Debate and the Real World: Research


One of the most valuable skills debaters develop is the ability to research. We're not talking about your everyday research for high school term papers, where you only have to focus on building basic understanding of a topic and sharing an opinion on the situation. In debate, you build comfort with masterful, creative research that uncovers hidden biases in an article that could make it unreliable, that identifies new angles to a topic, and that ensures you become a true expert in the topic.

If you are debating about immigration, for example, it's pretty easy to find straightforward research that would be find for a term paper: numbers of immigrants, countries of origin, visa types, famous immigration arguments for and against. A debater, however,  reads and pushes through this surface level information to find deeper insight. They might find speeches from presidents around the world about opinions regarding immigration outside the US. They might uncover seemingly unrelated motivations for visa types.


This drive and the practice of working to find finding for better information and more understanding translates into success in college, graduate school, and any career track. Most jobs -- Program Manager at a tech company, Attorney at a successful firm, Independent Plumbing Contractor -- require problem solving and learning new things. The ability to think about key questions in creative ways and then dive deep to find reliable information to answer those questions and sets debaters up to achieve success, whatever path they may choose. 

Debate and the Real World: Storytelling

SVUDL strives to help build diversity in the field of law, preparing young debaters with the tools and passion to pursue a legal career. While law is an excellent application of debate skills, debate isn't just for future attorneys! This week we start a series of posts prepared by SVUDL Volunteer of the Year Carolyn Straub, a former debater Carolyn knows firsthand how debate skills transfer to and benefit you across many professional disciplines. This week, she's focusing on storytelling:

If you have ever worked on an opening speech for debate, then you know that crafting a storyline is very important. You need to have a clear idea of the main arguments you want to cover, but having a solid opener and strong closing are equally critical. Together, these pieces create a storyline that weaves an entire debate round together, connecting key examples, ideas, and research across speeches. While creating a storyline is essential it’s also extremely translatable in many other settings.

In most corporate roles, you will be required to present your proposals (for new projects, a product design, operational process, etc) to leadership to gather buy-in and the thumbs up to pursue. The presentation outline for meetings like this basically models that of a debate speech. Your objective remains the same: convince your audience to agree with you. For roles like construction foreman, plumber, or other client facing positions, having a well laid out storyline is critical for explaining the job you plan to employ (should the client agree with your plan, they also agree with your finances), or even in explaining when something goes wrong (the storyline here can allay a client’s concerns and retain trust in the professional’s abilities).

Nearly everyday we are in positions where we must explain our position clearly and articulately; the art of storytelling you build in debate is so useful that will help you no matter what career you ultimately choose- and it may even help get you out of chores today!


An amazing camp = an amazing year on tap!


There’s a strong sense of accomplishment when you finish a monumental task, and that feeling is all around SVUDL today- from student albums posted to Facebook to spreadsheets showing huge attendance and student satisfaction, there is evidence everywhere that SVUDL’s Savannah Walker Summer Debate Institute was a week that changed lives.

Over 100 students attended, with a nearly even distribution of rising freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors and a nearly even split between Peninsula students and those attending Title I schools in San Jose. Enormous learning took place for all of these students; youth who entered camp on Monday because "someone made them" were earning debate awards by Saturday. We invited Grammy-nominated artist Maimouna Yousef for a second year to perform and spend an afternoon leading an activism through song-writing workshop with Novice and JV debaters. Varsity debaters engaged at the highest level with this year’s topic of school reform, conducting research and building cases on both sides of this issue, AND we conducted the first bilingual debate in the country!

These exhilarating successes have built enormous momentum for the coming season. With a core of students ready to engage their peers at all eight school partners and new Head Coaches enthusiastic about sharing revolutionary power of urban debate, the first team practices can’t get here fast enough!

Savannah Walker Tournament Results


1st Place Team: Marabelle and Isaiah

2nd Place Team: Abraham and Marco

3rd Place Team: Hassan and Christina


1st Place Speaker: Vili

2nd Place Speaker: Yoselin

3rd Place Speaker: Taya

1st Place Team: Vili and Yoselin

2nd Place Team: Destiny and Elsa

3rd Place Team: Vae and Damien


1st Place Speaker: Kim

2nd Place Speaker: Mia

3rd Place Speaker Susie

1st Place Team: Mia and Daniela

2nd Place Team: Azeem (debating maverick!)

3rd Place Team: Josh and Shekita

SVUDL's 2017 Summer Debate Institute- in honor of Savannah Walker

Debate attracts amazing young people- young people like Savannah Walker. Savannah was born in 1996 in Arizona but grew up with her parents and older brother in Louisville, KY. An accomplished scholar-athlete, she started a lacrosse team at her middle school and continued lacrosse and field hockey in high school. During high school she achieved a remarkable 89% success rate on shots she took on goal.

