Emory Report

 June 23, 1997

 Volume 49, No. 34

Barkley Forum's Urban Debate
League gets $600,000 grant

Barkley Forum has been given a $600,000 grant to fund its Urban Debate League (UDL). The Open Society Institute, a foundation funded by businessman and philanthropist George Soros, awarded the grant, which provides $200,000 a year for the next three years.

Established in 1995, the UDL is a partnership between Emory's 47-year-old debate program, the Atlanta Public Schools and Decatur City Schools. UDL's goals include engaging young people who could not otherwise afford to do so in the powerful teaching tool of competitive debate and offering an effective substitute for physical aggression in conflict resolution. The program also teaches students, particularly those traditionally disenfranchised by the inequality of resources in inner-city schools, how to apply specialized knowledge. Competitive debate develops analytical, research and critical thinking skills in addition to public-speaking skills.

"Information is free," said Barkley Forum director Melissa Wade. "But we live in two different countries. Through debate, the dialogue between the two spans the chasms of difference and levels the playing field."

The main programs that comprise the UDL are a series of junior and senior high school tournaments, a set of one-day workshops in the spring and fall and two intensive summer programs, the Emory National Debate Institute (ENDI)­­this year June 15-28­­and the Emory One-Week Workshop Aug. 11-15. The grant will be used for the administrative costs associated with running the UDL, to pay 73 faculty members from around the country, to retain in-demand quality women and minority teachers and to provide 50 scholarships for students to attend ENDI.

"The students see that debate is an experiential game that teaches so many skills," said the Forum's grant director, Gabrielle Mertz. "They learn that research can be fun and that each quotation or piece of information is like a game piece."

A grant to an American organization is unusual for the Open Society Institute, according to Wade. "Most of their grants have gone to groups worldwide working toward open society issues such as free and impartial media," said Wade. "But the institute actually came to us because they were impressed with Emory's community service. Most college debate teams have four or six members. We have 60, and our students spend significant amounts of time in the public schools. The ones who go to the inner-city schools are shocked by the cultural and socio-economic differences from the schools they attended. They learn a lot about respect, so there is a great cross-cultural exchange happening there," she said.

-Deb Hammacher

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