Debate Summer Campers Celebrate July 4th

Attendees at debate summer camp pose on a staircase!

For the last three weeks, nearly four dozen high school students have participated in the MNUDL’s summer debate camp (known as MDAW, for Minnesota Debate and Advocacy Workshop) on the Augsburg College campus. Every day has seen the campers learning about debate technique and argumentation, research, and other skills that will prepare them to make the most of the upcoming season of debate.  Our debaters also have a ton of fun at camp, particularly celebrating July 4th with a day of fun and games! From a practice debate tournament to tossing water-balloons back and forth or chasing each other around with shaving cream, campers have been busy learning and having a great summer.

Photo credit to Armand Langston Hayes Photography. 

The Great Surveillance Debate: 160 Attend Mayor’s Challenge

This year’s Mayor’s Challenge debate, focused on government surveillance of cell phones, was another resounding success!

The event was hosted at Twin Cities PBS in Saint Paul, and we are grateful for the wonderful support of TPT. An audience of over 160 community and business leaders filled the studio to watch the showcase debate between a high school debate team from St. Paul and one from Minneapolis. Hodan Osman (Edison High School) and Malik Akintola (Roosevelt High School) debated against Ella Harker (Como High School) and Carlos Alderete (Johnson High School), bringing the audience to their feet in applause and inspiring Mayor Coleman — present for his 4th year as a judge at the event — to say that these young debaters give him hope for our future.

It was truly inspiring for everyone to see the talent and confidence of the four students as they took the podium in front of the audience and a number of TPT’s cameras that rolled through the spaces between the tables. With many of the family members in attendance and the whole room listening, we couldn’t be prouder of Hodan, Malik, Ella and Carlos. The event was their triumph.

Special thanks go to our panel of VIP judges, made up of Mayor Coleman, Minnesota Chief Inclusion Officer James Burroughs, President & CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and Associate Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School Mark Kappelhoff.

And thanks also go to our special partners Civic Eagle – a new app focused on connecting civic engagement with social life – and of course TPT.

To all of our supporters who donated to keep policy debate strong in the Twin Cities: you make it possible for hundreds of young voices be heard. Thank you!

We can’t wait for next year’s Mayor’s Challenge!




Somali Debate: Sullivan and South Students Attend Final Tournament

Our Somali Debate Initiative concluded this year at Augsburg college with students from South High School and Sullivan middle school debating about federal funding for Somali non-profits in Minnesota as part of the government’s Countering Violent Extremism program. The Affirmative side of the debate argued that the government should end the program because it was rooted in racist assumptions about Somali people and might be used to spy on Somali youth. The Negative side of the debate argued that the Somali-run non-profits funded by the program were doing important work with youth that could not be done without the federal funding.

The volunteers judges, coaches and debate students made the tournament a big success through their energy and enthusiasm. Special thanks goes to our Somali Debate Program Coordinator Awale Osman, who did so much to make this season a success! We can’t wait to see the Somali Debate Initiative continue to grow next year!

The Mayor’s Challenge: A Strategy Guide

With our Mayor’s Challenge: The Great Surveillance Debate coming up in only two weeks, we sat down with the MNUDL’s Program Director Travis Ormsby to talk about the debate topic – whether or not the FBI should have compelled Apple to open a backdoor into its phones – and what strategies we are likely to see the opposing teams take.

There are still seats available at the Mayor’s Challenge! Get them HERE before they run out!


At a high level, the basic topic is the question of how strong of a lock there should be on your phone. Should that lock be so strong that the government, even having met all of its legal obligations, does not have the technological capability to access your phone? Which should be greater, the legal barriers to access or the technological barriers?

Hodan Osman (Edison High School) and Malik Akintola (Roosevelt High School) will represent Minneapolis at the Mayor’s Challenge. 

The Affirmative team is arguing that if the government has obtained a warrant to search a device, that ought to be the only barrier to access. If they have a warrant to search your house, they can break down the door of your house. Similarly, if they have a warrant to search your phone, they should have the technological capability of breaking down the door to your phone. It is much better to trust in the existing, democratically accountable social and legal institutions to protect your rights than to rely on unaccountable technological black boxes created by companies to enhance profits.

The Negative team is going to argue that once police have the technological capability of unlocking any phone, what will stop them from ignoring the legal norms? We have many cases throughout history of law enforcement simply ignoring the legal norms of searches and seizures. And once a backdoor exists into your phone, it becomes an irresistible target for hackers. You don’t file your conversations with your spouse, children or parents in your filing cabinets. But those text-message conversations are filed away on your phone. You don’t keep a log of every place that you went. But your phone does. Those are the best arguments that the Neg has for why the lock on your phone should be strong.

Ella Harker (Como High School) and Carlos Alderete (Johnson High School) will represent St. Paul at the Mayor’s Challenge. 

