Rocky Debate Team works with tribal community colleges, article by Nicolas Cordero

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RMC debate team works with tribal community colleges to engage and develop communication skills. Photo by Nicolas Cordero.

RMC debate team works with tribal community colleges to engage and develop communication skills. Photo by Nicolas Cordero.

Shelby Long Hammond, professor of communication studies and debate coach for Rocky Mountain College, crafted a program that engages and develops communication skills of students who attend Native American colleges. The program started in fall of 2013 and has been growing rapidly since its inception. The main characteristic of the program is that training is done by students who help other students. The number of students involved in teaching argumentation and public speaking skills has increased dramatically. The number of students from tribal colleges receiving the preparation and training has also increased over the years.

Long Hammond has worked over the years to increase the number of colleges to which her program provides training. Currently, the program is able to reach five tribal colleges all around the state. Recently, Long Hammond collaborated with St. John’s University in New York to provide a multicultural learning experience in which students from St John’s Debate Society were a part of the communication training staff. Yves Nguyen, Taylor Tate, Mikayla Doherty, and Amber Hatcher were selected to participate in the program. The St. John’s University students traveled and collaborated with RMC debaters to provide a hands-on experience on persuasion and argumentation to tribal colleges.

The students traveled to the Fort Peck Community College located on the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Reservation, Little Big Horn College on the Crow Reservation, Chief Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, and Stone Child College located on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. At each site, Rocky Mountain College students worked with St. John’s Debate Society to provide communication instruction, stage demonstration debates, and led discussions about how to argue and debate about important issues facing the world.

The students debated questions relevant to the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that has received international attention due to the protests led by Native Americans from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota.

St. John’s University debate society director Dr. Steve Llano was pleased with the visit to the Big Sky state. “This outreach effort is a unique way that the Debate Society can further the mission of St. John’s to serve those in need,” Dr. Llano said. “We look forward to an annual outreach program in cooperation with our Montana partners at both Rocky Mountain College and the tribal colleges to spread debate as a powerful tool for producing knowledge about the world.”

Students not only had the opportunity to teach debating, but they also learned through discussing tribal and reservation issues with their peers at these colleges, as well as sitting in on a class on modern tribal law. “These experiences provide cultural context and a relevant perspective on the issues surrounding Native Americans,” Amber Hatcher said.

“We are really honored and pleased to be partnering with RMC on the Tribal College Debate project,” Dr. Llano said. “We are also looking for- ward to the future participation of RMC in our Morocco Debate Exchange, which begins in October. For the last six years, I have been working there to help expand the debate culture in Rabat, and I know Shelby and her students will be a great addition to the work we do there,” Dr. Llano said.

The program will take place next year in the spring and will involve more tribal colleges.

The Rocky Mountain College Debate Society is a co-curricular program offered for all RMC students. The program uses competitive debating to teach the art of rhetoric and persuasion, and is available with no audition or cost to any student enrolled. Contact Shelby Long Hammond at longsj@ rocky.edu if you would like to participate.

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