Nowadays nearly every university town is home to its own club of debaters. So it was peculiar that the burgeoning student city – and home to the Dutch government – of The Hague was missing out. Two students at Leiden University College (LUC) in The Hague felt the same and set up LUC Debating Union. SevenTwenty got the opportunity to speak with them about their ambitious plans.
A society for all students in The Hague
Naomi Jo and Hugo van Lent, a second and third year at Leiden’s Honours College, are no stranger to rhetoric. German-Bosnian Naomi has had a long and celebrated history in Model United Nations, including popularising the game in Slovenia. Hugo is an alumni from high school debating and has participated at the Intergym high school tournament.
Hugo: “I wanted to continue debating, but due to my student commitments it was hard to take the time to join the existing union in Leiden. Other students at LUC also felt that debating was missing at our college. So this year we set up an union”. After a false start during the last academic year, this year the LUC Debating Union meets once every two weeks on the campus of LUC. “We meet up in the evenings at around half seven,” Hugo explains. “Some of us have dinner together, we bring some beer. We then do a British Parliamentary debate and afterwards we discuss the debates that happened”.
It can be hard for a new debating society to get started. Luckily this union is focused and gets help from experienced trainers. Naomi: “Our debating union has tournament tracks where we train our members in the period leading up to a competition. Our first three teams competed at UCU Open this year. They did really well, with one of them becoming the fifth-best novice speaker, even though we had only really been debating for three weeks”. The debaters at LUC also get helpful tips from some experienced Leiden debaters who also study in The Hague, UCU Open finalists Emma Lucas and Floris Holstege and Roosevelt Open finalist David Metz. They give workshops and even participate themselves during the evenings.
It is definitely not Naomi and Hugo’s intention to limit debating in The Hague to LUC students. “We want this union to be open to everyone in The Hague”, they say. “People from Leiden University who study Public Administration and International Studies, as well as people from de Haagse Hogeschool are all more than welcome”. That is why they have set up this union outside of the LUC student society Fortuna and are looking to establish themselves as an official foundation.
LUC Debating Union is certainly not content with just speaking in British Parliamentary during their evenings. Hugo mentions that he would love setting up public speaking evenings. Naomi last year organised a very successful Crisis Simulation, where fifty students re-enact a real-life diplomatic crisis situation. “It was a lot of work”, Naomi admitted. “I wrote all fifty characters and gave them different choices they could make. But the end result was overwhelming and everyone loved it. We will surely do this again this year, and hope that many students from different studies join us. It is a great way to bring your debating skills in practice and learn how to lobby”. They also express the wish to set up public evenings were professors participate in debates and share their knowledge, and hope that their team gets to debate an economics motion with their economics professor soon.
An ever closer Union
“What is great about our group of debaters is that they all have such different backgrounds”, says Naomi, who has lived across all of Europe and knows what she is talking about. It becomes quickly apparent that this is also true about the debating styles. Naomi says that she is still learning to debate differently from her MUN background. “You favour style over substance?” your reporter asks. “Well, that’s not entirely it…” she starts, but Hugo agrees with that comment. “Debaters like to argue more over the nitty-gritty of politics”.
Despite their interest in diversity, it is not always easy to communicate with everyone. Between the lines the duo admits that their communication with other debating societies hasn’t been stable yet. “We don’t know about the existence of many debating societies yet”, Hugo admits. “We are planning to set up a joined evening with the Leiden Debating Union, where our debaters can meet”. Such an evening will surely provide a lively mix of debating styles, arguments and drinks.
Do you want to join a debate society and live in The Hague? LUC Debating Union debates once every two weeks. The spoken language is English and the format is British Parliamentary, an accessible format that the members would love to learn you. You can contact them and find out when the next evening is on their Facebook page.
Daan is een oud-debater van de Leiden Debating Union en Nijmeegse Studentendebatvereniging Trivium. Ook diende hij als Bestuurslid PR & Communicatie van de Nederlandse Debatbond (2013-2014).