The Aff is saying we need to give the government access. The Neg is saying we need to be OK with the fact that the government is not going to have this information. They would probably abuse it anyway, and the harms associated with hackers getting access to it is way too high.

I would have said initially that the Aff has the harder job, but the students from St. Paul came up with what I think is a compelling argument about the importance of relying on institutional rather than technological solutions. Overall, I think this debate poses a tough question, and the students are doing great work exploring the troubling implications that will occur no matter how we decide to answer it.

Alix Dahl is Our Summer Debate Camp Director of Residential Life

Summer debate camp will be starting on June 20th, and we are excited to see our awesome staff assembling for the 12th annual MDAW session! 

Alix Dahl was the Director of Residential Life last year, and is returning this year:

Alix Dahl Group II
Alix (standing far right) with the students during our 4th of July Celebration last year.

My name is Alix Dahl. I have been a debate couch for four years at Roseville High School. I debated in high school, and then when I graduated my old coach was moving on. My coach asked me if I would be willing to be an assistant couch, and here we are!

Day to day, I make sure that students were where they were supposed to be, in addition to organizing daily activities and the Fourth of July festivities.

I really love working with kids, and I’m going to school to be a teacher. It’s really cool especially having worked with many of the same kids over the years to see how they grow and change and become adults. It lets me see the impact of debate in a really hands-on way.

I think that it’s really important that we make space for students. Traditionally debate has been a very upper class, white, male activity. And I think that the MDAW helps reduce that and make room for students who would otherwise be excluded, and they can bring their own experience and narratives to debate.MDAW foto 4

This is my favorite story from last year: there was one girl who was having a bad day. So all of the girls on her floor got together and made her this really nice card, put together this care package, and ran down to the lobby for her singing Shake it Off. It was really nice. I think that says a lot about the type of students who participate in this community.

I think it’s invaluable to make sure that camp is valuable to students of all kinds, and that we are reaching out to students of all kinds because our job is to be sure that all students are safe and having a good time.

Debaters Finish Spanish Debating Season At Augsburg College

Spanish Debate has wrapped for the season!

Highland Park Senior High Spanish teacher and debate coach Paula Boe saw her students benefit greatly from their participation in Spanish debate:

“I am so proud of all the Debaters I have had the privilege to work with over the past 3 seasons. It has been a wonderful experience for them and for me. I appreciate all the positive ripple-effects the opportunity to participate in Spanish Speaking Debate continues to have for the students at HPSH.”

Congratulations to all our debaters and to the six teams that attended the third and final tournament held on the Augsburg College campus:

Photo credit to Armand Langston Hayes Photography.

Debating Entirely in Spanish, Debaters Finish Second Spanish Debate Tournament

This year’s Spanish Debate Program is going strong, with two tournaments down and one left! 91 students attended over the course of the first two tournaments, with students speaking only in Spanish during each round of debate.

Debaters from Highland Park preparing before the start of the first Spanish tournament.

For students who speak conversational Spanish at home, engaging with complex Spanish texts helps them improve their academic Spanish — which has an additional benefit for academic English skills, since gains in one language transfer to other languages. Spanish Debate connects second or third generation immigrant students, who may speak mostly in English, to their traditional language and culture and to family members who may not speak English.

It was great to see dozens of excited students piling off of buses on the Augsburg Campus, ready to debate each other on whether drone aircraft should be used for surveillance purposes. And as they filtered back into the assembly hall at the end of the day, hungry for dinner and ready to cheer for each other during the awards ceremony, it was clear that it had been a good day.

Debaters from Clara Barton won 1st and 2nd place in Principiante division. In Avanzada division, South St. Paul High School won 1st place and Roosevelt took 2nd.

The last tournament of Spanish Debate will be held on May 11th. Good luck to everyone!

For a version of this article en español see below:

Debatir totalmente en español, estudiantes terminan Segundo Torneo de Debate en español

El Programa Debate español  de este año va fuerte, con dos torneos abajo y una más que queda! 91 estudiantes asistieron a lo largo de los dos primeros torneos, con estudiantes solamente hablando en español durante cada ronda de debate.

Para los estudiantes que hablan español conversacional en su casa, con la participación con textos en español complejas les ayuda a mejorar su español académico – que tiene un beneficio adicional para las habilidades académicas en inglés, ya que las ganancias de un lenguaje se transfieren en otros idiomas. El Debate Español conecta a los estudiantes de segunda o tercera inmigrante generación, que hablan la mayoría en Inglés, con su lengua y cultura tradicional y con sus familiares, que no hablan Inglés.

Fue genial ver a decenas de estudiantes emocionados bajándose de los autobuses en el campus de Augsburg, listos a debatir entre ellos mismos sobre si drones deberían ser utilizados por razones de vigilancia. Y cuando regresavan al salón al final del día, hambre para la cena y listo para animar el uno al otro durante la entrega de premios, estaba claro que había sido un buen día.

