This week VBI PF Curriculum Director Devon Weis got the opportunity to sit down and ask some questions to VBI staff members Maya Waterland and Krithika Shamanna, both of which will be working with us at VBI this summer.
See more of of our stellar 2018 VBI PF staff here.
So to start off things nicely, what do you think is each other’s best skill?
Maya: So I’d say Krithika’s best skill is that she has really great topic knowledge, it just becomes really evident in crossfire and also just being able to easily relay information in speeches, so there’s not a lot of “reading off the laptop.” For example, you just have the information so committed to heart that you end up super knowledgeable throughout the round and you can smash your opponents.
Krithika: I think Maya’s best skill as a coach is probably her patience. I think she’s just a really great coach because she’s the right amount of supportive and she’ll tell you when an argument you’re running is pretty dumb. She’s really supportive and an amazing coach.
If you could have a 15 minute coffee conversation with one person–alive or dead–who would it be?
Maya: I’d want to talk to Bernini, he’s a famous baroque artist. I’m in an art history class, and we finished studying the renaissance and baroque art and he was just really revolutionary in starting the era of baroque art by making sculptures more dramatic and making art more dynamic. He was just so instrumental in changing the course of art, renaissance art was really different from baroque art so he ushered in a new era of sculpture and he also worked on the St. Peter’s Basilica.
Krithika: Mine would be the yodeling kid from Ellen. I would like to learn how to yodel.
In the wake of MSD, there’s been a lot more press out there lauding debate as a mechanism for teaching students how to affect real change. Do you think you both could tell me a little bit about how you’ve been able to use your debate skills in the real world?
Krithika: So, I think the biggest thing I got from debate is that it really helps you find what you’re passionate about. Really early on through debate I found out that I was really passionate about women’s rights. We talk about it in debate a lot through different arguments and things like that, but debate taught me not to only talk about it in round but other places as well. I think it’s really helped me become an activist in the real world outside the debate community. It gave me the confidence to be able to work with people like Wendy Davis, and reach out to local politicians in Austin to take an idea that I have and turn it into a tangible change. Without that, I don’t think I would have been able to reach out to people and talk to them without the public speaking skills that debate gave me. I also think the ability to problem solve was a big part of what debate gave me. I found something that I viewed was a problem in my community and I had to come up with different solutions to it, and I think those analytical thinking skills are a big part of it.
Maya: I feel like debate is really important for a lot of research and analysis skills that can really make a difference in college. For example, writing your case, you need it to flow and logically progress from one idea to the next, and have anyone understand it, which really helps with general writing skills. I think it’s also really valuable for providing background information for a lot of different issues since the topic changes every month in PF. I feel like grappling with policy through debate equips students with the information they need to talk about a bunch of different issues, especially at a young age, which removes some of the barrier between young people and politicians. Another really important thing that debate taught me is how to understand both sides of an issue. You literally are forced to debate both sides, so you have to get things from both perspectives which I definitely think is helpful for empathizing with people.
What do you think is the best topic you ever debated?
Maya: Okay, let me look through my folders.
Krithika: So I wouldn’t have said this at the time, but I think the capital gains topic from february. I think overall, it was probably the topic I learned the most about real life and about taxes and knowledge that I’ll actually be using everyday in the future. I think more than any other topic, I walked in with no prior knowledge, so I learned the most from that topic.
Maya: The two topics I think were the most important are the popular vote topic and then the searches topic–the reasonable suspicion and probable cause stuff. Those are the two things that related most closely to what we were encountering in daily life. The probable cause one is obviously so applicable to high school students and the distinction between the two search standards is something I never knew existed. The popular vote one was also really important because it was right after Hillary lost.
What is your favorite tournament?
Maya: My favorite tournament was probably Emory. The thing is, we never really did that well, we never broke.
Then what made it your favorite?
Maya: It was just the campus was really nice, the weather was always cool, and the competition was so good that every round was good. All the outrounds were great to watch.
Krithika: Harvard was my favorite tournament. It was my favorite because the campus is really nice. I also think it had great judges and the quality of the debaters there was so amazing. Like Maya said at Emory, every single round was very challenging and I learned something every single round.
