Life + Arts

UH resurrects inner-city debate team

Some members of the University Forensics Society’s policy debate team are going back to high school.

Organization members mentor metropolitan high school students to help them develop their skills in deliberation.

‘These kids come from very bad academic schools, but their minds are just as fast as everyone else’s,’ political science junior Steven Messer said.

The partnership between the UH Forensics Society and Yates High School’s policy debate team began when alumni revived the defunct policy debate team at the University.’

‘Our alumni said, ‘Let’s bring back policy debate,” business senior Blake Gilson said.’ ‘They ended up creating a support for (it) to all of Houston.’

Several Houston high schools established teams of their own under the umbrella of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues.

The NAUDL, formed in 1997, currently recognizes 311 high schools and 51 middle schools in their league network and exist in 18 of the nation’s largest cities.

In March 2008, the NAUDL authorized Houston to set up a league consisting of 15 schools around the area.’ UH has worked closely with Yates during the schools’ first year competing in forensics tournaments.

‘They’re in their first year, and we’re in our first year,’ Messer said.’ ‘We’re sort of like a brotherhood.’

Gilson and junior finance major Travis Ellis were the first to reach out to Yates high school when they began meeting with students this summer.

‘We came across some of the most brilliant students,’ Gilson said.’ ‘Some of the debaters we help have the sharpness and the quickness of everyone else.’

Since establishing a relationship, more UH team members have helped teach and begin the research process for the Yates team, Messer said.

Policy debate differs from parliamentary debate because of the amount of time put into the topic, Gilson said.’

One topic is researched and debated all year, with about 20 hours a week spent researching various aspects of the topic.’

‘Policy debaters do as much research in a year as it takes to do a master’s thesis,’ psychology freshman Vijay Kasschav said.

Their involvement, however, extend beyond the preparation process.

‘We go to the tournaments and sit in on the rounds. It gives them confidence just to have someone in the room who has been teaching them,’ Messer said.

Gilson said he is just as nervous at the high school tournaments as he is at his own.’

‘I walk around, pull my own hair out like I’m at my own tournament,’ Gilson said.’ ‘I’ve never had the experience before where I start to live through my kids.’

Messer said he didn’t realize how much of an impact he would have on the high school students.

‘It’s amazing how little of a push it takes. They see someone who is excited and they get even more excited about it,’ Messer said.

Messer said he felt honored when one student asked him to write a letter of recommendation for the National Honor Society.

‘He’s going to make it,’ Messer said. ‘He’s going to surpass where I am. He has a shot now that he may not previously have had.’

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