Estudiantes de Clara Barton ganó 1º y 2º lugar en la división Principiante. En la división Avanzada, South St. Paul High School secundaria ganó el 1er lugar y Roosevelt tomó 2do.

El último torneo de debate español se llevará a cabo el 11 de mayo. Buena suerte a todos!

The Great Surveillance Debate Is Approaching!

Surveillance-Debate-Image-Social-media-promosupdated2 On Tuesday, June 14th, our annual Mayor’s Challenge debate will take place. Four of our talented high school debaters – Minneapolis’ Hodan Osman (Edison High School) and Malik Akintola (Roosevelt High School), and St. Paul’s Ella Harker (Como High School) and Carlos Alderete (Johnson High School) – will take to the public podium to debate whether or not Apple should have allowed the FBI special access to its phones.

We are proud that this year’s Mayor’s Challenge is sponsored by Civic Eagle – an app that helps you share your voice by melding civic engagement and social networking – and Twin Cities Public Television. TPT will provide the venue as well.

Our debaters will be judged by a prestigious panel including Mayor Coleman, MN’s Chief Inclusion Officer James Burroughs, and University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Law Mark Kappelhoff.

To register for the Mayor’s Challenge: The Great Surveillance Debate, or to purchase a sponsorship visit our website HERE!

Our four talented debaters will open your mind and provide a rich discussion on this important policy issue. We hope to see you there!

Minneapolis Foundation Grant Creates New Scholarships for Summer Debate Camp

We are gettting closer and closer to the June 20th start date for the 12th annual Minnesota Debate and Advocacy Workshop (MDAW)  — our summer debate camp for middle and high school students held on the Augsburg College campus — and many pieces are coming together to make this summer a great one for our campers.

Scholarships make it possible for many of our campers to attend camp, and the Minnesota Urban Debate League is thrilled to have been the recipient of a $10,000 grant from the Minneapolis Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Fund and its 612 Youth Engagement Project!

Camp is a mix of fun activities and learning opportunities -- Director of Residential Life Alix giving a ride to a camper last year.
Camp is a mix of fun activities and learning opportunities — Director of Residential Life Alix giving a ride to a camper last year.

The Minneapolis Foundation’s support will be invaluable in sending more kids to camp this summer to learn about next year’s debate topic, and strengthen their research and argumentation skills through labs, seminars, group activities, and guest speakers. Furthermore, the grant will allow debaters to participate in our brand new Advocacy Unit for high school students!

An essential part of the MNUDL’s mission statement is to empower students to be “critical thinkers and active citizens who are effective advocates for themselves and their communities.” The Advocacy Unit puts the spotlight upon this core part of our work.

Through the new unit, students will learn how to best use their debate skills to be effective change-makers in the community. Focusing on social justice and advocacy, students identify an issue they are passionate about and work with instructors to create and implement an action plan to make a difference on that issue.

Huge thanks to the Minneapolis Foundation and to the MNUDL’s amazing Administrative and Program Assistant Genesia Williams for being the mastermind of the Advocacy Unit and for all the work she put in to make the support of the Minneapolis Foundation Youth Philanthropy Fund’s 612 Youth Engagement Project a reality!

We’re excited for summer! Only a few more months to go!

To learn more about how to register your child for camp, follow the link below:

MDAW button

Middle School City Championships!

Students pose with medals
Photo by Armand Langston Hayes Photography.

Last week our special invitational Middle School City Championships took place at Murray Middle School. Teams from 15 of our participating schools attended the big day to determine this year’s top Middle School debaters!

Each year, the City Championship brings together different Conferences so that students from schools who don’t usually have the chance to debate against each other have that chance and can test their metal against the best of the best.

It was great to conclude this year’s Middle School debate season on such a high note and to see students from across the Twin Cities come together to celebrate their passion for debate, to compete, and to recognize everyone’s accomplishments this year. Students from different schools crowded into the classrooms to watch the exciting final rounds between each division’s top competitors.

Students, coaches, community coaches, and hundreds of volunteers have worked hard to make this season the success it has been.

When asked, debaters had different answers for what their favorite part of the year and the biggest thing they learned this season was. Whether they responded that they enjoyed the opportunity to argue freely, to prove why other arguments are wrong, or to learn more about surveillance technology such as Stingray cell site simulators, everyone’s enthusiasm for our sport was clear during the long rounds of applause and cheering at the awards ceremony.

Special congratulations to Franklin Middle School for being our Rookie division champions, to Seward Middle School for being Novice champions, to Ramsey for being JV champions, and to Sanford for being Varsity division champions!

Thank you to everyone who came together this year to empower middle schools students through debate!