Maya: I also want to add the TOC for the same reason. Actually what am I saying, TOC is my favorite tournament. Every round there is just so good and you feel really challenged, and the judges are good so every round is your ideal round just repeated.
I like how you both answered the question with regards to how challenging you found the tournament to be. But moving on, although you’re both Texas debaters, but you seem to have traveled a fair amount to compete. Could you tell me some of the things that make the Texas PF circuit unique?
Krithika: I’d say the Texas circuit is both the most lay and the most flow circuit at the same time.
Maya: (furious head nodding) I totally agree.
Can you elaborate a little more?
Krithika: At the same tournament you can debate the most lay round ever, but the round after you can hit a team that is running like 5 disads and a kritik at the same time.
Maya: That’s so true, you have schools that are running theory and others that are speaking as quickly as possible. There are also schools that are not experienced with those debates and are way more traditional, but I think a lot of it has to do with the differences in coaching.
Speaking of which, what’s your stance on theory in PF?
Krithika: You do you, but I’m not about that life. I don’t know, I would never do it, and I don’t particularly like it, but if theory is your thing, go ahead, I will have my a2: theory file prepared.
Maya: I’m kinda traditional in this way, I guess. I understand why someone would run theory, but I don’t think the average team, or even the excellent team in PF needs theory to win rounds. I just don’t think the event was founded on people running such arguments.
What is your favorite argument you’ve ever run?
Krithika: My favorite argument is from the September/October topic where I ran an overview with like 3 reasons why war is inevitable. That’s my favorite argument. I think the reason why I liked it so much is because the evidence I used for that is probably the best evidence I’ve ever cut in my debate career. It was really hard to respond to because the evidence was so strong.
Maya: I have two favorites. The first one is from the Israel topic where we ran this argument about the API, which stands for the Arab Peace Initiative. The argument was basically that Arab nations and Israel are working together because they recognize that ISIS and Iran are huge threats and so it would make them both unite under one cause and make concessions for a 2-state solution. The other one was on the IoT topic and we said the IoT was bad because it would cause automation and it’s really bad because it’ll ruin the economy and exacerbate classism.
What do you think is the hardest part about debate?
Maya: I think the synthesis of skills is the hardest part. Debate crosses so many different areas. For example, you have to be good at research, because if not, you won’t ever say anything noteworthy in round. You also have to have good interpersonal communication skills, because when you’re friends with people in debate it makes it so much more fun and enjoyable, plus it’s easier to get intel throughout the tournament. Not to mention it’s essential for navigating partnerships. Also you have to be able to digest information really quickly, organize yourself, it’s just a lot of stuff all at once.
Krithika: So, everyone has bad tournaments or bad rounds, and sometimes it’s very hard to justify wasting another weekend, or wasting a lot of money to keep going to tournaments after you had a bad one. So I think that’s the hardest part about debate is just to keep going after you’ve had a setback.
What is your favorite thing about VBI?
Maya: I feel like my favorite thing is the community. The quality of staff is really good and everyone is really easy to reach out to and talk to, even from PF to LD. Last year, there were some kids from my lab at LA2 that wanted to learn about theory. I was like, I can’t really help you with that but I know someone who can, so they went and talked to one of our LD instructors during Socrates hour. Also, things like Omegathon make it really lighthearted. So even though debate is super competitive and cutthroat sometimes, Omegathon brings everyone together and reminds everyone that there’s fun in debate. Also, all the campuses that VBI is held at are super pretty and have good food. (Shoutouts to the boba in the UCLA dining hall)
Krithika: Oh my gosh this is so hard, I love everything about VBI! VBI taught me everything about debate and I would not have stayed in debate without VBI. Also the people are just–you just will not find a camp with a staff that is more woke than the staff at VBI.
Krithika: Shoutouts to my mom, my other amazing coach Humza, my team of course, and THAAD and Boujee.
Maya: Shoutouts to Jami Tanner, Lauren Lamar, Talla Khelghati, and Jackie Prokopeas for being not only amazing debaters, but hilarious people, such a good, supportive group of girls in debate.
If you want to work with Maya and Krithika and the rest of our awesome PF staff this summer, register for VBI here!