Debate Spaces is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that aims to connect communities and empower students through debate. Debate Spaces brings together middle and high school students for extracurricular programming that offers students world-class public speaking and debate training while helping students apply the skills they’re learning to make change in their communities.
Since its founding in 2017, Debate Spaces has:
Impacted 600+ students from schools representing 30+ countries
Matched over a dozen college mentors with debate teams and students
When Matt first arrived in South Africa in 2016, it had just passed Brazil as the most unequal country in the world. The place he was living, Stellenbosch, was (and still is) the most unequal town in South Africa. To Matt, living in South Africa felt like living in two different countries that did not interact. This reality hit him most forcefully when he met a 19-year-old student at Makupula High School, the school he was working at. This 19-year-old student had never sent an email and didn’t know how to navigate the internet. The contrast between this student and Matt’s 19-year-old roommate in Stellenbosch, with his Macbook and new car, felt enormous. These two people were the same age and lived less than 3 miles from each other, but they would never meet and their lives would never cross. That’s why Matt started Debate Spaces.
In Stellenbosch, South Africa, Debate Spaces focused on bringing together primary school students from opposite sides of unequal communities to have fun while learning the important skills of debating. Student’s improved their confidence while speaking in front of a room, they trained their minds to solve problems critically, and they learned how to present themselves so that they are listened to and taken seriously despite their age. When Matt came back to the United States in 2017, he knew that Debate Spaces could also play role here.
In 2017, Tessa had just graduated from Bates College. While in college, Tessa had started the first high school debate team in Bolivia, which was part of independent research she was doing on using debate as a tool for encouraging youth activism and political participation. Using Tessa’s experience using debate as a tool for youth civic engagement and Matt’s experience starting Debate Spaces in South Africa, they worked together to create what is currently Debate Spaces.