Date Released: April 17, 2017

By D. Aileen Dodd


The Morehouse College Debate Team has won an international first place title and a trip to Paris after defeating Vanderbilt University in the final round at the Lafayette Debates North American Championship in Washington D.C.

The historic victory, which comes with a traveling trophy that dates back 235 years, is a first for Morehouse College. It solidifies Morehouse’s spot as the fifth most successful debate team in the nation.

“This is a very big deal,” said Ken Newby, debate coach for Morehouse College. “This was a difficult competition staged in two parts over two days. We had to battle our way through the quarterfinals and the semi-finals, which we won unanimously. And in the final round, we faced-off against Vanderbilt, and won 3-2.”

Newby took a two-man team to the Lafayette – Jonathan Carlisle, a senior, and Keith Matier, a junior. Neither Carlisle nor Matier had debate team experience before coming to Morehouse. With training, they now have emerged as international champion debaters.

In two days of intense competition, Carlisle and Matier of Morehouse defeated debaters from West Point, Yale, Vanderbilt, Cornell, University of Georgia, George Washington University, and teams from Canada and France.

The team argued for and against the topic: Should democracies prioritize interculturalism as a strategy for managing diversity.

“One of our strengths is a deep understanding that black voices matter,” Newby said. “We usually take a novel approach that other teams don’t take and make points that they don’t expect. Adding that diversity of opinion in debate really reinforces how important it is for students to make their voices heard in the world.”

Newby said the team decided that they only needed two people to win the debate.

“I made the opportunity open to everyone on the team and set requirements for research and argument construction,” he said. “Based on those who rise to the top in preparation is what determines who actually goes.”

Carlisle and Matier rose to the top. After the duo was selected to present, the entire team worked together using their advanced writing, research, and critical-thinking skills to strengthen Morehouse’s argument for and against the selected topic.

The collaboration put Morehouse on track for a win.

“I am extremely proud of the collaborative approach that we took to develop our arguments,” Newby said. “It truly makes it a victory that everyone can share. ”

Carlisle and Matier will receive an all-expense paid trip to France to participate in a debate study program as a prize. 

"It's a great privilege to represent the Morehouse Speech and Debate Team in these debates given that we discussed prescient issues facing today's democracies,” Matier said. “Moreover, it's a great privilege to have won the study tour to Paris, which allows us to further engage the tournament's topic. It's also humbling to reflect on the fact that debate has taken me out the country multiple times. I didn't have a passport before enrolling into Morehouse. “

Carlisle said the win is a victory for HBCUs as well.

“There is a common belief among people in American society that HBCUs aren’t valuable, and that they don’t have the educational vitality to produce things like this,” Carlisle said. “What this victory says to me is that I chose the right school, and the education that I’m receiving is valuable. I believe that I can do anything in the world because of the experiences that I have had at Morehouse College.” 

With this latest victory, Morehouse has won seven national and four international titles since 2011 under Newby’s leadership. Newby said the Lafayette win comes with prestige of a traveling trophy that reminds competitors of the team’s prowess.

“The traveling trophy is a 235-year old map that locates the city of York, also know as Yorktown,” Newby explained. “It’s a significant map that was kept in an old leather-bound book … and later framed. Yorktown was the scene of the French naval blockade, which was the impetus causing the end of the [Revolutionary] War.”

Morehouse is not resting on its laurels. The team recently traveled to Denver to compete in the nation’s largest championship for British parliamentary debate.

The Morehouse Debate Team raised funds to attend this competition and has an ongoing need for financial support to attend specialty competitions like this one, and to support the program's activities and travel. You can give to support the team at

Last Modified: June 8, 2017, 13:06 PM, by: Synera Shelton

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