The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW Debate temporarily disbands following director’s departure

5 min read


Staff Writer’

Due to editor error, an earlier version of the Feb. 23 article about the UMW Debate Team said that the team was discontinued. The team’s activity has been temporarily paused until a new director of debate is hired. 

Barring their lack of exposure on campus, the UMW Debate Team was good. They traveled to and won competitions and tournaments, and this extracurricular activity helped its members develop critical thinking and communication skills whose effects stretched beyond the classroom. However, at the end of the 2022–2023 academic year, Director of Debate Adrienne Brovero left UMW to become the associate director of debate at the University of Kentucky. This left the team without a director and sufficient monetary funds, which ultimately resulted in the team being temporarily disbanded. 

Debate was housed at 1201 William St. where the team practiced policy debate in the basement of the building. Undergraduates were able to join the team as a way to develop their liberal arts education in service of their career as well as their citizenship. 

As a whole, debate has been a pillar in liberal learning for more than 2,500 years. Furthermore, according to the UMW Debate Program website, the history of the debate team “can be traced to the literary societies that appeared after the College’s founding in 1908.” Literary societies were a way in which women could communally engage with and discuss literature in light of being excluded from educational institutions and clubs. 

“For a university that historically represents critical thinking and political science and the ability to speak out, cutting a program like debate—which I think has some kind of like benefits for students—this is pretty disappointing,” said Avery Dover, a junior political science and communication and digital studies major.

Dover was recruited to the debate team by Brovero when she was director. He said that Brovero notified the team and university of her departure, but the process of finding another to fill the role has been difficult. Furthermore, with the university funding the team’s travel and expenses, once the director left, the university did not seem to see it fit to keep the program.

“We’ve fought for a while to continue to hire another director of the program, but we were told that it’s both not in the interest of the university—as well as the budget—to appoint a new director at the time,” said Dover. 

Anand Rao, the chair and a professor of communication and digital studies, supervised the director of debate. He said that there was not a decision to temporarily disband the team, but when Brovero left Mary Washington in May 2023 to go to the University of Kentucky, the team’s late search for a director during the summer was unsuccessful. He said they are still working on a plan to find a new director for the team to begin again.

“I hope we will succeed in our search and can offer opportunities for students to join the team again soon,” said Rao. 

The UMW debate team was a historically successful program dating back to when Mary Washington was an all-women’s school. The team led students to become ranked in the top 15% of debaters in the country, according to Dover, and in 2020, UMW Debate took home third at the American Debate Association’s Championship Tournament. 

The team also competed virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall semester of 2021. At the end of the season, the team took home first at the American Debate Association’s Fall Championship Tournament. There, Dover was awarded the top speaker award, and Ainsley Rucker ‘23 won second in speaking recognitions. In addition to Dover’s award, he has also placed three times at the tournament during his collegiate debate career.

Senior history major Lance Hungar said that the debate team helped him in his personal life, and it also instilled in him the ability to engage in effective discourse. 

“It helps me talk to other people. And not just saying my point, but listening to them,” he said. 

The debate team did outreach in the area “everywhere except for Mary Washington,” said Hungar. However, he explained that the main problems with the team were that the director was “one foot out the door” with a new job ready at the University of Kentucky, the lack of university effort to recruit for and build the program and a lack of monetary support. 

“There wasn’t a ton of effort being put into recruiting and building, so it wasn’t a huge thing … people didn’t know about it,” said Hungar about the debate team’s exposure on campus.

According to Dover, even when the school was recruiting, the scholarship for UMW’s Debate was pulled at the onset of University President Troy Paino’s administration, which offered less incentive for prospective students to attend the university.

The Debate Program was composed of three teams: the varsity team that would travel to competitions, the junior varsity team and a club team for less-experienced students or students who were not able to commit as much time to the team. 

In competitions and tournaments, the debates are separated into groups of two or by team. According to Dover, there is also individual debate, but no one on the team was interested in that style.  

While the junior varsity and varsity teams were both competitive, the club teams took part in less competitive styles called the Public Forum. Club members would also help facilitate and participate in public debate around UMW.

The varsity team met from 6–8 p.m. on Tuesdays to discuss “tournament logistics, preparation and practice debates,” according to Dover. On Wednesdays, the club team met at 4 p.m. and the junior varsity team at 5 p.m. In addition to those regular meetings, there were also partner meetings twice a week for the varsity team and team bonding events on weekends when they weren’t competing. 

The UMW’s debate team being temporarily disbanded is ultimately a loss for the school and deprives students of an extracurricular activity that helps develop real-world and liberal arts skills as well as meeting new people and competing with new people. 

“It’s an activity that helps you think on your feet,” said Hungar. “It helps you speak, it helps you listen, it helps you analyze.”