The Gallaudet University debate team participated in the annual Social Justice Debates March 25-27 at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, making the quarterfinal round and earning several individual debater awards. This was the first time in history that a team using American Sign Language and English took part in a multi-school competition. Twenty-one schools, some with multiple pairs of debaters, took place in this year’s Social Justice Debates, the first one held in person since 2019.

Juniors Lexi Hill from Tyler, Texas, and Aubrey Moorman from Laurel, Maryland, debated the proposition “The adoption of a mandatory racial desegregation policy for K-12 public schools is desirable.” They had to be able to take either side of this debate, and did so admirably, impressing opposing teams, judges, and spectators alike. The team lost its first debate against California Polytechnic State University, but defeated the University of Vermont at Montpelier, a different team from Cal Poly, and the host school, Morehouse College to advance to the quarterfinal round. They lost this match to Howard University.

Morehouse and Howard advanced to the championship debate, and Morehouse won the overall championship. Hill and Moorman each won two individual awards as best novice (first-time) debaters and for their overall performance. Moorman also was named the best individual debater of the entire competition. 

Judges, including the renowned University of California, Berkeley economics professor Rucker Johnson, consistently complimented the Gallaudet team on its arguments and their facility in presenting them.

Five other members of the debate team attended the competition. President Cordano and Dean of the Faculty Khadijat Rashid accompanied the team, as did Evon Black, associate director of the Center for Black Deaf Studies. About 15 Gallaudet alumni and friends, including one former and one present member of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees, came out to support the team. Atlanta-based Sign1News covered the event; watch their report here.

During their four days in Atlanta, the debate team visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change and toured Morehouse College, one of the nation’s premier historically black colleges. 

They also observed an African American Family class taught by Dr. Taura Taylor. Morehouse men, and women from neighboring Spelman College, discussed African American family traditions from the past to the present, as well as terminology used in various family structures. Debate team co-captain Romel Thurman said that it was a surreal experience to have genuinely courageous conversations about terms like “bae”, “wifey”, and “boo”, and the connotations of each in the context of Black families.

The debate team was established in 2020. Its head coach is Dr. Brendan Stern, a faculty member in the School of Civic Leadership, Business, and Social Change, and executive director of the Center for Democracy in Deaf America. Suzanne Rosen Singleton, chief of the Disability Rights Office at the Federal Communications Commission, is assistant coach.

The team won its first exhibition debate against George Washington University in April 2021. Lexi Hill teamed with Thalia Guettler in debating statehood for the District of Columbia. Watch the 2021 debate against GWU here.

The team’s next debate, on whether deaf people should serve in the U.S. armed forces, will be with the United States Naval Academy on April 29 here at Gallaudet. Stay tuned for more details!

This article and its accompanying media were compiled by Robert Weinstock from multiple sources, including Nikolya Sereda, Chris Johnson, and Teddy Dorsette III, all with the Office of University Communications. 

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