Colleges Working Together To Form Nation’s First HBCU Debate League

Wiley College, home of ‘The Great Debaters,’ leading timely organizing efforts among HBCUs with help of Charles Koch Foundation grant.

MARSHALL, Texas and ARLINGTON, Va. — Wiley College, known for its famed Great Debaters program made famous in a Hollywood movie, is uniting the nation’s first forensics league among Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  The competitive forensics league, made possible by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, will officially kick off in January 2018, and interest to participate has been substantial, according to organizers.

Christopher Medina, the nation’s only Latino director of forensics, and head coach of the legendary Great Debaters team, says that the abilities gained through debate, such as critical thinking and empathy, are essential for young adults in enhancing their career readiness. These skills not only differentiate forensics students as future leaders, but also position them as civil discourse role models at a time when colleges and universities are facing increasing challenges to free speech rights on campus.

“Debate is probably the most powerful educational activity ever created, and this league will create opportunity for hundreds of students,” said Medina, who credits debate with saving his life.  “This activity is a profound pedagogy that provides students with skills and educational opportunities which can be used throughout a student’s life, regardless of their chosen career path.”

In the first few months since announcing the league’s formation, Medina has garnered interest from dozens of HBCUs, including Howard University, Tennessee State University, Delaware State University, Kentucky State, Talladega College, Texas Southern and numerous others.

According to Medina, students who participate not only hone their communication skills, but are also more engaged and motivated at school. Numerous members of the Wiley Speech and Debate Team were introduced to the activity in junior high school or high school, when their participation literally meant the difference between a bright future at college or life of crime, drugs, or other adversities.

“Competing at a collegiate level on the speech and debate circuit has grown me into a person who can fill a room and command it without worrying about the opinion of others around me,” said Louis Mendez, individual event captain of Wiley’s Great Debaters Team, and current sophomore at Wiley College. “This team has molded me into a leader.”

Within the past two years, 100 percent of Wiley College speech and debate graduates have received scholarships to graduate school. Since 2008, 90 percent of students have successfully landed scholarships. Alumni of the program have cultivated meaningful careers as teachers, actors, vice principals, community activists and more.

The ultimate goal of the league will be to promote peaceful and civil discourse, while also providing greater opportunity for participation in speech and debate by students of color, who make up less than 10 percent of forensic competitors according to a 2004 study by The Journal of the American Forensics Association.

“We are thrilled to support Wiley College’s effort to share its wonderful debate tradition with HBCUs throughout the country,” said John Hardin, Director of University Relations at the Charles Koch Foundation. “These debate programs are a model for the civil dialogue that is necessary for our society to grow and flourish.”

The Wiley Great Debaters 2.0 are also celebrating their 10th anniversary since being revived in 2007 by a $1 million grant from actor Denzel Washington. Washington played Professor and Debate Coach Melvin B. Tolson in a 2007 film about the original, legendary Wiley Debate team of 1935.

For more information on the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Speech and Debate League, or to inquire about enrolling your institution, please call (972) 439-5684 or send an e-mail to Medina at For more information about The Charles Koch Foundation, please visit

About Wiley College

Wiley College, founded in 1873 in Marshall, Texas, is a historically black, primarily liberal arts, residential, co-educational, baccalaureate degree-granting institution affiliated with The United Methodist Church.

About Charles Koch Foundation

More than 50 years ago, Charles G. Koch began supporting education in the belief that everyone has the ability to learn, contribute, and succeed if they have the freedom and opportunity to do so. The Charles Koch Foundation, founded in 1980, continues this work by funding research and education that helps people expand their horizons, develop their skills, and help others. Through grants to more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide and non-profit organizations, the foundation connects scholars, students, and partners with the resources to explore diverse ideas and solutions that meet the challenges of our day.

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