Debate Team

Debate Team Receives Grant from U.S. State Department

Members of the University’s Debate Team spent winter break in Mumbai, India, training teachers and students in a policy debate activity as part of a two year grant from the U.S. Department of State, from Jan. 6 to Jan. 16.

The purpose of the grant is to form debate teams at three schools in Mumbai and to work with the teams throughout the year in preparation for a public debate competition at the office of the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai in January of 2021.

Chyna Walker, a sophomore political science student, and senior political science students Yendeli Bello, Julia Bialy, Madeline Doe, Jon P. Suttile, Alexis Vasquez, and Esther Wellman played a leading role in the debate training program. The Debate Hawks will be traveling back to Mumbai next January to assist the Mumbai debaters in final preparation for the public debate at the office of the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai.

The U.S. Department of State grant was secured by Rekha Datta, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Political Science; and Joe Patten, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science and faculty advisor to the Monmouth Debate Team, with assistance from Anthony Lazroe, the University’s Director of Grants and Contacts.

According to Datta, Lazore sent information about a call for proposals from the U.S. State Department for a Debate Workshop Grant to help establish debate clubs for three schools serving underprivileged youth in Mumbai, India.

Given that the Monmouth Debate Hawks had already been engaged in debate mentoring for students in Asbury Park and other urban school districts, Patten and Datta explained that they became very interested in exploring and applying for the grant.

“We worked with Tony Lazroe and with his help and the finance office, submitted the proposal, more as a long shot,” said Datta. “Several months later, to our delightful surprise, we found out that Monmouth was selected for the State Department grant.”

After months of work, collaborating with the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, and identifying and working with three schools in Mumbai, under a more than 9 hour time difference between India and the U.S., the team secured the grant to travel to the schools to offer the debate workshops.

“We were over the moon excited to have our Mumbai debate grant application accepted by the U.S. State Department,” said Patten. “Working with the three schools in Mumbai alongside Provost Datta and Monmouth debaters was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  And I can’t wait to continue working with our Indian debate team partners over the year and return to Mumbai next January for the big public debate in the U.S. Consulate’s Office.”

The crew of Monmouth’s students and faculty brought debate to underprivileged youth, bridging language and cultural barriers, and empowering the Mumbai students to use communication skills to succeed in life—working to build trust and friendship along the way. Students introduced policy debate techniques, using the topic of gender equality as a broad topic and gender quotas in Indian Parliament as a specific proposal.

“Mumbai was an unforgettable experience. It was amazing seeing the students pick up the debate material so quickly and add their own touch to it, as well as create friendships with them,” said Bello. “It was a beautiful cultural exchange and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to go.”

Walker agreed, and said, “I loved seeing all the bright colors throughout the city of Mumbai, and I especially loved working with all the students and learning just as much from them as they learned from me. I am deeply humbled and grateful that I was able to be a part of this trip and I can’t wait to see what our friends in Mumbai will do in their bright futures.”

“My favorite parts of the trip were meeting many of the students from the two different NGOs and the school,” Wellman added. “All the students were very excited to learn about policy debate and interact with us; one of the students was so impressive with how quickly she picked up the debate skills and how passionate she was about the issue of gender inequality.”

In addition to their hard work with the Mumbai youth, the team also enjoyed their time with one another in the city. “Whether we were traveling around Mumbai on rickshaws, shopping or out to eat, the trip was filled with endless laughs,” said Suttile. “Being able to experience the culture of another country and getting the chance to work with bright and engaged students of various age groups was such a humbling experience.”

“I was especially proud of our students. They gave their time, mentored the students in India, often navigating language barriers, and served as true cultural ambassadors,” said Datta. “I am equally proud of the children in India who we worked with. They rose up to the challenge, did the research, absorbed the training well, and were able to put up a mock debate within three short days of training.”

The entire team expressed their gratitude for all the support they received from various schools, individuals, and offices at Monmouth: the School of Humanities and Social Sciences; the Business School; the Honors School; the Department of Political Science and Sociology; the Global Education Office, Grants Office, and Finance Office; and the Office of the Provost.

Datta concluded, “I want to acknowledge the support of President Leahy. When we applied for the grant, I was not serving in the role of Interim Provost. But given my responsibilities, I hesitated to take the days off in January. President Leahy encouraged me to go and be with students; he said being with students is important. We thank him and the university community for all the support.”