All-female team wins 121-year-old debate contest

The University of Auckland Debating Society has won the prestigious 'Joynt Scroll' debating championship.

The winning team: Aisha O'Malley, Grace Baylis and Melissa Connolly.
The winning team: Aisha O'Malley, Grace Baylis and Melissa Connolly.

Joynt Scroll, the country's most prestigious debate tournament founded in 1902, was taken out by an all-female team for the first time this April.

Teammates and good friends Grace Baylis, Aisha O'Malley and Melissa Connolly skilfully debated their way through the New Zealand Universities' Limited Preparation Debating Championships, and in the final round, they successfully negated the motion 'This House supports the availability of the partial defence of provocation' to claim victory over Otago.

The Joynt Scroll is New Zealand's second oldest sporting competition, and it sees Auckland, Otago, Canterbury, Victoria and Waikato Universities battle it out for the title and trophy every year.

Melissa, who is in her fourth year of global studies and law, says her team was thrilled to break ground and win the contest.

"To win the title was really cool, particularly with good friends. We are all incredibly proud to continue the debating society's trend of fostering diverse talent."

In 2020, Auckland Law students Umbar Sandhu and Sharuka Wikramanayake became the first team of all people of colour to win the Scroll.

Winning the competition as the first all-women team felt amazing, but, says Melissa, achieving the milestone shouldn't have taken so long.

"Debate can be quite a male-dominated sport, and although it is cool to see how far things have come and to break down barriers, it's surprising it took this long for an all-female team to win," she says.

Melissa and her teammates weren't the only ones to find success in the contest, which saw teams from the country's top universities battle it out for the scroll (a slightly misshapen wooden shield).

The University debating society sent a large squad of six teams, five judges, and two trainee judges to the competition over Easter weekend.

There was a lot to celebrate following the many dynamic, well-researched and put-together debates, including law student Harry Aickin, named the third best speaker, Grace Baylis, who was the fourth equal best speaker, and Melissa Connolly, who was the 11th best speaker. In addition, Ellen Wang was named a promising speaker, and Mannat Kaur was the most promising speaker of the tournament. At just 16 years old, Mannat is among the youngest to have ever won the award.

"We were all really proud to do so well and to display the high-quality education we have gained studying at Auckland Law School," says Melissa.

Meanwhile, Auckland Law School alumni Umbar Sandhu was the Chief Adjudicator of the tournament, setting topical law motions such as 'This House prefers the Privy Council as New Zealand's highest court' and 'This house prefers a world where the value of treaty settlements was given directly to Māori rather than Iwi'.

Alumni Daniel Maier-Gant and Sharuka Wikramanayake also supported the competition by judging the tournament's final rounds, and current law student Brontë Page judged for Auckland.

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