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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life September 21, 2020

Kristina Chiu ’24: A Way With Words

Kristina Chiu smiling in the foreground. In the background is a field of yellow flowers
Photo by Kari Gilje

As a high school debater in her home state of Washington, Kristina Chiu ’24 learned to think on her feet.

“We had these typed-up, prepared responses we could throw at the other team if need be, but I just never used them,” says Chiu, one of 528 first-year students at Smith this fall. “I was best at coming up with responses and ideas in the moment.”

Chiu, who joined the debate team in her sophomore year at Mount Si High School, helped the team garner more than 20 awards at state and regional tournaments. Her team also competed in national qualifying rounds.

She excelled at public forum debates—those “focused on public speaking and making topics accessible to the layperson.”

How did she become so skilled at the art of argument?

“Debating is something you don’t start learning to do until you’re actually doing it,” says Chiu, who is at home with her family in Fall City, Washington this semester. “The initial anxiety about public speaking is uncomfortable. But if you’re a competitive person like me, you get over it.”

Her debate-team experience is part of what sparked Chiu’s interest in attending a women’s college.

“Being a female person in debate is interesting,” she says. “People will tell you you’re too aggressive. Someone told a teammate of mine that she was ‘too spicy.’ I’m curious about how that plays out in a women’s college environment.”

She was also drawn to the diversity of the Smith community.

Her high school did not have many students of color, notes Chiu, whose heritage is Chinese and Norwegian. “I wanted an environment I could grow in.”

At Smith, Chiu is considering majoring in environmental science and policy. She is also excited about studying poetry and languages—including Chinese, which she began learning with her paternal grandmother a few summers ago.

She is shouldering the challenges of learning remotely this semester. “The time-zone change is killer,” Chiu says. “My Chinese class meets at 5:10 a.m. (PDT). But I willingly signed up for that one.”

She says she’d be open to joining a Smith Dungeons and Dragons group, “if there are any lurking out there,” or perhaps a virtual baking club.

And, of course, there’s the college debate society.

“We just had our introductory meeting,” Chiu says. “It felt nice to be back in that environment!”