A Plea: Help Low-Income Students Participate in Debate

Dear friends,

As a group, we have in common an appreciation for the tremendous value education has had in our lives. Education has opened up the paths that we have chosen to pursue. It has helped us define who we are and who we want to be. At least, I can say that education has played this role in my life, and I suspect that many, if not all, of you would say the same for yourselves. And, if you are reading this letter, it is very likely that your experience in debate has been an invaluable part of that education.

Sadly, many students are not given a similarly transformative opportunity in their own education. To put it mildly, the situation with this country’s educational system is grim—especially at those institutions that are intended to serve low-income populations. In Chicago, where I live, we have a public school system that virtually no one attends voluntarily; its student population consists almost exclusively of those who are trapped in it.

The inequity of this situation is mirrored in debate. Debate stands out as a high school activity that we know can be tremendously intellectually rewarding. But to truly gain those benefits, students need access to rigorous camps, quality coaching, and the chance to attend competitive tournaments. So as it stands, the intellectual rewards of debate are, for the most part, reserved only for those who can afford its high cost of admission. Last weekend, for example, those students whose parents and schools could afford coaches and plane tickets and hotel rooms and entrance fees gathered for the Glenbrooks tournament.

We should not tolerate this state of affairs. To that end, a number of us in the debate community founded the Texas Debate Collective (TDC) in 2009 with the goal of ensuring that low-income students are not deprived of the advantages of debate. Since then, we have created a non-profit two week debate camp that is free for low-income students and their teachers, and is staffed by successful national circuit debate coaches. TDC is a registered 501(c)3, and we’ve been running our camp for the past four years. For more information about TDC, have a look at our website.

So, where do you come in? We need your help to continue this work. Specifically, there are two things you can do to help. First, we are in need of donations so that we can do two things: (1) expand the amount of financial aid that we are able to offer, so that we can serve greater numbers of low-income students and the coaches of low-income programs; (2) provide year-round support for our students, so that they have access to coaching and travel throughout the debate season. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to TDC here. We are grateful for whatever you can afford personally, and we also urge you to consider passing this message along to family, friends, and colleagues whom you think might be interested in supporting our mission.

Second, if you are a tournament director, then we could use your help making tournaments more affordable for TDC scholarship students. We are looking for tournaments willing to donate “slots” to our students by waiving entry and judge fees to the tournament, and, if possible, also providing housing. Both the Greenhill and the University School Sunvitational tournaments have generously agreed to provide slots for TDC students. If you run a tournament, then please consider doing the same.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message, and I would be thrilled to talk more about TDC and ways that people can help our mission.


Tom Evnen