Proceedings of the

First Diversity Recruitment and

Retention in Debate Ideafest


Edited by Gordon R. Mitchell

University of Pittsburgh


Published by Office of the Dean

University of Pittsburgh


Ideafest convened at


Emory University

Atlanta, GA

June 10-11, 1997


Introduction to Ideafest

Melissa Wade, Director of Forensics, Emory University

Beth Breger, Open Society Institute (written contributions to Melissa's speech)


Melissa Wade: I found discussion on the internet regarding the proposed civil rights topic generally excellent, but was especially taken by some comments, particularly Ryan Sparacino's comment that "All's OK, because there's an Urban Debate League in Atlanta." If we all took that tack, we won't get where we want to go.  Ryan's comments reflect naivete, but also a big heart--kids his age are more easily "forgiven" than the ministers who inspired Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

* Early rural roots of Barkley Forum's involvement in the Atlanta Urban Debate League.

The roots of this program started with Glen Pelham.  He wanted to do rural outreach at Emory, particularly since at that time, Georgia high school debaters could not generally travel out of state (they can now).  So what he did was host a big high school tournament at Emory (the Barkley Forum High School tournament) and invite all the rest of the country to come join us.

* Background on the Soros Foundation and Open Society Institute.

     The link between Emory and George Soros' Open Society Institute (OSI) came about when Beth Breger of OSI found out about our inner-city debate program. Beth did individual events (particularly oratory) very successfully at a private high school in New York City.  Eventually, she went on to work for The Open Society Institute.  The Open Society Institute is the umbrella organization which oversees the network of foundations funded by philanthropist George Soros.  Soros is a Hungarian Jewish ˆ©migrˆ© who fled under the Nazis and made his fortune on Wall Street.  His philanthropic objective has been to donate his money to support the creation of open societies in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and most recently in Haiti and South Africa.  Most recently, Soros opened an office for U.S. based programs which focuses to a large extent on issues surrounding inner cities.  This office funds initiatives in the areas of immigration, criminal justice, drug policy, death and dying, reproductive rights, education, and others.  OSI has successfully supported high school debate programs in twenty-two of its overseas offices, and most recently has launched a program to support debate leagues in disadvantaged communities.  As part of this initiative, OSI is giving grants to existing and emerging urban debate leagues, and is piloting the New York Urban Debate League based on the successful model of the Atlanta Urban Debate League.  To date OSI has supported urban debate leagues in Atlanta, Detroit, and Chicago.  As part of its support to the Atlanta program, OSI funded the Ideafest in order to allow people with experience and interest in creating urban debate leagues to come together and brainstorm.  In addition, the criteria and strategies for successful program models which have emerged have served as the basis for OSI's grantmaking guidelines for supporting high school debate programs elsewhere in the country.

* Background on the Atlanta Urban Debate League

     We initially thought to impose the full-service tournament model in the inner city 14 years ago (i.e. policy, LD and individual events), but over the first few years, Larry Moss, Betty Maddox, and others persuaded us that policy was better because their students, who were coming out of the strong oral tradition (Malcolm X and Martin Luther King) of the black community, had no problem with eloquence; they needed to work on content, and thus preferred policy debate.  Some schools in the Atlanta area currently have LD and individual events, but most just still do policy debate.  The full-service programs have added LD and individual events in addition to their existing policy program.  We started with the Duluth H.S. tournament in Gwinnett City.  Duluth was a regular Georgia circuit tournament that we took Beth Breger to when she first sought out the Atlanta UDL--it just happened to be the first available tournament in which our UDL kids were "mainstreamed" with the regular circuit competition.  It was significant in that Duluth was a "northern suburbs of Atlanta" school.  There were 70 policy teams from 30 schools in the high school division with 40% of them from the Atlanta Public Schools (APS).  There were 75 policy teams in the junior high division with all but ten (from Pace Academy and Gainesville junior high) from the APS.  Beth visited both divisions including some of the high school kids who had been in the junior high division the previous year. The cafeteria scene of 150 kids milling about with energy was incredible.  I started this program with my academic area, educational studies, and scholarly models built on school internships in inner cities.  I realized shortly into it that, like Ryan Sparacino, I was paternalistic in my personal naivete, and my interactions with Betty and Larry taught me how to adjust to a "mutual respect" attitude.  While I later read about such a transition in works like Beverly Tatum's racial awareness models, I realized the value of having learned that lesson by living through it experientially.

* Setting the tone for the Ideafest

         The basic concept for the Ideafest is that we will do information sharing today, then move on to problem solving tomorrow.  During our training week for the Emory National Debate Institute (ENDI), we emphasize the practical, that you must learn in the trenches.  Beth Breger of the OSI sees us as leaders engaged in the task of making the movement national.  After New York City, the plan is to move on to Baltimore.  After having been one of four women at the NDT my junior year in college and one of five women my senior year, I set out to change the world as the Director of Debate at Emory.  I was going to recruit lots of women and people of color and bring debate to the inner city and preside over the utopia I had created at 24 years of age.  The reality was that I quickly realized that change happened slowly and I became content to garden my little corner of the universe.  I started believing that I could help change the world again only last year after Soros entered the picture with major funding that did not require launching a cruise missile, killing anyone or putting children on a poster to raise money (like the lawyers always wanted as part of their "evaluation" of how their money had been spent).  We always mainstream our UDL kids into the regular Georgia tournament circuit within a year of their intra-school debating.  There are only 7 high schools that debate in New York City.  We are ready to go there; it's a done deal; we just need to live it out.  Middle schools and junior highs are important because those kids are old enough to join a gang but not old enough to get jobs; old enough to have their imaginations captured by the possibilities of debate; old enough to begin learning that there is a trade-off between verbal and physical aggression--that if one can use their words to command the attention of the decision maker/listener, one does not have to resort to violence to get that attention.