Coming from my inner-city community in northwest Aurora, I was fortunate to have Speech & Debate because it prepared me for college like nothing else could. Other students are not so lucky.
In fact, many inner-city communities don’t have Speech & Debate programs, either due to prohibitive personal and team costs associated with them (registration fees, transportation, cost of professional attire, food, etc.) or because the infrastructure and resources to support those programs left inner-city communities when affluent families moved into the suburbs. Sadly, this has meant that for generations, many students who otherwise would have developed speaking skills, deliberative reasoning, and leadership abilities had to go without those opportunities in a climate where not enough opportunities existed for them in the first place.
One organization in the Aurora/Denver metro area is trying to change that. The Denver Urban Debate League (DUDL), launched in 2008 and housed at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, has grown in communities throughout the area and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for underserved and marginalized students by giving them opportunities “to learn and achieve through competitive debate activities.” Jessica A. Clark, the executive director of DUDL, spoke to me about the work DUDL does and where they see themselves going over the next four years.
Jessica, remembering DUDL’s humble beginnings, recounts,
“When DUDL launched in 2008, we served three schools in one district and only offered one format of competitive debate. This season, we are serving over 200+ students across four districts and DUDL now offers competitive policy debate as well as a student congress and four individual speaking events.” Part of the reason for this unyielding growth is that DUDL eliminates the cost barrier between itself and the families and communities they aim to serve. This is a difficult task that relies heavily on private donations and support from school districts, but DUDL and its board of directors believe it’s important to cover associated expenses so, in Jessica’s words, “all students are able to join the speech and debate teams at their schools at no cost to their families.”
The schools DUDL serves are at least 60% free-and-reduced lunch, so saving $100 a year on an extracurricular activity is huge for their families. Jessica spoke to me not only about the importance of low-cost activities, but about Speech & Debate specifically. She believes DUDL helps give opportunities to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and said that it “is a way to fight for education equity in our community.” She says it also gives students access to an activity that increases everything from high-school graduation rates to help finding scholarships for college.
Jessica told me that DUDL is a “small organization and we rely heavily on our army of volunteers who serve as mentors and debate judges.” Even in soliciting judges, DUDL tries to reach out to a diverse pool of community members, and has gone even further to include organizations such as One Colorado in programming meant to engage students with different marginalized communities. The work DUDL does is important to inner-city communities and the intelligent students who live in them.
When asked how people can help support DUDL’s work, Jessica first said, “Volunteer!” She told me that to do the work DUDL does and expand into other communities, they need judges. She made a point to say that no experience is needed and that a short training session is offered. Whether it’s volunteering time as a judge, serving on their board of directors, or offering professional support in everything from PR to event planning, DUDL could use your help. DUDL also needs financial support. Jessica said that a “$25 donation can provide lunch for five students at a DUDL competition” and that donations by private individuals or corporations looking to sponsor DUDL can be made at DenverDebate.org.