members of the policy debate team found it difficult to transition into the parliamentary-style debate, which involves a different speaking order and more participants; however, they ultimately believed that their efforts paid off.

“It was very confusing, but I feel like we made the thesis of our arguments clear and did the best we could,” Weakely said.