For more than a year, University of Miami debaters Delphine Djomo and Iman Sami spent hours researching journals, scholarly magazines, and reams of documents to master topics for their upcoming debates.
Inside the School of Communication debate room, they often engaged in mock debates late into the night—practicing their delivery, tone, and knowledge of the topics at hand.
Their coaches, associate professor David Steinberg and lecturer Patrick Waldinger, were right next to them offering tips and often bringing them food or anything else they needed.
On April 30, 2022, their sacrifice and hard work paid off.
Fresh off a final four appearance at the prestigious Lafayette Debates, hosted by George Washington University and the Embassy of France, Iman and Delphine led the University Debate team to win the ACC Debate Championship—beating Wake Forest University in a virtual competition.
Other schools that participated included the University of Notre Dame and Florida State University. This is the second time that debaters from the U have brought home the championship trophy.
“I am immensely proud of our debate team and grateful to their dedicated faculty, David Steinberg and Patrick Waldinger,” said Karin Wilkins, dean of the School of Communication. “Our students exemplify what it means to be effective communicators, able to advocate through their skills in reasoning and presentation.”
Steinberg was full of praise for the team.
“I celebrate every debate and debate event in which our students participate, win or lose, because the greatest success is their experience,” he said. “Of course, it is more fun to win, and that pushes our students’ effort and boosts their learning process,” he added.
“The ACC tournament is a special win. It is the culmination of an effort by our whole team—enjoyed by a two-person team but earned by our whole squad,” Steinberg pointed out.
For Sami, a senior, and Djomo, a 2022 graduate who has accepted an offer in asset management with The Blackstone Group, it is a bittersweet time. Although elated to have won, they are sad to part from each other. The pair has been debating together for a year and a half.
“We work well together,” said Djomo. “She has strengths where I have weaknesses. And vice versa. She is analytical and really good at dissecting arguments. I am more persuasive and flowery. So, we balance each other out.”
Their styles came through in the ACC debate. They argued in civic style, both “for and against” the topic, which was “The New Urban Agenda Should Be a Sustainable Development Priority.”
Set by the United Nations, the agenda proposes a global standard for sustainable urban development. It sets 17 sustainable goals to be accomplished by 2030, which included achieving zero inequalities and also ways to mitigate climate change by protecting the environment, according to Sami.
“We first argued against the New Urban agenda by saying that it is bad because it leaves out people who live in rural areas and it does not look at corporations and their impact,” Sami noted.
“It is also morally flawed because the process of putting it together was unethical. When the document was initially crafted it explicitly protected the rights of various groups including the LGBTQ population. Before it was finalized, a number of participating countries objected to this and the group caved in . . . excluding LGBTQ people,” she added.
The duo emphasized that the agenda should prioritize people and not cities. But the agenda falls short of its vision of eliminating the three major obstacles toward sustainable development worldwide—persistence of multiple forms of poverty, growing inequalities, and environmental degradation.
When they argued in favor of implementing the agenda, the two debaters did it with the same energy and conviction.
“We argued that creating sustainable cities creates a sustainable future,” Sami said. “We explained that programs that create clean cities and expand city services improve the quality of life of its citizens.”
Besides winning the top spot, Sami and Djomo were recognized as the top two individual debaters of the competition. This distinction is given to the debaters who best convey the information of their argument by their delivery and knowledge of topic.
“These two are exceptional,” said Steinberg. “They are intellectually curious and unwavering in their dedication to knowing more and talking with great passion about issues that matter to them. They have the respect of their peers, and now they have the ACC Championship. The impressive traveling trophy will have its home in Coral Gables for at least the next year, and Iman and Delphine’s name will be engraved on it for posterity.”