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Q&A: Fast 5 With Whitman’s Director of Debate & Forensics

A quick conversation with Baker Weilert-Pekar

By Zoe Perkins ’25

Baker Weilert-Pekar

It could be argued that Baker Weilert-Pekar was destined for the debate life. Whitman’s Director of Debate and Forensics grew up attending the debate practices his parents ran at the local high school. Weilert-Pekar went on to study and debate at Arkansas State University (A-State), earning both their Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communication. Weilert-Pekar later served as a debate coach and taught at ASU before joining Whitman as an Assistant Director of Debate and Forensics in 2019.

Whitman Magazine had a chance to ask Weilart-Pekar what keeps them committed to the pursuit of knowledge and to inspiring Whitman students in their passion.

1. What do you like most about debate and forensics?

It keeps me engaged in thought. It makes me constantly reevaluate my own systems of beliefs—I can’t just tacitly accept them. The other part of it is that I recognize it is a tool for students to learn how to engage with high-level ideas. I always tell the students to search for the truth in a topic.

2. How is debate complementary to a liberal arts education?

In my perfect world, it enriches the experience. Students involved in speech and debate interact with a lot of different thoughts and perspectives and they get to take that into the classroom. And it helps them make new lines of connection between what they learn in their different classes.

3. How does debate help prepare students for their careers?

For one, it provides the rhetorical tools necessary to orally present and feel confident in that presentation because the reality is you could have the best idea in the world, but if you’re not able to articulate that idea it means nothing. It also trains you to think quickly on your feet … constantly thinking and connecting ideas. Students often describe it as a cheat code for college.

4. What do you find special about the Whitman community?

There are a lot of different ideas from different places coming together at Whitman, not in a clash but in an exchange. I think there’s something beautiful about taking a step back and engaging from a place of trying to understand—to learn. I see it among students—naturally and genuinely—where they are trying to recognize someone else’s humanity through the act of listening.

5. Do you have a philosophy for mentoring students?

I do. My job is to teach the skills of debate and forensics … how to craft a solid argument and so on. But my guiding philosophy is that you have to create a safe place for those things to happen. I show up as myself in this space. I ask my students to do the same. We agree that we will respect the way we come to this space, and the only way that works is if it’s also a place people want to be … they’re here because this isn’t just a place to learn about debate and forensics, it’s also where their friends are.

Published on Feb 14, 2024
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