A leader amongst her peers, Savannah graduated high school and enrolled in the University of Louisville as a recipient of the Woodford R. Porter Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to African-American students graduating from a Kentucky high school who meet academic requirements and exhibit the aspiration to succeed and give back. She was quickly recruited onto the Malcolm X Debate Team at UL and was soon winning awards and tournaments. Within her first year, Savannah took 1st place in the JV division at the USC Alan Nichols Tournament, 2nd place in JV at the CSU Fullerton Kathryn Klassic Winter Debate Tournament and at the Samford Invitational, and cleared in Varsity at the University of Vermont Huber Debates. She also won multiple speaker awards in her impressive rookie year. Outside of debate and her studies, she found time to start the first UL Women’s Club Lacrosse Team and serve as its first President.

Savannah declared a double major in Communications and Sports Administration with a minor in Pan-African Studies, and debate lit her fire for social activism. By her junior year, she had become a vocal advocate for equity and social justice whose capacity to dream big and realize her vision inspired those around her. When Savannah’s mother passed away, Savannah founded the Deborah Walker Memorial Scholarship Fund to support teachers seeking advanced training.

Savannah tragically lost her life in a shooting incident at a concert at the Tim Faulkner Gallery in Louisville last March at the age of 20. Friends who were with her at the concert reported that Savannah pushed them out of the way of gunfire before she was shot. We are humbled to honor the legacy of Savannah Walker by dedicating the 2017 Summer Institute to this incredible young woman. 

SVUDL Summer Institute- train with Kiran Dhillon!

It's not every summer you get to study debate with the best- unless you go to the SVUDL Summer Debate Institute every year!

This year's instructor team includes Kiran Dhillon. She started debating in high school and quickly rose to compete at the national level. She attended the University of Iowa on a debate scholarship, and eventually earned a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. This debate expert is also a skilled teacher, having taught debate at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Gonzaga University, and with the New York City Urban Debate League. She is currently employed by the University of Southern California as a lecturer and associate director of the USC Trojan Debate Squad. 

We spent a minute with Dr. Dhillon to get to know her.

- What’s your favorite debate memory?

"My favorite debate memory is when Jim Schultz, Vince Binder*, and I got together to throw a football around between rounds at CEDA Nationals in Oklahoma 10 years ago."

- What three words would you use to describe you as a debater? 

"Hard working, committed, and a team player."

- What do you think it takes to be a debate champion? 

"Consistency ."

- If you could give a new debater any piece of advice, what would it be? 

"Have fun! "

- What are you looking forward to at this year’s Summer Institute? 

"I'm looking forward to working with all the wonderful students and amazing staff at this year's Summer Institute!"

Don't miss your chance to learn from the best- register now for the Summer Institute!

*(Editor's note: Jim Schultz and Vince Binder are nationally-known debate icons. Jim is still teaching in the debate world; Vince tragically passed away in 2010.)

Welcome New Board Members!

We're thrilled to announce that three amazing champions for youth are joining the SVUDL Board of Directors!

Nadia Arid is a former debater who has taken everything debate can teach and leveraged it to enormous personal and professional success. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford, where she was Community Outreach Director of Derechos, the Latino Pre-Law Society, Nadia earned her JD from Harvard Law in 2016. Her commitment to debate and social justice shine through her academic career, from her work co-founding the Eastside College Prep Debate program, to serving as President for the East Palo Alto Youth Court, to her work as a Ford Foundation Fellow at the National Immigration Center in Los Angeles. She has taught debate to hundreds of young people and has seen time and again how this smart sport can open a mind and change a life. 

Chris Hersey, a Silicon Valley native and former CA State Champion in policy debate, also knows the way debate can empower a promising young person and shares SVUDL's commitment to helping young people unlock their potential. He serves on the Legal Advisory Committee has played a major role in supporting our debaters as they prepare for Moot Court each spring. Chris has more than 19 years of civil litigation and trial experience, focusing on construction, contract, business, and commercial disputes. Before founding Ventura Rossi Hersey & Muller, LLP in 2013, Chris was a litigation partner for nine years at Miller Morton Caillat & Nevis, LLP in San Jose, CA. He lives with his wife and two high-school aged children in San Jose. Chris is a longtime season ticket holder of the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team, and an amateur astronomer.

A nationally recognized speaker, panelist, and author, Leslie Spencer is a registered patent attorney and partner in the IP litigation practice at Rope & Gray, where she also co-chairs the firm's diversity committee. She first learned about SVUDL though its legal career mentor program and is currently an active mentor. She serves on the Legal Advisory Committee and sees enormous promise in SVUDL's work to diversify the Legal Career Pipeline. Prior to practicing law, Leslie worked for financial services and e-commerce companies and supervised the development of a smart card-based secure transaction system.

Please join us in welcoming these passionate advocates to our Board!

Listening and evolving

SVUDL has never shied away from bold moves, and we are poised to undertake an evolution that may change the landscape of urban debate in the United States- an evolution grounded in feedback received from our partners. 

From day one, SVUDL has emphasized research. That's probably no surprise, considering our mission. We regularly turn to quantitative studies led by Dr. Briana Mezuk of the University of Michigan and peer-reviewed articles to make the case for urban debate. SVUDL owes its very existence to qualitative research conducted with students, teachers, and administrators who expressed demand for an urban debate program in Silicon Valley Title I high schools. 

