Suffolk University and Boston Debate League Support Student Debaters

Suffolk University and the Boston Debate League announced a partnership that will bring hundreds of Boston middle and high school students to Suffolk’s downtown campus for debate tournaments and a two-week summer debate camp.

The non-profit Boston Debate League brings competitive debate into the Boston Public Schools, cultivating transformative critical thinking and communications skills that prepare students for college, careers and engagement with the world around them.

As part of the debate league, hundreds of middle and high school students from across Boston gather on six weekends during the academic year to debate complex, real-world policy questions. Under the new partnership, Suffolk will host those tournaments. The University also will host a summer debate camp where BDL students will come to Suffolk’s downtown Boston campus Monday through Friday to prepare arguments and compete, while also getting a sense of life on a college campus.

The partnership also will feature unique opportunities at Suffolk for educators across the city to learn how to integrate the fundamentals of debate—evidence based argumentation—into everyday classroom instruction. BDL’s Evidence Based Argumentation (EBA) Initiative partners with teachers to create engaging classrooms where student voice is at the center of education.

“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,” said Suffolk University Acting President Marisa Kelly. “Suffolk has worked alongside the BDL for nearly a decade, and we are especially pleased to now have a formal partnership that will bring BDL debates to our downtown campus and create mentoring opportunities for Suffolk students.”

Suffolk has hosted BDL debates in the past, including as recently as this past March, when about 120 students gathered to debate this year’s topic—whether or not the United States government should substantially increase its economic and/or diplomatic engagement with China. Students compete in two-person teams during 90-minute rounds and take turns arguing both sides of the issues.

Young people who participate in debate develop important leadership skills, including the confidence and ability to advocate for themselves and their communities. Debaters in metropolitan school districts are three times more likely to graduate high school than non-debaters and 63 percent more likely to attend college. Debaters are 80 percent more likely to graduate once they enroll in college. And an independent study found that BDL debaters performed significantly higher on indicators of college readiness, including standardized test performance and grade point average.

“This partnership is a true value match for our organization. BDL and Suffolk are committed to closing the opportunity gap for Boston youth and lifting up the power of their collective voice,” said Mike Wasserman, executive director of BDL. “Creating opportunities for our students to engage on a college campus frequently, connect with college professors and students, and participate in unique experiences to enhance their debate careers is priceless. Suffolk’s partnership will create a new level of impact that will honor our belief in students. We are excited.”

The partnership comes at an important time of growth for the Boston Debate League. Over the past 10 years, BDL has grown from a grassroots organization serving 25 students at three schools to a prominent organization that last year reached more than 4,000 students, 300 teachers, 800 community volunteers and 30 partner schools.

Suffolk Advertising and Public Relations Professors Frank and Cynthia Irizarry first started bringing BDL debates to Suffolk nine years ago. Frank Irizarry says middle and high school students love coming to Suffolk because it is so centrally located.

“There is no one that lives anywhere within the Boston Public Schools footprint that can’t easily get to Suffolk,” said Irizarry. “Every subway line is within a five-minute walk from our campus.”

Irizarry said the program fosters positive mentoring relationships between Suffolk and BPS students that are invaluable for each group. Those student-to-student connections are critical, he said.

Suffolk students enrolled in Irizarry’s Public Relations Campaigns classes volunteer at Boston Debate League competitions and assist during the two-week debate camp.


Suffolk University, located in historic downtown Boston, with an international campus in Madrid, is a student-centered institution distinguished by excellence in education and scholarship. Suffolk University offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs in more than 90 areas of study. Its mission is to empower graduates to be successful locally, regionally and globally.

Boston Debate League is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to integrate argumentation and competitive debate into Boston Public Schools to develop critical thinkers ready for college, career, and engagement with the world around them. BDL programs exist in 36 middle schools and high schools within the Boston Public School system and serve more than 900 students in its Middle School, High School English, and High School Spanish debate divisions. The BDL’s programming is unique among the city’s after-school and other youth development programs in that it targets middle and high school students and blends competition and fun with rigorous academic work.

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