November 3, 2003 Vol. VIII, No. 6

High schoolers learn verbal sparring at Northridge's Urban Debate League season opener.

Northridge Starts Debate League for High School Youth

'Words, Not Violence' Key to Project for Disadvantaged Public Schools; Open Society Institute Provides Grant

Cal State Northridge has received a grant from The Open Society Institute to establish debate teams in socio-economically disadvantaged public high schools in the Los Angeles area.

The grant, $350,000 for one year and renewable for as many as three years, will fund the Los Angeles Urban Debate League.

"One of our goals is to teach the young people we work with to use words, as opposed to violence, to work out their differences," said Becky Opsata, director of forensics in Northridge's Communication Studies Department. The league's mission is to empower traditionally marginalized young people by giving them a political and social forum for their views, she added.

Dozens of Cal State Northridge communication studies student volunteers will teach local high schoolers in the league how to win arguments by effectively using words. Students from USC, Pepperdine and CSU Long Beach also will volunteer.

The high school students got their first debate learning experience at a mini-competition at Northridge in September. Through the year, they will compete throughout Southern California, hone their skills at debate workshops and attend a summer debate camp.

Seven high schools in the league—Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Cleveland among them—eventually will compete against 14 other leagues in the U.S.

Opsata said participation in high school debate encourages critical thinking and speaking skills that are requirements for students as they become adults. "Taking part in a debate team," she said, "can really change a high schooler's life."

For more information about the Los Angeles Urban Debate League, visit its Web site at

@csun | November 3, 2003 issue
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