Wake Forest Debate team wins national championship

This is the third time WFU has won the top title

The Wake Forest University debate team won the national championship in intercollegiate debating Monday night at the 2023 National Debate Tournament.  

Wake Forest juniors Iyana Trotman and Tajaih Robinson defeated the University of Michigan in the final round.

When Trotman and Robinson arrived at the tournament, they knew they were facing some fierce competition.

“I was excited to be there,” said Trotman, an African American studies and education major from Newark, N.J. “We were competing against some of the best debate teams in the country. Once the elimination rounds began the feeling of anxiety settled in because we got closer to the finish line.”

This year’s topic: The United States should vest legal rights and/or duties in one or more of the following: artificial intelligence, nature, nonhuman animal species.

Students had to be prepared to argue both sides.

As the competition narrowed, an outline that looks like an NCAA bracket emerged with the top 32 teams. Trotman and Robinson defeated Dartmouth College in the semifinals, the University of Kansas in the elite eight, and Michigan State University in the sweet sixteen.

After a full 20-hour day of debating in the final, their stamina and hard work paid off. They defeated the University of Michigan on a 4-1 decision.

It took thousands of research hours and practice crafting their arguments to arrive at that moment.

“To win a national debate tournament requires a lot of time and commitment and weekends of being away from campus,” said Robinson, a communication major from New York City. “I’m still in shock and cannot believe it! I am super excited to have won.”

For Trotman, winning the national title also is historic. She is the youngest Black student to ever win the National Debate Tournament. She’s also the third Black woman in history and the sixth woman ever to win the NDT Championship.

“As I debated, the only thing I could think of was making history and setting a path for little Black girls to follow after me,” she said.

Both students credit their success to mentors in their lives along the way, their coaches at Wake Forest and their Wake Debate teammates.

“Wake Debate has such a squad of people committed to our success in many ways whether it be running to get food, cutting cards, words of encouragement, and random dance parties. I could not have done it without my team,” said Trotman. 

This is the third time  Wake Forest has won the National Debate Tournament, which is widely regarded as the most prestigious championship in college debate.

The first victory was in 1997 and the second was in 2008. The Tournament is restricted to the top 78 teams in the nation and every participant must qualify to attend the championship.

“The entire Wake Forest community plays an essential role in helping foster this type of success. This year, Iyana and Tajaih showed everyone their brilliance, drive, and ability to work to achieve the highest goal possible.” Jarrod Atchison, the John Kevin Medica Director of Debate and professor

Wake Forest qualified three teams (the max allowed) in the National Debate Tournament. Ana Bittner and Ari Davidson made it to the elite eight and Jazmyn Luckett and Asya Taylor made the top 32.

Wake Forest University hosted the 77th National Debate Tournament which took place near Washington D.C. in Chantilly, Va.

Debating at Wake Forest is a long-standing tradition. It started in 1835 making the debate program the oldest student organization on campus. The only interruption to debating took place during the American Civil War. Wake Forest Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson famously wrote: “Long before we played football, edited publications, acted, or sang – in fact, almost before we studied, we of Wake Forest talked.”

Photo courtesy of Claire Brickson Photography

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