Speaking Up

Suffolk—Boston Debate League course helps high school students amplify their voices

As Joselyn Carvalho and Rebecca Francois move to the front of a Suffolk University classroom and open up their final presentation they look out on the lights of Boston Common and the encouraging faces of their peers. 

The pair—seasoned debaters who’ve mastered their complex case on domestic violence survivors seeking asylum in the United States—are comfortable, poised, and ready to reflect on the hard work they’ve done this semester. They’re also high school seniors doing college work and earning college credit before they’ve even finished their applications for higher ed admission.

Carvalho and Francois are among a small group of Boston Public School students selected to participate in a unique pilot course taught by a Suffolk University professor and a coach from the Boston Debate League. The course gives the already-skilled varsity debaters additional details on the history and mechanics of debating and how to craft, and counter, a persuasive argument. It’s also an opportunity to try college-level coursework in a university setting. 

“When you're inside this building, it's a whole different atmosphere,” says Francois. “You walk around and everybody is just so focused, and it's contagious. It makes you want to do more, it makes you want to be proactive, go out of your way and learn from people.”

Students present at Suffolk University

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[Music]
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my name is Rebecca Francois I go to the
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Henderson Inclusion school and I am a
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senior this year I grew up in between
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Dorchester and Haiti
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I came to Boston permanently when I was
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8 years old it was after the 2010
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earthquake I love with my mother and my
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grandmother my mother always saw America
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as being Elaine where I'd be able to
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have a lot of opportunities my name is
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Jocelyn Carvalho I am born and raised in
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Boston I want to be an expressive arts
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therapist and maybe be a doctor in
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psychology I realize I have to work
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twice as hard for some opportunities my
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voice is gonna have to be louder than
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the next guy in the room I help out
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whenever I can but I'm never always make
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sure that I understand that my first
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role is not education
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Boston debate league I've definitely
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learned more about connecting with other
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individuals and not just keeping the
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ideas that I have to myself my first
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year in the bay I was JV city champ and
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that was just a big accomplishment for
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me I've been able to realize okay my
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opinion is very important but I do have
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to back it up with critical evidence all
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right
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I've always been an outspoken person and
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I think that's what my coach saw in me
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she saw something in me that I had not
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received myself and it's the ability to
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create change once that first debate
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starts everything else is a blur debate
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gives you an adrenaline rush your brain
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is working so hard to focus and try to
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prove your own point and all this
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evidence behind it and if you do lose
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that debate and it just gives you more
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motivation to win the next one
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in our case we make the argument that
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when a woman is filing for asylum that
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she should be able to say that domestic
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violence doesn't get enough cause if a
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woman is strong enough to walk away from
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the situation then we should have a
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legislative system that is willing to
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fight just as hard these aren't just
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numbers on a spreadsheet
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just random people were actually trying
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to help people who are coming to America
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it starts off with a spoken word all
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that is left of us are whispers of blood
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of cries and mercy of threats in the
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view now as women you deserve a voice
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everyone's shooting deserves to be heard
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and recognized debate has taught me that
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advocacy is not only my role in society
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it's something that everybody has a role
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in we were given the opportunity to have
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a class here at Suffolk when you're
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inside this building it's a whole
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different atmosphere you walk around and
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everybody is just so focused and it's
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contagious I'm a bookworm in Suffolk's
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libraryies gorgeous it definitely shows
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me that there's like beyond high school
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the course is called introduction to
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debates it's a great environment even
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though we're on separate teams we work
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together as if we were one Suffolk has
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definitely given me an opportunity to
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learn as a person and learn how to adapt
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I do get college credit so that actually
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saves me a lot of time and money
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Suffolk's definitely gave me the
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opportunity to like know that okay this
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is possible for me the fact that I was
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able to get into a program at Suffolk
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that feels it makes me so good it tells
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me that I can do a lot more than I think
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I can and I should put myself out there
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and just apply at the beginning of the
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day I was a shy didn't know what to do
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frazzled and now I just feel more
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confident I am projected valedictorian
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which in
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amazing and it's just spent a lot of
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hard work this college career I'm all
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ready for it I'm gonna make it in
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whatever I do you can always create
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change that you're never too small
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debate has definitely taught me that my
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grandmother who you didn't have a chance
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to go to college is gonna see me pack up
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and go to college next year
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it means the world absolutely needs the
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world that means that all of them have
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this hard work and all of my car with
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their sacrifices aren't going to waste
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my mother and my grandmother are
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definitely gonna be really proud when I
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walk across that stage and I get my
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diploma
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[Music]

The program builds on a strong partnership between Suffolk and Boston Debate League that brings hundreds of Boston Public School students to the University’s campus every year for debate tournaments. The University also hosts the Boston Debate League’s summer teacher training sessions which help Boston educators become debate coaches, and also bring essential elements of the program—such as student leadership development, student collaboration, and a focus on evidence and reasoning—into their classrooms.

“The Boston Debate League is making a real difference in the lives of students in the Boston Public Schools through the power of debate and the critical thinking skills that go along with it,” says Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly. “Suffolk is proud to partner with the Boston Debate League to expand our mentoring abilities through this new program.” 

"Through our debate programs, students are using their powerful voices to lead informed and engaging conversations about real-world issues,” says Boston Debate League Executive Director Mike Wasserman. “Our partnership with Suffolk University has been an incredible opportunity to not just prepare students for college, but provide them an opportunity to actually begin their college journey before they even graduate from high school."

This week Carvalho and Francois will graduate as valedictorian and salutatorian of their class at the Henderson Inclusion School in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. They will head off to college in the fall with credits from their course and the confidence they gained in the process.

“Over the two years that I've been in debate I've grown so much as a person. And through this program I've definitely learned that anything is possible. This college career: I'm all ready for it,” says Carvalho.

 

Contact

Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs
617-573-8428
 
Office of Public Affairs
617-573-8410