There’s No Debate: National Championship Brings Civic Engagement to Kansas City

Campus Compact’s resident forensics expert and Director of Professional Learning, Danielle Leek, reports from the National Debate Tournament
March 24, 2017


Five hundred people arrived in Kansas City yesterday for the 71st National Debate Tournament Championship (NDT). The top debate teams from 44 colleges and universities around the U.S. are gathering to debate this year’s topic – “Resolved: that the United States Federal Government should establish a domestic climate policy including at least substantially increasing restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.”

Danielle Leek and Scott Harris, Director of University of Kansas debate

The NDT is overseen by a Board of Trustees and I serve as the Board’s Treasurer, so I set out for the University of Kansas where this year’s championship is being held.

The competition will be tough. Teams spend an entire year developing expertise on the championship’s topic. Eight rounds of preliminary debates will determine which squads make it to the Sweet Sixteen competition that begins on Monday morning. Round II is underway; there are head-to-head matchups between two-person teams from schools across the country including Campus Compact member institutions University of California, Berkeley, Wayne State University and Gonzaga University. Students are speaking on subjects ranging from environmental justice to oil prices.

But debate is about more than just arguments in a classroom; decades of research shows that students who debate bring their learning back to their communities.

I’ll offer a personal example. Back in the day, when I competed on my high school team, one of our topics called for government action to address homelessness in the U.S. What I learned that year about the intersections of public policy, mental illness, social services, poverty and urbanization shaped the advocacy and community work I would go on to do in college. Likewise, even now, many, many years after my college debate career ended, I am a passionate environmental steward, I am engaged in struggles to promote social justice, and committed to efforts to eliminate the threat of landmines around the world.

My experience debating about these issues with some of the best and brightest minds in the country left an indelible mark on my understanding of what it means to be an engaged citizen.

While only one team will emerge the victor in this year’s national competition, I am confident that every student who has the opportunity to participate in the tournament will go on to use the critical thinking and civic deliberation skills they’ve learned to help make our world a better place.

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