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Written by Anna Christensen, ('22)

For Ashley Harris, a senior History and Psychology double major, and Aubree Smith, a senior Intelligence Analysis major, participating on the debate team has been an integral part of their college experience at JMU. Says Ashley, “debate has been a very large part of my undergraduate career.”

In their previous experience, debate involved traveling to competitions, bonding in a shared team room, and many other exciting opportunities. However, debate looks very different this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Ashley and Aubree have had to quickly work alongside their coaches and the debate community to adapt to a new virtual setting.

“Things are different, but we are still making progress. I feel like I’ve grown as a debater and as a person,” Ashley reveals. “There has to be some flexibility,” admits Aubree, but debate is still “an area where you can learn and grow and make a lot of great friends along the way.” Currently, the team tries to foster the community aspect of the organization through socially distanced meetings in Harrison Hall, scheduled virtual hangouts, and evaluating “how [they] can make it the best [they] can.”

So, although it looks different, the debate team still provides the opportunity to come together and make connections at JMU. What is their advice for students who are thinking of joining an organization amidst a pandemic? “Keep an open mind and try,” says Ashley. Even though it may seem daunting to join an extracurricular in a virtual setting, organizations are filled with “people who want you to be there.” Another piece of advice? Try new things. “Debate is something that I never saw myself doing in high school,” admits Ashley, but “I am really happy that I was open to trying new things.”


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