Ko Lyn Cheang

While most Yalies spent their last week of winter vacation at home, Shruti Baxi ’20 and Will Arnesen ’20 were thousands of miles from their respective residences, launching themselves toward champion status.

The pair was one of five two-person undergraduate teams and two undergraduate judges who attended the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) held at Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand. Baxi and Arnesen made it to the final round of the tournament, with both finishing as top 10 debaters in the world. Ko Lyn Cheang ’21 — who is also a staffer for the News — and Lorenzo Pinasco ’21 finished two debates away from qualifying for the final round, and Eva-Marie Quinones GRD ’23 and David Edimo ’21 became partial double-octo finalists, ranking in the top 48 teams. Individually, Baxi scored as the top female speaker of the championship.

A particularly notable aspect of Yale’s performance this year was that the final team — Baxi and Arnesen — had both a man and a woman.

“All the other teams were comprised of two men,” Cheang said. “Shruti was the only woman in finals. There are some years where there are no women in finals.”

The WUDC spans the course of five days with 434 teams competing, which Arnesen said is “much larger in size and prestige than any competition you can find … anywhere else in the world.” Arnesen’s partner Baxi said that while it “feels great” to be a finalist, she never expected to make it that far.

“It’s very random how far you get,” Baxi said. “You can do a lot of preparation. You can go to a lot of tournaments, but it all comes down to these few days.”

This uncertainty is in part due to the British Parliamentary format — the style used at the competition — which Cheang said involves four teams debating a motion given to them 15 minutes before the debate starts. They each must prepare a seven-minute speech in this allotted time. Arnesen said that the only way to prepare for the tournament was by going to other competitions and practicing the debate style with the team. Still, Cheang added that Baxi and Arnesen’s “preparation included producing a 400-page research file” comprised of “ debate arguments, current affairs and cases.”

“It’s basically a primer on what the state of the world is at this point … Or at least that’s what we try for it to be,” Cheang said. “You really have to have a breadth of knowledge.”

Arnesen began to acquire this base knowledge in the seventh grade when he started debating with his twin brother, an extracurricular he would continue for six years through middle school and high school. His placements have also steadily improved during his three years competing in the WUDC. As an octo-finalist his sophomore year and a quarterfinalist his junior year, he describes making it to the final round as a “good way to cap off a long time debating.” Baxi made it to the top 48 teams last year — her first time at the competition.

She ranked the fifth best speaker in the world and described her placement as “very unexpected.”

“Yale has had so many successful female speakers,” Baxi said. “I’ve looked up to them and learned from them. It’s wild that I am in a similar position now.”

Baxi said that Yale’s ability to retain competitive female debaters has “insulated” her from the greater gender disparity within debate around the world. She said that in the “top 50 at World’s, there were only eight or 10 [female speakers] … there are some teams that are basically all men.”

While the lack of female representation in debate doesn’t affect how she feels in rounds, Baxi said that it is something the debate community has noticed for the past few years.

“Every year there are these memes people will post after finals … Last year two out of the four teams were from the University of Sydney and … everyone was commenting that there are more guys from Melbourne Grammar high school in finals than women. Or [that] there are more guys named John in finals than women,” Baxi said.

Baxi said that her success is “finally starting to sink in” and “feels pretty good.”

The World Universities Debate Championship is the largest debate tournament and one of the largest international student events in the world.

Maya Weldon | maya.weldon-lagrimas@yale.edu