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. John Sexton, president emeritus of New York University and dean emeritus of NYU School of Law, is Chair of the ASD’s Advisory Council and an uncompensated volunteer. Sexton, a member of the Debate’s Hall of Fame, was the national high school debate champion and coached a dominant high school debate team for fifteen years. 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.  

Fellows

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; in addition, ASD Fellows will be expected to offer 10 hours a week of assistance during 8 weeks of the summer between their 1L and 2L year at NYU Law. 

ASD Fellows will receive partial tuition scholarships of $40,000 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 and fees. 

ASD Calendar 

Current 1Ls at NYU Law in their Spring semester interested in becoming an ASD Fellow should apply by April 9, 2021 for selection in May 2021. ASD Fellows will begin supporting the debate initiative in the summer between their 1L and 2L years of study.

ASD will host two debate formats each year – competitive and roundtable – which will run concurrently 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.  

How to Apply

ASD Fellows will be chosen each year by the ASD from among students in their 1L Spring semester at NYU Law.  The ASD is now accepting candidate applications from current 1Ls, whom, if selected, would begin working with the initiative in Summer 2021. The deadline for Spring 2021 applicants is April 9, 2021. 

Interested candidates should submit the following materials by April 9, 2021, to the Dean’s Office by email at law.deansoffice@nyu.edu with “ASD Fellow Application” in the subject line:

  • Resume and CV (if different)
  • Short essay (400-500 words) in support of candidacy.  Connections to underrepresented communities and/or experience with community organizing will be positive factors, but are not prerequisites.
  • Two references (name and contact information, not letters of reference)