Wiley College aims to create HBCU Speech and Debate League
It would develop and manage teams that will compete in the first HBCU National Tournament next year
Wiley College is continuing its prestigious legacy of great debaters with the help of a grant awarded to the school by the Charles Koch Foundation to create a Historically Black Colleges and Universities Speech and Debate League.
The Charles Koch Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has supported hundreds of colleges and universities since its founding in 1980, and Wiley College announced the partnership earlier this week.
“We are thrilled to support Wiley College’s effort to share its wonderful debate tradition with HBCUs throughout Texas and the country,” said John Hardin, director of university relations at the Charles Koch Foundation. “These debate programs are a model for the civil dialogue that is necessary for our society to grow and flourish.”
The grant will be used to help create competitive forensics teams at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), while the league itself will grow and manage teams that will compete against each other in various tournaments to qualify for an annual HBCU National Championship Tournament. The first tournament is set to be held on Wiley College’s campus in January 2018, according to the school.
Christopher Medina, Wiley College’s director of forensics, will act as head coach of the Great Debaters. Medina believes debate not only is a critical-thinking activity but also provides lifelong skills and educational opportunities to those who participate.
“Debate is probably the most powerful educational activity ever created,” Medina said. “This activity does more than educate — it saves lives. [Debate] is a profound pedagogy that provides students with skills and educational opportunities which can be used throughout a student’s life, regardless of their chosen career path.”
Wiley College, a historically black liberal arts college located in Marshall, Texas, is most known for its famed Great Debaters of the 1930s. Led by poet and Wiley English professor Melvin B. Tolson, the Great Debaters remained undefeated from 1929 to 1939. The team was so impressive that in 1930, its members were invited to compete in the first interracial collegiate debate in the United States against the all-white University of Michigan Law School. Five years later, the team went on to dethrone the University of Southern California as national collegiate debate champions at a time when people of color struggled to fight racial oppression and Jim Crow segregation laws during the Great Depression.
The team’s story and its accomplishments were later adapted into the 2007 film The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington as Tolson.
Current students and alumni who have participated on Wiley’s debate team expressed excitement over the developing league.
Wiley alumnus Sean Allen credits the debate education in college for furthering his education. Allen went on to earn his master’s degree at Hofstra University and is the director of forensics at Tennessee State University, an HBCU.
“Wiley College somewhat catapulted me into who I am today,” Allen said. “Every single opportunity I have had, I credit to my participation in the speech and debate program at Wiley. … I am glad to see this new league, and l look forward to the HBCU Nationals so we can celebrate the accomplishments of speech and debate on the HBCU circuit and in the HBCU community.”