The Gallaudet University debate team will begin its second year of intercollegiate debate competition during the annual Social Justice Debates March 25-27 at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the first time that a team of deaf students is competing in an intercollegiate debate competition using American Sign Language and English. The Morehouse competition will debate the proposition “The adoption of a mandatory racial desegregation policy for K-12 public schools is desirable.”

The Social Justice Debates are an annual intercollegiate debate series founded by Morehouse College and George Washington University in 2016. The only intercollegiate debate series in the world dedicated to social justice topics, the Social Justice Debates aspire to promote productive and rigorous debates challenging current and future thought leaders to consider issues of justice in relation to the distribution of wealth, opportunity, and privilege in U.S. society.

Two members of Gallaudet’s eight-person team will vie against other Social Justice Debates participants in the weekend competition at Morehouse College. The Gallaudet University team consists of three veterans: co-captains Lexi Hill from Tyler, Texas and Romel Thurman from Berkeley, California; and Aubrey Moorman from Laurel, Maryland; and five newcomers: Lorelei Becktel-Lipscomb from East Lansing, Michigan; Samuel Marchese-Ragona from Rochester, New York; Daniel Miers from Columbia, Maryland; La Toya Plummer from Landover, Maryland; and Charles Spiers from Rockville, Maryland.

Dr. Brendan Stern, ’06, a deaf faculty member in Gallaudet’s School of Civic Leadership, Business, and Social Change and executive director of the Center for Democracy in Deaf America, is head coach, and Suzy Rosen Singleton, E-’88, a deaf attorney who is Chief of the Disability Rights Office at the Federal Communications Commission, is assistant coach. 

The Gallaudet University debate team, the first in the university’s 158-year history, was formed during the 2020-2021 academic year. Gallaudet debaters competed in an exhibition debate, conducted in American Sign Language and English, against George Washington University in April 2021. Both teams debated the proposition “Statehood for Washington, D.C. should be granted.” After a lively debate, the judges declared Gallaudet the winner based on the quality of their logic, research, and analysis. 

Gallaudet University Debate Team to Face United States Naval Academy

The Gallaudet debate team also competes April 29 with the United States Naval Academy. 

This debate will be held on the Gallaudet University campus in northeast Washington, D.C. It will address whether deaf people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Each team will have one debater from each of the two schools, a novel approach that is designed to promote greater awareness of, by, and for the Deaf and military communities. 

To prepare for their busy spring season, the Gallaudet debate team has participated in several on-campus events, including Stories and Speeches in Sign, an event in November 2021 in which student debaters presented persuasive arguments on difficult topics of their choice, using logic, evidence, emotion, and storytelling. Gallaudet junior Aubrey Moorman won first place with his persuasive speech about granting voting rights for felons. Earlier this month, the team had an impromptu “friendly” with teams from Howard and George Washington Universities. Last night, in concert with Gallaudet’s Center for Black Deaf Studies, they hosted a panel debate centered around the proposition “The adoption of a mandatory racial desegregation policy for K-12 public schools is desirable.” 

After the Morehouse event in late March, the team will turn its attention to its debate with the U.S. Naval Academy on April 29. Gallaudet’s debaters will travel to Annapolis for a campus tour and meet-and-greet, and teams will be formed with one member from each school. The event itself, to be held in Peikoff Alumni House on the Gallaudet campus, will include a panel to provide in-person and online viewers with historical, political, and practical perspectives on this issue. 

Gallaudet’s debate team is one of several programs under the Center for Democracy in Deaf America (CDDA). The Center, founded by Dr. Stern and staffed almost entirely by students, also conducts educational and outreach programs, including a panel discussion on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a watch party for the State of the Union address, voter registration drives, and a youth debate competition for deaf and hard of hearing middle and high school students.

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