Social Justice Debates, 2020-2021
Fall Championship hosted online by GWU
November 14-15, 2020

The 2020 Social Justice Debates Fall Championship will be hosted online by The George Washington University's Debate & Literary Society on Saturday and Sunday, November 14-15, 2020. We hope you will join us!

The SJD Fall Champions will enjoy possession of our traveling trophy, a framed copy of the essay "I Just Wanted To Be Treated Like a Human Being" signed by Rosa Parks. The essay recounts Mrs. Parks' experience as a civil rights activist, pioneer and hero.  

Judges: Semifinals & Finals

Tommy J. Curry joined the Philosophy Department at the University of Edinburgh in the Fall of 2019. His research interests are in Africana Philosophy and the Black Radical Tradition. His areas of specialization are: 19th century ethnology, Critical Race Theory, Social Political Theory, and Black Male Studies. He is the author of The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood (Temple University Press 2017), which won the 2018 American Book Award. He is the author of Another white Man’s Burden: Josiah Royce’s Quest for a Philosophy of Racial Empire (SUNY Press 2018), and has re-published the forgotten philosophical works of William Ferris as The Philosophical Treatise of William H. Ferris: Selected Readings from The African Abroad or, His Evolution in Western Civilization (Rowman & Littlefield 2016). He is also the editor of the first book series dedicated to the study of Black males entitled Black Male Studies: A Series Exploring the Paradoxes of Racially Subjugated Males on Temple University Press. Dr. Curry is currently co-editing (with Daw-nay Evans) the forthcoming anthology Contemporary African American Philosophy: Where Do We Go from Here on Bloomsbury Publishing (2019). His research has been recognized by Diverse as placing him among the Top 15 Emerging Scholars in the United States in 2018, and his public intellectual work earned him the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy’s Alain Locke Award in 2017. He is a past recipient of the USC Shoah Foundation and A.I. and Manet Schepps Foundation Teaching Fellowship (2017), and the past president of Philosophy Born of Struggle, one of the oldest Black philosophy organizations in the United States.

Gabrielle Prisco is the executive director of the Lineage Project, which teaches trauma-sensitive mindfulness to young people, ages 11–24, navigating serious challenges and the adults who work with them as a way to develop stress management and resilience-building skills and build community. Prior to joining Lineage’s team, Gabrielle’s policy/legislative work was instrumental to groundbreaking protections for LGBTQ young people in the justice and foster care systems; increased oversight of the use of restraints and other force against young people in detention; and the campaign to Raise the Age in NYS and get kids out of adult courts and adults jails and prisons. Gabrielle previously worked as Director of the Juvenile Justice Project at the Correctional Association of New York; a Legal Aid attorney for children; the ACLU’s William J. Brennan Fellow (1st Amendment attorney); and NYU Law’s Derrick Bell Fellow, working alongside Professor Derrick Bell. By evening, Gabrielle is writing a novel that spans two continents, three wars, four generations of women navigating political and spiritual crises, and multiple dimensions of reality. Gabrielle holds a J.D. cum laude from NYU School of Law (Arthur Garfield Hays Fellow; John F. Kennedy Jr. Fellow), an M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Alabama, and a B.S. magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University (Posse Scholar). She is a TEDx speaker (On Canaries, Love and Justice) and the author of When the Cure Makes You Ill: Seven Core Principles to Change the Course of Youth Justice (56 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 1413, authored as Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco).

Matt Stannard is a legal and policy advocate, writer, editor, and content specialist in the transition to a cooperative world, as well as the co-producer and co-host of podcasts produced by Solidarity House Cooperative. He has assisted farmers, the incarcerated, victims of violence, students, and activists in collaborative settings. He was a legal and communications consultant, as well as a board member, for the Public Banking Institute, and a policy director at Commonomics USA. He has assisted in litigation on behalf of the indigenous Samburu in Kenya, served as a legal and resource advocate for domestic violence victims, recorded podcasts on sustainable farming and cooperative economics, and coached national intercollegiate debate champions. In the summer of 2017, he presented testimony on public banking before California Treasurer John Chiang's Cannabis Banking Working Group; in 2016 he was a featured speaker at the Arthur Morgan Institute's Community Solutions conference in Yellow Springs, Ohio; in 2009, he was a member of the first group of international debate coaches to travel to Iraq, where they taught a week-long college debate workshop to students from across that beautiful country.

Anjali Vats teaches courses in the areas of race, rhetoric, law, and media studies. Her research is focused on rhetorics of race in law and popular culture. She has published articles in the Quarterly Journal of Speech and Communication, Culture & Critique. She is currently working on a monograph entitled Created Differences: Intellectual Property and the Formation of Race and National Identity in “Post-Racial” America, which considers how political, popular, and legal discourse about copyrights, trademark, and patents is used to create and manage racial and national identities in the United States and globally. Anjali has been recognized for her work in the areas of race and gender. In 2013, she was awarded an AAUW Dissertation Fellowship from the American Association of University Women and an Exemplary Diversity Scholar Citation from the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan. She also previously received an Honorable Mention in the Ford Foundation Diversity Dissertation Fellowship. In addition, her research has been supported by a Society of Scholars Fellowship from Simpson Center for Humanities and the Institute for Ethnic Studies in the United States at the University of Washington. From 2008 - 2014, Anjali served on the board of directors of the Washington Debate Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting debate in Washington. Prior to becoming a professor, Anjali clerked for the Honorable A. William Maupin of the Supreme Court of Nevada. She is licensed to practice law in Michigan and Washington. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Boston College School of Law.


*All times listed are in EST.  

Saturday, November 14th 

11:00 Check in and GA

11:45 Round 1

1:15 Round 2


3:30 Round 3

5:30 Round 4

Sunday, November 15th 

11:00 Check in and GA

11:30 Semi Finals and Novice Finals

12:45 SJD Final Championship Round 

Virtual Awards Ceremony


Social Justice Movements should make police abolition their top priority.

