Chang-Deutsch & Conry: An Unstoppable Duo!
They’ve had an incredible year – winning Blake, winning State, and now they’re ranked #1 in the nation! Congratulations to Gabe Chang-Deutsch & Clara Conry from Minneapolis South High School, who were ranked #1 in the latest national coaches poll, conducted by University of Michigan Debate.
We spoke to Gabe & Clara about their experiences earlier this season. Find the pros and cons of a virtual season, their thoughts on the criminal justice topic, and what they’re learning:
What got you into debate and what keeps you competing?
Gabe: I did middle school debate for 3 years and I’ve done high school debate for the last 4 years. I like the competition and the people you meet in debate. You meet some of the smartest people. You also get to become friends with people from all different backgrounds across the country. My coaches have also been super supportive and helpful.
Clara: I just started debating in high school. I’d thought about it in middle school, but I had a conflict. Once I got to try it, I ended up really liking it.
What’s the adjustment to online debate been like?
Gabe: It’s worse in that you don’t get to see your friends. But a lot of the things people like about debate, like the competition and arguments, still exist and that is enough. That’s enough to make it still fun for me.
Plus, we went to a tournament that is “in Texas” that we wouldn’t have been able to go to if we were in person. We’ll go to some tournaments in the second semester that we wouldn’t have been able to go to if we were in-person. We’ve also had more teams traveling from South. It’s nice to be able to have multiple teams traveling.
Clara: One of the challenges is that you’re trying to do debate actively in your house! You have family members who are home during tournaments who need to use the internet. And debate is loud – that’s a challenge. It’s also weird not to see other people at tournaments. Typically, you can go talk to other people and lower your nerves in in-person debate.
The best part of online tournaments is that we get to do a lot of tournaments we normally wouldn’t get to compete at. You don’t have to pay for plane tickets or travel, so we get to add even more tournaments to our schedule.
How are you approaching the criminal justice reform topic?
Clara: We have two cases. One is about sentencing algorithms. A lot of people get sentenced by algorithms that ask arbitrary questions like where you live or your economic stability, and they decide how likely you are to compete again. They have a lot of racial biases. The second affirmative case is about domestic terrorism and the criminalization of white nationalism. Algorithms has been our main affirmative case, because it’s the best at answering most debate arguments. Both of them have a really strong literature base.
What kind of negative strategy are you encountering this year?
Gabe: The abolition kritik and critiques of reformism, broadly, have been very popular. This has been the topic with the strongest basis for kritiks since the education reform topic. We read them a lot and have them read against us a lot. Some of our most effective responses include arguments about why giving up on reformism makes it impossible to create change. We also found arguments about why abolition fails being persuasive for judges. There are some other kritiks that are not argument specific.
How do you feel about the criminal justice topic?
Gabe: I agree with the cases we’re reading – they’re good ideas. This topic does suffer a bit because the debate framework changes the controversy. We can fiat actors in the federal government, but really, most of the important criminal justice controversies, like changing police unions, are more strategic at a local level instead of a higher level. Criminal justice reform is obviously a massive topic in Minneapolis and that’s created good context for the debates that are occurring this year.
Clara: I really liked last year’s topic, but I find reading about international relations topics really interesting. This topic has been a different experience for me, because I’m at a different skill level now that I’m in my third year.
Do you have any highlights from the season so far to share?
Gabe: Honestly, the tournaments sort of blend together, because they’re all online. Things don’t feel distinct. But it was fun to be in finals at New Trier. At Glenbrooks, we had a pretty bad preliminary round and a pretty good elimination run. For awhile, we were one ballot away from winning majors, so our goal was to win a major tournament. We won Blake. But at any tournament, I’m usually just happy to be debating.
Clara: I enjoy when I get to compete against people from my lab (from camp).
What are your hopes or goals for the rest of the season?
Clara: I’d generally like to improve. I still have one more year, so I have to keep going.
Is there anything you’ve taken away from this unusual year?
Gabe: It’s tough. But it’s made me more resilient in that, when things don’t go my way, it shows that things can still be pretty good. We all wish debate and school was in person, but we’re still finding ways to enjoy it. And there are good parts to every bad thing. Getting to go to so many tournaments this year is really significant.
Clara: I’m really glad that my main activity has transferred so well online. I know a lot of people whose activities haven’t turned out that well. I also think there’s an important lesson overall to be taken from COVID, about how important it is to care about people around you. Masks and social distancing are a reminder that you create an impact on everyone. It’s important to bring that broader lesson into the future.
We are continuing to provide virtual debate programming throughout the spring season. Help equip students from our middle school debate, Spanish Debate League, and East African Debate programs with the supplies they need to compete virtually. If you can, please make a gift today. $30 purchases two pairs of quality headsets – enough to equip one team like Gabe & Clara!