January 4, 2024 | By Marisa Suescun
Suffolk Dual Enrollment Students Present Final Projects
In the 12th floor Trustees Conference Room on the campus of Suffolk University, a young woman stood at the front of a room, took a breath, and began to sing. She sang a song of hunger, of injustice, and of fierce, joyful resistance – Van Dyke Parks’ “City on the Hill.”
“The ghetto’s hungry people cry
Food is wasted on the hill
Hands stretched upwards to the sky
That hill seems high and higher still…”
This was the potent, lyrical way that Sybille Delice, a 12th grade debater and student at Prospect Hill Academy, opened the final presentations of the Suffolk University Boston Debate League dual enrollment course.
The dual enrollment course is the product of a close partnership between Suffolk and the BDL. The course provides BDL 11th and 12th grade debaters an opportunity to deepen their argumentation and critical thinking skills, develop their policy debate cases, earn college credit, and experience being students in community on a college campus. The course is co-taught by Suffolk University Professor and Debate Coach Frank Irizarry, and a BDL staff member. Since its inception six years ago, 60 debaters across 12 public schools have engaged in this opportunity.
The 12 debaters enrolled in the Fall 2023 dual enrollment course attended class every Wednesday afternoon at Suffolk University this semester. They engaged in class discussions and mini debates, and read texts about the structure of argumentation, as well as Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, by America, to deepen their knowledge and conceptual understandings of wealth inequality. They also read “The Color of Wealth in Boston” report, and got to meet by Zoom with its lead author, Ana Patricia Muñoz.
The final product of the dual enrollment course is for debaters to produce an original “First Affirmative Constructive” (or 1AC) argument supporting the policy debate resolution of the year, that the US Federal Government should substantially increase wealth equality (or “fiscal redistribution,” as it is named in the resolution). Each of the debaters worked individually or with a partner to research and craft their policy arguments, which they also use when competing in debate tournaments this season.
On Wednesday, December 6th, the debaters formally presented their arguments – and the stories and journeys behind those arguments – to an audience of BDL and Suffolk staff, their families, and their debate coaches and teammates who had traveled together from their schools to the event.
The debaters’ presentations covered a wide range of approaches to the issue of wealth inequality. Their arguments included advocacy for reforming Social Security; providing a basic income for immigrants, college students, and people living with housing insecurity; instituting a federal jobs guarantee to improve infrastructure and living conditions for poor communities; creating a culture of care to promote economic justice; and making space for Asian rage in conversations about inequality.
One of the striking characteristics of this semester’s dual enrollment cohort is their ability to respectfully ask critical questions – of a text, each other, the instructors, guest experts – in order to deepen learning and understanding. This is an inspiring, vital quality for our next generation of leaders, and was on full display during the presentations.
After each presentation, there was time for audience questions and reflections, and the debaters in the room held court. “How does your plan actually address the harm of homelessness?” “What would the world be like if we adopted the ethics of care?” “What would happen if people used the income to buy unhealthy food?” – a question that sparked subsequent commentary probing the assumptions in the question. In addition to their critical inquiry, the debaters also affirmed and celebrated each other, cheering for each presenter and sharing reflections on what they learned from each other.
Indeed, everyone who witnessed the presentations on that 12th floor conference room that evening experienced moments of deep learning and inspiration. It was an experience centered on young people leading and learning from each other and sharing their expertise with the broader community. BDL’s Executive Director Kim Willingham encapsulated the power and promise on display, when she told the debaters at the end of evening: “You all give me such hope for the future.”