Association for Senior Debate Fellowships

About the Association for Senior Debate (ASD)

The Association for Senior Debate (ASD) is designed to foster nuanced discourse on major issues among seniors and the millions who interact with them daily, drawing upon their deep wisdom even as it contributes to their health and well-being. 

Generations of those who have been shaped in school or college by competitive debate attest to its utility in building a capacity for genuine dialogue. No activity so powerfully promotes the nuance and complexity necessary for public discourse in a healthy democracy as competitive debate—which requires participants to understand (at a level sufficient to withstand comprehensive examination) all sides of an issue. The Association for Senior Debate will begin building this “debate culture” with those most likely to embrace it and most likely to have been isolated during the current health crisis: seniors. 

Moreover, even as this initiative helps elevate public discourse, it also contributes to the well-being of the seniors who participate. Over the past several decades, neuroscientists and gerontologists have confirmed that serious intellectual activity, especially new activity, forestalls both the physical and the psychological effects of aging. Through debate, older citizens not only can help repair the quality of civic discourse but also can enhance the quality of their own physical and mental well-being.

Finally, the initiative, designed as it is to use former debaters (and especially recent debaters) as docents for any participants honing their forensic skills, will promote intergenerational contact, communication, and learning.

The Association for Senior Debate (ASD) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, supported solely by a generous set of benefactors and foundations, including the Ford Foundation. Tom Benson, president emeritus of Green Mountain College, is founding president of the ASD and was one of the nation’s top debaters during his college years at Augustana College. NYU Law’s Professor John Sexton is faculty liaison to the program and is charged with approving the assignments and work of Fellows; he also will conduct periodic meetings with the Fellows on their work.


ASD Fellows will assist the executive director of the Association for Senior Debate in mobilizing the engagement of communities, especially traditionally underrepresented communities, with the Senior Debate initiative. Beyond this mobilization effort, ASD Fellows will assist in organizing and managing the various Senior Debate events. In doing so, ASD Fellows will hone skills of community organizing under the direction of an experienced volunteer mentor while building organizational and management skills. Fellows will be expected to devote 10 hours a week of assistance to the executive director during the first 12 weeks of each semester during their attendance at NYU Law.

ASD Fellows are chosen each Spring from among 1L students at NYU’s Law School. Fellows receive partial tuition scholarships of at least $20,000 per year of studies for both their 2L and 3L years of study at NYU Law, except that the annual sum of this scholarship and any scholarship or financial aid that an ASD Fellow already receives for this period shall not exceed the full annual cost of tuition.

ASD Calendar 

ASD will host at least two cycles of debate each year  which will run in four-month cycles. Each four-month cycle will have two phases: the preparation phase (first three months) and the debate phase (fourth month). During the preparation phase, ASD Fellows and volunteers will facilitate events and weekly classes for interested participants, working with library systems, retirement communities, lifelong learning programs, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other social organizations and neighborhood groups. During the debate phase of each cycle, ASD Fellows and volunteers will organize local tournaments for participants, enabling those interested to participate in person or virtually.