Debate finalist student helps create opportunities for others at UH Mānoa
University of Hawaii at Mānoa undergraduate student Cullen Slaves became a top debate finalist after competing against elite debate teams from universities around the world at the Duke Open Debating Championships, hosted by Duke University and held online, April 9-10 . Slavens was among 80 entrants who beat students from top schools, including ivy league schools Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, to advance to the event’s Grand Open Finals. He is president of the Mānoa Debate Union, a registered independent organization, which he helped set up last year.
“The debate is a great learning experience, and it feels good to compete against the best teams and learn from the best at the same time,” said Slavens, a senior and an Economics 4.0 major in the honors program.
A member of a number of online debating groups and forums, Slavens was able to bond with other debating teams during the pandemic when in-person competitions were canceled. Thanks to these relationships, the Mānoa Debate Union now regularly organizes online cross-training events allowing its members to train and debate with other teams across the country and participate in a number of competitions.
“One of the great things about online contests and discussion forums is that they provide a huge opportunity for schools like uh Mānoa who traditionally do not have access to top debaters and debate events on a regular basis. It’s something that was born out of the pandemic that really took off and is here to stay,” Slavens said.
Debate slaves and members have also recently competed in well-known debating competitions, including at Seattle University. IV where he was a quarter-finalist. He is also the ruler Hawaii state debate champion.
Slavens, a graduate of Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, will graduate in economics in May. In his spare time, he also studies music and ballroom dancing. Her future plans include going to law school.
“I really enjoyed my collegiate experience in debate and in uh Mānoa, and I really encourage others to seek out these opportunities or even create their own,” Slavens said.
Welcome new members
While uh Mānoa previously housed a debate team, it has been inactive for a few years. The Mānoa Debate Union, which has over 260 participants from more than 20 countries, welcomes new students interested in learning more about debate or improving their speaking skills.
Tierra Sydnoran English and French major and vice-president of the Mānoa Debate Union, said it had provided her with a diverse community that shared similar interests during the pandemic.
“Since I started, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in my ability to think on my feet and my communication skills,” Sydnor said. “Even as a beginner, everyone was so helpful and patient as I learned the British parliamentary style of debate. I never thought I would be the kind of person to join the debate team, but now I look forward to every practice.
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This is an example of uh Mānoa’s goal of improving student achievement (PDF), one of the four objectives defined in the Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (PDF), updated December 2020.