The Rhode Island Urban Debate League is a youth-centered organization that uses debate as a tool for equity, justice and liberation. By partnering with students from Rhode Island’s low income, majority BIPOC schools to provide twice-weekly debate practices and monthly full-day debate tournaments, we engage young people in a process that builds critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills. Unlike other debate leagues who frame debate as a vehicle for individual achievement, RIUDL’s programming centers community transformation through individual support. Our humanized, community-lead approach to debate education supports students to think critically and understand the power of their voices in creating meaningful change within the social, civic and cultural issues that directly impact them.
Prior to the pandemic, RIUDL boasted among the highest retention rates across all Urban Debate Leagues nationwide. We may represent a small state, but the strength of our community more than makes up for it. Unfortunately, due to the collective trauma brought on Covid-19, felt especially within the low-income BIPOC communities we are a part of, we’ve struggled. Our community is primarily composed of young people and teachers, both of whom have been among the most socio-emotionally impacted by uncertainty of Covid-19. And while we made due in the 2020-21 academic year with virtual debates, it just wasn’t the same. While we’re proud of the innovations we made during the time we were physically apart and happy to be back together—with precautions—now, but we’re facing a new crisis: burnout, exhaustion and transition pains. Our community needs more supports than ever before, and with help from the SSRC, we can give them what they need.