Director: Dr. Sim Butler
A Shared Purpose
The Alabama Debate Society (ADS) aims to organize and to promote community-based, participatory learning experiences for UA students to apply their communication skills in public speaking, argumentation, and debate. We recognize that communities within and around the University of Alabama can provide experiential learning opportunities for our students to hone these communication skills, and through such activity, students may be able to achieve personal success, contribute to the vitality of their communities, and champion the value of communication education generally. We believe the ADS can effectively bring the two, skills practice and opportunity, together.
Specifically, we want to bring together our most highly trained communication students here at the University of Alabama with local community leaders who most need students with these communication skills. The ADS will seek to develop partnerships with pre-college (high school and middle school) communication educators and community leaders to generate experiential learning opportunities for communication undergraduates and for graduate students studying forensics training, advocacy, and engagement.
Practice in Dialogue and Deliberation for Students
The University of Alabama has a rich history of providing an environment to demonstrate the relationships between culture, traditions, social change, and justice. From the Stand in the School House Door to our national championship-chasing football (and forensics) teams, our university is uniquely situated in the consciousness of contemporary American culture, while residing in one of America’s most economically forgotten environments, the rural black belt. As a result, UA students often find themselves embroiled in national conversations about race, gender, and privilege, all while trying to understand their own place in the world. Within the current cultural context, the University of Alabama faces multiple challenges in terms of providing sustainable discourse and dialogic environments for the education of its students. The ADS strives to produce opportunities for healthy debate and dialogue for the environments in which our students and community members find themselves.
We envision, for example, that the ADS program could help high school students learn how to debate, to present at a science fair, or to participate in a model government competition. We see our undergraduate students could learn through experience by leading focus groups or forums on campus issues, hosting public debates about current issues, and leading advocacy workshops for other undergraduates on campus. Graduate students could apply best practices in forensics education to community-based participatory research programs, linking communication theory with forensics pedagogy, advocacy, and civic communication practice.
The structure of this program involves both curricular and co-curricular educational environments and uses both undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Alabama. The ADS will be the co-curricular epicenter for developing, organizing, and implementing materials from discourse, debate, and forensics course offerings. The ADS will be based on a tiered program of student education, focusing on community-based and participatory experiential learning and using argumentation, civic discourse, and community dialogue. The ADS will primarily focus on a core group of undergraduate students who construct public debate and discussion forums around campus, lead community debate initiatives for high school students in western Alabama, and engage in community-based participatory research and advocacy. Through a specific course trajectory, a living learning community, and the establishment of monetary awards and scholarships, the ADS will aim to build a sustainable student population who are cultivated to become community leaders in civic discourse and argumentation education.
Students will be recruited as first year students into a living learning community, where they will participate in a freshman-level course that will organize and inform their participation in community discourse projects in both the fall and spring semester. The goal of the fall semester will be to produce on campus communication venues for students at UA and to work with local high school debaters in the spring. After their first year, students will have the opportunity to continue working with the ADS.
The ADS will be established as a university recognized student club, in which all interested students could participate. The purpose of the club would be to explore and create discourse and argumentation opportunities in local and national communities. Opportunities for competition could be developed within the structure of the club, but the ADS will not be focused on creating a competitive debate team of college students. Instead, the ADS will be tasked with providing undergraduates experiential learning opportunities that include community-based partnerships within the context of civic discourse and argumentation education.
Levels of Argumentation Education
The ADS will focus on constructing an educational trajectory that allows students to participate in various levels of communication education, beginning in high school and continuing into graduate school. This program, based on a strong curriculum trajectory, will provide connections between motivated high school students interested in public discourse and argumentation and college-level forensics students who are looking for masters programs to formalize the value of a forensics educational perspective. To establish this program of experiential and community-based participatory learning, we will be introducing several new classes, along with currently existing courses.