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Board Perspective: Ensuring a Thriving Community

"The NAUDL Mission is Personal to Me"

Jennifer (Jen) Wade officially became Chair of the NAUDL Board of Directors in July 2023. As she begins her tenure in this significant role, and as NAUDL prepares to celebrate its 20th Anniversary next year, Jen highlights her debate journey from student competitor to mission champion.

August 3, 2023 – This coming January will mark the beginning of the 20th Anniversary of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues. As much as we’ll be looking forward as an organization, we’ll also take a few moments to reflect on the resolve and dedication of the NAUDL team, our debaters, supporters, and league partners who ensure that debate as a competitive academic activity not only remains available in cities across the United States, but thrives as a dynamic community.

The NAUDL mission is personal to me. Debate prepared me to succeed in my life on many levels and also provided refuge and community when I most needed it. My journey with the Urban Debate Network began around 25 years ago. My debate coach at Northwestern University piled our team into a van on a Saturday, between college tournaments, and took us to judge at some of the first network debates in Chicago. In that moment, I knew that I would have a lifelong commitment to this activity and model. I judged at tournaments, assistant coached for a period of time, and ultimately joined the NAUDL Board in 2010. I have enjoyed becoming a champion for this important work immensely.

As the Chair for the Board of Directors, I see so many exciting possibilities ahead for NAUDL. Our new partnership with Newsweek presents an extraordinary opportunity for urban debate to be highlighted as a unique solution to address educational inequity. Additionally, our debaters have access to a powerful platform to showcase their talent, skills and unlimited potential. The changing landscape of the college admissions process infuses our work at NAUDL with even greater urgency. What could be more important than teaching debaters the ability to persuade, communicate, and hone their voices to advocate for themselves?

Given this environment, the current vision of our Executive Director, Rhonda Haynes, to develop new initiatives is prescient and meets this moment head-on. In particular, the I RESOLVE Public Debate Series provides an opportunity for debaters to engage with leaders in their city on a pressing topic in a public debate format. It is a high-profile and signature program that showcases how policy debate skills are directly transferrable to public speaking and leadership skills. I am so thrilled to support Rhonda’s future ideas for programming.

I truly believe the power of our league network is extraordinary. The innovation, passion, creativity and commitment of our league partners and coaches to explore new debate formats, create new debate concepts, and work together to deliver cohesive debate programming year-round and across the country is unparalleled. Each league is empowered to do its best work serving the needs of its students. It is my hope that even greater collaboration across the network can amplify the benefits for our debaters.

In my new role, my first step is to listen to all of our stakeholders to ensure that NAUDL is doing its very best to advance its mission. My next steps will involve garnering all the resources necessary for NAUDL to continue to excel in its goals and expand in its footprint. It is essential that NAUDL continues to evolve, delivering debate education in a way that is relevant to our debaters and that will serve them over their lifetime. To that end, I welcome ideas, input, and “debate” about debate. I am infinitely grateful to those who have stood with NAUDL over the last two decades — and I hope many more will join in this rewarding pursuit to create opportunities for the next generation of leaders!

Jennifer Wade
Chair, NAUDL Board of Directors

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