This program year, SVUDL began its transition from startup mode to strategic growth. To assure youth stayed at the center of this change, we took time for a comprehensive needs assessment of current partners. A special thank you to our partners at Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), who did so much to make that research possible, and our deepest appreciation to the school partners who gave their time to help guide SVUDL’s development.

We listened closely to what our partners had to say. They conveyed consistent messages about SVUDL's strengths: the powerful individual benefits of the program, particularly confidence, critical thinking, and leadership skills; SVUDL’s style of commitment and communication; and the inspirational presence of program staff and the strong personal relationships they build with students and coaches.

They also conveyed consistent messages about challenge areas: they need more resources and guidance to reach students who are most in-need; they see a need for large-scale work on curriculum, events, and culture to expand SVUDL's impact to all of their students; and they all asked for more support in implementation.  

It is affirming to have program strengths recognized, but SVUDL didn't stop with celebrating what we've done well. We analyzed the challenge areas and brainstormed ways to address them. The solution we settled on is a radical change. 

This summer, SVUDL will become the first UDL in the country to employ Head Coaches, Debate Ambassadors, and Debate Specialists. Head Coaches will build and implement a shared vision among youth, teachers, administrators, volunteers, and stakeholders at each school. Teachers at partner schools will serve as Assistant Coaches, acting as local leadership at a school and further building capacity to use debate in the classroom. SVUDL Interns, UDL Alumni, and other experienced debaters will serve as Debate Ambassadors and Specialists, attending and further enriching practices. These young people will earn valuable employment experience while serving as inspirational role models and technical experts for current participants. 

This major investment in staffing and infrastructure - undertaken as a direct result of needs voiced by our partners and the students at the center of our work - will increase student skills, help teacher-coaches build capacity, advance recruitment and retention and exponentially increase our impact. We anticipate even higher student numbers and stronger outcomes in the 2017-18 program year as this innovation takes root!

Moot Court Debater of the Week: Bhargavi Bhatt

Bhargavi Bhatt is a senior at Silver Creek High School who dreams of a life with purpose. She credits debate with giving her "a platform where I could express myself...through articulated discussion" because "you need to really think through your arguments and how to persuade people to believe you."

Debate hasn't just sharpened Bhargavi's argumentation skills. As she puts it, it has helped focus her on "what can I do with the skills I have that can benefit the most people?" That's why she'll be pursing engineering or economics when she starts college this fall and has set her sights on being in the Peace Corps someday.

Participating in Moot Court is fast becoming one of Bhargavi's SVUDL highlights. This experience gives her the chance to voice what she thinks is right AND the opportunity to spend time empathizing with the other side of the issue. She's learning to see through different eyes, thoughtfully take on that role, and grow.

On May 1st Bhargavi will take these talents, skills, and hard work into the Moot Court to argue transgender rights, but after graduation she'll apply them to everything she pursues. Her Government teacher has posted the famous Don Hertzfeldt quote on the door to the classroom: "It's okay to be worried. It's okay to be sad. It's not okay to give up. There's a lot of work to do." This is the line Bhargavi holds in her heart as she plans for the future, armed with fierce public speaking skills and the courage to go after what she believes in. Congratulations, Bhargavi, on being this week's Debater of the Week!

Correction: an earlier version of this post ran with a picture of Gaganpreet Kaur. 

Moot Court Debater of the Week: Esme Cordova


Six rising SVUDL stars will argue before sitting 9th Circuit judges at the 2nd Annual Moot Court on May 1. This event gives our top debaters the chance to significantly advance critical thinking, argumentation, and public speaking skills. The students are already spending hours building the case around an issue the US Supreme Court is expected to rule on days after this event. As part of the lead-up to Moot Court, we're dedicating the next few Debater of the Week profiles to Moot Court debaters. This special series launches now with Esme Cordova!

Esme is a Junior and 2nd year debater at East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy. Esme and her partner Nyisha have worked well together since their first competition, earning fifth place at that event. Esme, however, isn't one to talk about her accomplishments in terms of places and wins, preferring the more substantial measure of personal development. "One of the biggest that I learned to be more open-minded. Being in debate opens up your mind.

Esme and debate partner Nyisha

Esme and debate partner Nyisha

Esme also credits debate with helping her build confidence. "Before, I was afraid to talk in front of people. Since I have debated I lost the fear of talking in front of people and I feel more confident in myself. "

While many debaters are excited about pursuing a career in law after college, Esme plans on a double major in medicine and business, knowing she can take what she has accomplished in debate and apply it to her studies across disciplines. Feeling confident to speak up and defend your ideas, welcoming other's ideas, and nurturing a hunger to learn are all critical aspects of being successful no matter what you pursue, and Esme has developed these traits in debate. This is why she strongly recommends joining debate to her peers. Her success in tournaments is just the beginning, but holds a tantalizing preview of how well she will do at Moot Court. Congratulations Esme on being this week's Debater of the Week!