It is only part of the team’s goal to win trophies, such as the silver plate junior Amber Burns and freshman Doug Lusco brought home as top novice squad at the Cross Examination Debate Association national competition in Binghamton, NY.
The other part is to raise awareness of what the team sees as the exclusive nature of debate, to challenge the status quo, to make people think. While the team debates within the world of traditional debate, its style — the Louisville style — is anything but traditional. Rather than try to spew out hundreds of words per minute just for the sake of presenting as many arguments as they can, team members speak more slowly — sometimes in rap cadence, sometimes even using rap music — to make their point.
UofL Today talked with members of the program recently about their purpose and what they have received from debate and participation on the team. Although team members and staff answered questions individually, their answers are compiled here into one voice.
The Louisville Style
Most of the teams just debate. We, on the other hand, debate with a purpose. That purpose is to provide a space in and access to debate for underrepresented groups. Debate is just a game for most involved. However, for us it is a social movement.
Malcolm X provides a role model
The program is named after Malcolm X because of the things that he represented in terms of social justice and activism. We are activists trying to make debate more inclusive by what we say and how we say it. Our style is so different from the norm that it’s a disruptive function in and of itself.
Malcolm X never shied away from a debate. He went into civil rights debates knowing that the person he was talking to disagreed with him; knowing that it was taboo for him, as a black man, to disagree with people and that in doing so he was speaking out of turn. Yet, he never turned away from what he believed in. That’s something that we have to do and we’ve taken it on within the debate community.
Our primary goal and mission is to raise awareness and help people into consciousness surrounding issues that nobody really wants to talk about anymore — especially when it comes to institutional racism, social order and construct, whiteness and things of that nature.
Debate brings many skills
Debate develops research skills and critical thinking.
I’ve learned leadership. I’ve learned how to talk to people no matter where they come from because our stylistic approach is geared to being adaptable to communicate with different audiences, whereas the traditional style wouldn’t be because it’s geared more to a specific group of people.
I’ve gained the ability to stand my ground and present my views when I know that I’m saying what I believe in to somebody that I know couldn’t disagree with me more, and still having to be eloquent or persuasive.
It’s given me confidence to know that even if I’m the only one standing on the right side of truth, then it’s worth all of the backlash to stand there.
White, male team members become aware of their privileges
I’ve never really thought about the concepts of white privilege and things like that… I think awareness is the key thing. I’m aware of my actions and even my indirect actions that affect the privilege that I’m given just for being a white male. I never knew, really, that debate could make that big of a difference on people’s ideas when it comes to terms of social location… (I have seen) how big a difference we make when it comes to making people aware — even though they may not appreciate it sometimes.
I’ve gained a lot of self awareness of the privileges I get being a white male in society. I’m not just aware of it, but realize the importance of actually deferring my privilege and choosing to use it strategically.
Program provides more than debate skills
There’s so much value in this program that people don’t get to hear about or see too often. The life growth and development that occurs in this space alone that’s very different than you can get on college campuses or out in the real world is just unique because it brings the reality of the life outside of campus onto the campus environment and helps them figure out how to navigate both of those spaces. This group has done an excellent job of doing those things while maintaining high academic excellence and being the little social activists that they are. They take the activism they learn in here and they apply it to the rest of their lives.
I’ve taken a lot away from this program that wasn’t necessarily put into the brochure. I’ve taken on family; I’ve taken on a home.
This program has given scholarships to almost every student that’s come through here. I wouldn’t have an education at all without this debate team.
What I get from this program is knowing what it would look like in the community without our presence. No matter what happens and how disheartening it may be at times to be rejected by the community, it’s necessary for us to be there. That dedication to the cause is why I’m here.
(Team members and team staff represented in this interview compilation are: Tiffany McCollum, senior, Los Angeles; Brian Huot, junior, Florence, Ky.; Jason Walker, senior, Washington, DC; Christopher Vincent, junior, Louisville; Shelby Pumphrey, junior, Louisville; Aaron Weather, junior, Louisville; Tiaundra Gordon, sophomore, Louisville; Amber Burns, junior, Louisville; Doug Lusco, freshman, Union, Ky.; Tiffany Dillard-Knox, acting director and program coordinator; Brian Paige, graduate assistant; Marian Kennedy, graduate assistant; Rosie Washington, coaching assistant. Team member Preston Bates was unavailable. Mary Mudd, program assistant, provided background information.)