Mercer University debaters perform well at tournaments

niyati patel and thomas barlett hold their award plaques.
Mercer debaters Niyati Patel, left, and Thomas Barlett won awards in the Gaske Memorial Invitational Tournament Feb. 4-5 at San Diego University.

MACON — Members of the Mercer University debate team, Niyati Patel and Chirayu Salgarkar, made it to the quarterfinals of the 17th annual Mile High Swing, historically considered the most important debate tournament outside of nationals.

The “Swing,” hosted Jan. 8-9 at Texas Tech, consisted of two back-to-back tournaments.

During the second half of the tournament, Mercer’s debaters advanced to the quarterfinals as one of the top eight teams to compete. During the preliminaries, the debaters won all five rounds and earned a perfect score.

Niyati Patel

“What most impressed me was that Niyati and Chirayu achieved a perfect undefeated record in every single pre-elimination round against some of the top debate schools in the nation. I could not be more proud of each of them and the coaching staff who supported them in their victories,” said Dr. Vasile Stanescu, director of the speech and debate program at Mercer.

Additionally, the debaters defeated teams from Rice University; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Chicago; and William Jewell College, among others. Overall, 38 competitors from six different states competed.

Fiker Tesfaye, associate director of debate, and Cam Wade, a former Mercer debater, coached the students to prepare for the tournament. Though this is Tesfaye’s first year with the debate team, she has already contributed much to the team given her previous status as the top debater in the nation.

Chirayu Salgarkar

The tournament awards competitors based on individual excellence, which resulted in Patel placing fifth overall in the competition.

“The tournament was extremely fun yet rigorous. I learned a lot about argumentation and myself personally, so that introspection was much appreciated,” Patel said. “I, of course, could not have done it without the team’s amazing associate director, Fiker, and the director, Dr. Stanescu. I also want to thank my partner for sticking it out with me.”

Patel and Salgarkar prepared for their debates by reading graduate-level work and explaining their understandings of these readings. They also practiced multiple times a week to prepare for rounds and sharpen their skills.

The students also met individually with the coaches to work on their personal strengths and weaknesses. And, they also studied critical analysis and theory positions, as well as current events, and held practice rounds and strategized with the team.

“I enjoy debate as an activity. I feel like it is rigorous, which makes competition hard but more importantly valuable, as competition with a third-party judge, who has various debate philosophies, helps you improve efficiency in argument, which has very real consequences for real-world communication,” Salgarkar said.

Additionally, the debate team competed at the Gaske Memorial Invitational Tournament, hosted Feb. 4-5 at San Diego State University.

While Mercer debaters usually participate in the National Parliamentary Debate Association, with this recent tournament they have ventured into competing in the International Public Debate Association.

Thomas Barlett, a freshman global development and Spanish double-major, received gold and won the novice division.

“I am particularly proud of Thomas for winning the entire novice division. This was Thomas’ first debate tournament ever. Despite this limitation, he went on to win the entire tournament. Well done,” Stanescu said.

Patel also competed in this tournament and won silver in the varsity division.

About the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 

Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences serves as the academic cornerstone of one of America’s oldest and most distinctive institutions of higher learning. The oldest and largest of Mercer’s 12 schools and colleges, it is a diverse and vibrant community, enrolling more than 1,900 students, dedicated to learning and service through the practice of intellectual curiosity, respectful dialogue and responsible citizenry. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers majors in more than 30 areas of study, including more than a dozen pre-professional academic tracks, with classes taught by an outstanding faculty of scholars. In 2015, Mercer was awarded a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society that recognizes exceptional achievement in the arts and sciences. For more information, visit

About Mercer University 

Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. With approximately 9,000 students enrolled in 12 schools and colleges, on major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; medical school sites in Macon, Savannah and Columbus; and at regional academic centers in Henry and Douglas counties, Mercer is ranked among the top tier of national research universities by U.S. News & World Report. The Mercer Health Sciences Center includes the University’s School of Medicine and Colleges of Nursing, Health Professions and Pharmacy. Mercer is affiliated with five teaching hospitals – Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center and Piedmont Macon Medical Center in Macon; Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah; and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis-Emory Healthcare in Columbus. The University also has an educational partnership with Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. It operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon, an engineering research center in Warner Robins, and Mercer Medicine clinics in Sumter, Peach, Clay and Putnam counties. Mercer is one of only 293 institutions nationwide to shelter a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society; one of eight institutions to hold membership in the Georgia Research Alliance; and the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit