The Philosophy of Argument: UT Tyler's newest debate coach

By: Senia Perez

From a corner of a hallway, the door to a small office opens wide for visitors. A man sits, typing away his day with earphones on. The room is small and packed with a desk, a bookshelf and three chairs. No pictures on the walls, and at least a handful of books are scattered on the middle shelf. The white room illuminates the space by spreading pure sunlight throughout the air. A new office for a new professor of the Department of Communication, and its new coach for The University of Texas at Tyler’s Patriot Debate team.

Ever since Dr. Joseph Provencher took a class on Plato, a known Greek philosopher, it sparked an interest in debate.

“I like arguments,” Provencher said as his mouth pulled into a small grin. His fingers didn’t cease to move. They traveled everywhere and anywhere on his desk. His hands followed his words, moving at the sway of his voice, emphasizing every syllable of his life.

Provencher grew up on the Oahu, Hawaii. He said there weren’t many opportunities in his hometown since the island provided extravagant places rather than job opportunities. It was a common norm for young adults to leave.

“Everything’s bananas expensive,” Provencher said about living in Hawaii. He laughed quietly as he meddled on his desk. Messy waves define his brown hair. Black, squared glasses sat on his nose and he wore a dressing shirt with khaki slacks. Sometimes he’s seen wearing a suit jacket and a tie. He’s attire is stylish yet simple. No loud colors.

He moved away from home when he was 18 to seek success in the United States. He double-majored in Philosophy and Economics and coached a debate team in college. After an attempted coffee-making business, he returned to school to major in Mass Communications Studies for his graduate career. Now, as a professor and Director of Forensics, he trains the university’s debate team.

“We used to go to tournaments without any prepping,” Eliza Prasai said, an undergraduate member of the UT Tyler debate team since 2018. Her strong voice resonated in the classroom loud enough to talk about the experiences without a head coach. According to Prasai, they attended tournaments with almost no money after the former director of Patriot Debate team stepped down in 2017.

“We’ve had to had stayed at like bad, bad hotels … there are times when we have not been able to go to tournaments because of lack of budget and everything,” Prasai said. She said it would kill her self-confidence as a debater. In those times she would come back humiliated for not winning a debate.

“Fortunate enough, having him as a debate coach, we actually won one of our rounds last weekend,” Kierra Green, Prasai’s debate partner, said about Provencher. The team’s latest success was its first tournament at Rice University. Green, compared to her partner Prasai, sat more relaxed with wide eyes. She’s one of the new members to join this semester.

“With his hype of coaching and his structure, I feel like we’re gonna like rock it out,” Green said with a waving fist in the air. Prasai mimics her move and lets out a small ‘yeah!’

Provencher interacts with these two students animatedly, with arms spreading wide and pointing at words on chalkboards. He paces around the classroom. Occasional glances at his team, making sure they are listening to his strategy on the board.

“For this year, I’d like to do as much as possible… I want to go to the big dance,” Provencher said, his hands removing and smoothing sticky notes onto the desk. He said he has been putting so much effort into the team, changing tactics and educating old and new members. He works along with two graduate students: Matthew Lucci and Mackenzie Marquess. Prasai said ever since the new additions of staff, the team has committed to strive for better budget and representation of UT Tyler’s debate team.

“You have to articulate what you want before you get it,” Provencher said.

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