What is it?
The Refugee Community Debate League was established by the University of Utah Department
of Communication and the John R. Park Debate Society in the fall of 2022 in an effort
to expand departmental outreach into the community. Moreover, the program contributes
to the department infrastructure by emphasizing community engagement informed by the
anti-racist code of conduct. The program is an effort to connect and support a historically
and presently marginalized group in Utah. Recognizing that Salt Lake City has a large
refugee community, the department and the debate society created the Refugee Community
Debate League as a way to engage in collaboration and meet the needs of our refugee
neighbors. The debate league focuses on the basics of debate instruction and argumentation
through weekly classes held during the fall and spring semesters. Our goal is to support
members of the community through free instruction, free college credit, scholarships,
and an opportunity for competition on the University of Utah campus. The Salt Lake
Refugee Center helps facilitate the program though recruitment and providing an accessible
location for weekly classes.
What are we doing?
At the conclusion of the fall 2022 program for K-12 participants, eight students visited
the University of Utah campus for a debate tournament. At the tournament, students
were able to showcase the skills they acquired during the course and compete with
one another in front of judging panels made up of John R. Park Debate Society members
and department faculty. All students debated education reform in the state of Utah
and proposals for how the state might alleviate some of the academic stressors put
on students. Two partnerships advanced to a final round. The winners of that final
round were the recipients of laptops and all members in the final round received $1,500
scholarships the University of Utah. All members were awarded course completion certificates
and various university swag.
After a successful fall program, the debate league will pick up again this spring
starting January 24th. The spring course will be targeted for those in the refugee
community eighteen years of age and older while still maintaining the opportunity
for University of Utah course credit. While still centered around the basics of argumentation
and debate, instead of debating education reform in Utah, students will explore the
topic of healthcare. We are also pleased to announce that department member, Dr. Crystal
Lumpkins, has agreed to present to the course as a guest speaker on February 21st.
Dr. Lumpkins’ perspectives and knowledge with regard to health communication will
not only serve as a form of multifaceted involvement with the students, but one opportunity
for the students to engage with research on their topic.
The debate society believes that debate instruction is a unique pedagogical practice
in which students have the ability to explore their own beliefs and build confidence
in themselves and the ability to present those beliefs. In fact, academic debating
has demonstrated the ability to substantially improve the academic performance, college
success, and career outcomes for its participants. Research from Christopher Medina
at the University of the Cumberlands in 2020 explains that debate can provide opportunities
for students to invest in their own development and political efficacy. Moreover,
Gordon Mitchell’s research in argumentation and advocacy identifies debate as an educational
practice that is in contrast to traditional restrictive pedagogical spaces; and when
students are engaged in argumentation, that can provide the opportunity for them to
develop stronger senses of self as powerful agents of social change. Data from the
National Association of Urban Debate Leagues also shows that students who debate in
- Are 70% more likely to graduate than non-debating peers.
- Are 3 times less likely to drop out than their non-debating peers.
- Are 70% more likely to reach the ACT College Ready reading benchmark.
- Score 25% higher on college-level literacy tests.
- Are likely to attend a four-year college or university (75% of debating participants
will attend a four-year institution of higher education).
Debate education directly supports the goals of the Salt Lake Refugee Center as well,
as they focus on expanding educational opportunities that can assist the community
in the process of resettlement. They emphasize the importance of teaching skills that
can lead to family-sustaining employment and programs that can help will English language
skill training. Debate education enhances a variety of essential skills that can positively
impact students’ self-esteem and critical thinking. The debate society is committed
to expanding the impact of debate to students of all backgrounds and the Refugee Community
Debate League is one way to do so.