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Somali Debate – Community Topic

Somali Debate Pilot group from 2015

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Empowering East African Leaders of Today & Tomorrow

The first of its kind in the nation, students debated in English about the topic of Remittances to Somalia. After the debate rounds, a panel which included Rep. Keith Ellison, gathered to discuss the issue. The day’s programming also featured performance-artists who have deep roots locally and in the Somali diaspora represented here in Minnesota.


The opportunity gap between white and students of color in Minnesota is well-documented. These outcomes are a product of structural inequities that also negatively impacts students’ self-efficacy. Somali students, in particular, face unique challenges that thwart their academic achievement. Through culturally specific topics and community involvement, the Somali Debate Initiative gives power directly to students, in order for them to guide important discussions and become leaders and facilitators of debates in multiple areas of their lives.

Making the Case for the Somali Debate Initiative:

The Somali Debate Initiative addresses two issues facing Somali youth: lack of critical discussion about policies that directly affects the Somali community and the achievement gap for young Somali Americans and ELL students. The structure of debate allows learners to test new ideas in a space that encourages critical evaluation and examining complex issues from multiple perspectives. The framework of debate helps students increase their understanding of a specific issue and the various factors that affect it: economic, political, cultural, etc. In these debates, students will be the idea generators, creating their own equitable solutions to large issues, and learning how to apply this knowledge to issues involving their education and the health of their communities.

Opening these debates to a community audience will allow an overall increase in the collective understanding of topics such as remittances. While students may not be able to solve such a large community crisis, through debate they become powerful change-agents and self-advocates.

2017 Debate Topic: Different Forms of Bias

The focus of the debate is how different forms of bias affect identity construction among Somali youth.

The Affirmative team argues that comprehensive reform to prevent acts of police bias against immigrants, African Americans, and Muslims is necessary in order for Somali youth to feel comfortable identifying as Somalis in America.

The Negative team argues that such reforms are doomed to failure because American society as a whole still supports these biases. Education reform that teaches an anti-bias curriculum is the best way to create a society where young people can construct an view of themselves as Somali without facing rejection from the broader American culture.

Somali Debate Judges Wanted:

Judges watch debate rounds and then evaluate teams on argumentation, logic, and public speaking skills. No prior experience is necessary to volunteer; judges receive a short training and all necessary materials prior to the start of tournaments.

We have 2 tournaments in total, but volunteers can commit to as many or as few tournaments as their schedule permits. By volunteering with MNUDL, you support local middle and high school Somali students in their education and extracurricular activities.

Each tournament will include three rounds of debate, lasting 45 minutes each, and will include dinner and an awards celebration with invited family and community constituents. By the end of 2017 programming, we expect each students to receive over 30 hours of instruction and debate practicum.

Upcoming Debate Tournaments:

Please email Awale Osman, our Somali Community Liaison, for more information about judging