Five Questions: ETSU Debate Team member discusses importance of civil debate in polarized society

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 17, 2019 at 5:24 PM

In an increasingly polarized society, having a respectful and civil debate often seems like a lost art.

Braden Trent, a 20-year-old student at East Tennessee State University, lives for a good debate, especially if it’s about military history and government.

Trent and the rest of the ETSU Debate Team took top awards for the state champion, first place, top speaker, quarterfinalist, third place and more at the Tennessee Intercollegiate Forensics Association State Tournament hosted by Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City last month.

Trent received the Top Novice Speaker and Novice State Champion awards from the International Public Debate Association.

“I’d say most Americans have had enough of politicians yelling, name-calling, or just being disrespectful to each other. Debate — a skill that our nation’s leaders should have learned long ago — teaches people how to respectfully combat another person’s viewpoint. Emphasis on respectfully,” Trent said.

“If the people of the United States — and its leaders, especially in Congress — just had some practice with debate skills, I believe we would be finding more compromises and solutions with each other.”

Last week, Trent, a Johnson City resident and communications major, emailed with the Johnson City Press to tell us more about himself and his love for debate.

Trent Briefly:

Hobbies: Swimming, hiking, target shooting and coffee.

Dogs or Cats: Has two dogs, named Reesie and Charlie.

Pet Peeves: “When you go up North, order sweet tea and get unsweet tea with a packet of sugar. That’s not how tea works.” 

Favorite musician(s): Metallica. “Anything classic rock or old school, really.”

Other facts: Member of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program, ETSU Army ROTC and various clubs on campus. Works at First United Methodist Church. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your interests and what draws you to them?

I’m a college student who tries to do a little bit of everything that my school and area have to offer. Personally, I think ETSU is unique because you can do what you want with people who are just as passionate as you are. I’m lucky to be able to pursue my career — becoming a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army — while also getting a great education from professors who care. In addition, I can still relax with friends or participate in all kinds of on-campus programs during my free time. You won’t find that at massive schools or private academies, which is part of the reason I’m so glad I chose ETSU.

What made you want to join the debate team and when did you decide to?

During my time at Science Hill High School, I joined their speech and debate team and had a great time. My interest in debate grew from there, so joining the college team was an easy decision. Learning how to articulate your point to a large audience while defending it from a competitor provides valuable life skills. The debate team is one of the few ways that people can grow that skill and develop a background in professional communication.

What do you think plays into your ability to perform well on the debate team?

My involvement in Army ROTC is probably my strongest competitive advantage. I’m better prepared on the topics about government, foreign affairs or wars because that’s a natural part of the ROTC curriculum. In addition, scare tactics some schools try to pull during debates don’t work very well. When you have been instructed by a master sergeant on the right way to do things during a hard workout session, it’s hard to be intimidated by a student trying to throw you off balance during a competition.

How was the team feeling about doing so well last month?

Our recent competition at Bryant College was a huge morale boost for the team. We only won first place because everyone, not just the people who came home with medals, contributed. That speaks volumes to the incredible passion and skill that our team has. To me, the best highlight was seeing people win a medal for the first time. That moment when they realize that all of their hard work has paid off is always an amazing sight to see.

What do you think gave your team an advantage?

Our diverse population of team members is one of our strongest assets. We have history majors, pre-medical students, ROTC cadets and even a high school student from University High at ETSU. We have so many different experiences that no matter what topic our team is handed, we have someone who knows about it. Other schools typically only have political science majors, which limits the creative power of their teams. 

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