MNUDL Hosts Mayor’s Challenge to Celebrate 10 Years

Alexa Martin, online publishing coordinator

On the evening of Sept. 22, the Minnesota Urban Debate League (MNUDL) celebrated its 10-year anniversary by hosting the Mayor’s Challenge at the American Swedish Institute. The MNUDL is an independent organization that is financially supported by school districts, foundations, individual donors and events like the Mayor’s Challenge. They work to educate students in Minnesota middle and high schools through the art of academic, competitive debate. Robert Groven, co-chair of the Department of Communication Studies, Film, and New Media at Augsburg and MNUDL Faculty Advisor, became involved with the organization about 16 years ago.

“16 years ago, I was approached by Karon Garen, the parent of four amazing debaters that I’d worked with previously. She asked if I’d be interested in working with her to set up an Urban Debate League in the Twin Cities,” said Groven. “Since I was an urban debate kid myself growing up (Como Park High School), I was immediately eager to sign on! The two of us started with just four debaters at one high school program, and now we have almost 1,200 students at 42 programs, with leagues for high school, middle school, spanish language, east african and financial literacy. I can’t believe how much it’s grown- it’s amazing!”

Four years ago, Groven approached President Pribbenow with the idea of bringing the MNUDL to Augsburg, believing that its mission lined up with Augsburg’s values. The university has led the program ever since, giving it a larger sense of community over the past decade. 

Gov. Tim Walz opened the 10-year anniversary event with a short speech thanking those in attendance for demonstrating their support for the Urban Debate League and the students that are involved with it. After his speech, the debaters, two sophomores, one junior and one senior in high school, kicked off their debate season with the Great NATO Debate, arguing for both the affirmative and the negative on the topic. Each debater demonstrated their skills and knowledge on the topic, leaving the crowd nodding along to each point that was made. 

After the student debate ended, the crowd was asked to vote on who they believed should win and listen as the student debaters asked questions and advice from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III. The students pressed the mayors on questions that ranged from affordable housing to creating equitable educational opportunities for students in their respected cities. 

Once the student Q&A concluded, the whole audience was able to participate in another Q&A session with the Ambassador of Sweden Karin Olofsdotter and Deputy Chief of Mission for the Norwegian Embassy of Washington, D.C. Torleir Opland. Audience members asked questions mainly geared towards their countries’ decisions to join NATO, the current Russian-Ukrainian war, and the actions against Ukraine that Russia has taken so far. 

To conclude the event, the National Security Advisor of the United States Jake Sullivan was awarded the 2022 Champion of Change Award. Of course the debate winners were also announced by Josh Rash from the Star Tribune. 

Any student with a passion for debate or any other aspect of the MNUDL that is interested in getting involved should reach out to udl@augsburg.edu for more information. 

“We always need more coaches, judges and volunteers! You don’t need any experience- we will train you and you can use your Augsburg critical thinking skills to help thousands of kids in urban schools,” Groven stated.