Topic Statement

“One might disagree with the argument to abolish police, but having the debate is itself productive, it forces conversations about the otherwise taken-for-granted value of police and incarceration.” -Amna A. Akbar Toward a Radical Imagination of Law, 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 405, 408–10 (2018)

“I think young people are saying something similar about police today. I don’t think anyone would deny that communities and society as a whole should have some kind of organized and effective means of responding to harms when they’re done. But the way the police operate today in many communities, I think it’s understandable for people to say, ’If this is what policing is then I don’t want it, I want something else.’ The police are a reflection of our politics and our culture.” -Michelle Alexander Author of The New Jim Crow

Policing in the United States is viewed by some as an absolute necessity and the only force holding anarchy at bay. To others though, it is associated with a long history of violence and cruelty. In the wake of the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, followed by the brutalization of Jacob Blake, Americans are having a long overdue national dialogue on the question of how best to respond to police brutality. The 2020-20201 Social Justice Debates challenges debaters to engage this national dialogue by answering the question of whether social justice movements adopt abolition of police as their top priority.

Past Social Justice Debates have identified a scholar(s) whose work provided the inspiration for the topic. This year, however, we are recognizing the memories of Kathryn Johnston, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott, Kayden Clarke, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Atatiana “Tay” Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and others who have unnecessarily died from excessive use of police force as our inspiration.

For the purposes of this year’s topic, the term “police” refers to the institution of policing within the United States and the various methods used to maintain a domestic monopoly on violence. Neither side of this debate should attempt to define the police as a singular actor or group (e.g., ICE), but must showcase the police as the common institution most are familiar with.

Likewise, “social justice movements” should not be interpreted to refer to a singular movement or activist group. Social justice movements refer to, inter alia, organizations, associations, networks, and individual activists and protestors focused on issues including policing or other social justice issues and for which adopting police abolition as a top priority is sensical. The topic is not intended to require affirmatives to defend the proposition that social justice movements specializing in and focused on climate change, for example, should make abolishing the police their top priority. Movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) can be referenced as an example, or brought up through the debate, but no single group should be considered as a social movement the conversation revolves around.

Affirmatives are required to defend that social justice movements ought to also make the rhetorical choices and policy proposals associated with the slogans "abolishing the police" and "defunding the police" their top priority if this issue is raised by the Negative. Affirmatives are required to (1) defend the use of the slogans abolish and defund the police as primary rallying cries for social justice movements and (2) recognize that in a world of limited resources, tradeoffs in time and resources require strategic and tactical prioritization and to defend that in instances where such conflicts arise social justice movements should prioritize abolishing the police over other priorities.

In contrast, Negatives may argue SJM's advocating for the defunding of police is a bad idea or they may argue that even if advocating for defunding is a good idea it should not be the top priority of social justice movements. Negative ground includes arguing that social justice movements should not adopt slogans and policy proposals such as abolish or defund the police as a top priority in a world of limited resources. This might include, for example, arguing for campaigns for reform over abolition, with reforms referring to amendments to the current system, significant or small, while abolition include the complete, or close thereto, banning or removal of the current mechanics.

Abolishing police forces is a position that is mutually exclusive from reforming the police as an institution. In this regard whether defunding the police is a reform or subsumed under the Affirmative position of police abolition depends on the lengths to which the proposal goes. For our purposes, policing reform is distinct from abolition or defunding in that it does not abolish the current system of the police institution, but only transfers a small percentage of the police budget to other projects. The Affirmative must take the stance of doing away with the current system of policing and not simply transferring a small percentage of the police budget.

Helpful literature that serves as a base for this topic includes, but certainly is not limited to:

  • Amna Akbar, Toward a Radical Imagination of Law, 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 405 (2018).
  • Monica C. Bell, Police Reform and the Dismantling of Legal Estrangement, 126 Yale L.J. 2054, 2083 (2017).
  • Amy Chazkel, Monica Kim, and A. Naomi Paik, Worlds without Police, Radical History Review (2020) available at:
  • Franciska Coleman, Between the “Facts and Norms” of Police Violence: Using Discourse Model to Improve Deliberations Around Law Enforcement, 47 Hofstra L. Rev. 489 (2018).
  • Barry Friedman, Disaggregating the Police Function, NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 20-3 (2020) (U. Pa. L. Rev. (2020-21 Forthcoming)).
  • Brandon Hasbrouck, Abolishing Racist Policing with the Thirteenth Amendment, 68 UCLA L. Rev. Discourse 200 (2020).
  • Tracey L. Meares, Synthesizing Narrative of Policing and Making a Case for Policing as a Public Good, 63 St. Louis U. L.J. 553 (2019). • Alex Vitale, “The End of Policing” (2017).


Students will compete in teams of two or three debaters each. Teams will be assigned to affirm or negate the topic. On teams of two, each speaker will give one 6 minute speech, be cross examined for 4 minutes, and cross examine an opposing debater for 4 minutes. In addition one speaker on each team will also give a 6 minute closing rebuttal. Over the course of the four preliminary rounds, each speaker on teams of two must give two closing rebuttals for their team and their partner must give two closing rebuttals for their team. On teams of three, during rounds each debater must give one six minute speech and either be cross examined for four minutes or conduct a four minute cross examination. (One debater on a team of three will give a six minute speech and both conduct a cross examination and be cross examined. The other two will give a six minute speech and either conduct a cross examination and be cross examined.)

1st Affirmative (6 Minutes)

Cross examination by 2nd Negative (4 minutes)

1st Negative (6 minutes)

Cross examination by 1st Affirmative (4 minutes)

2nd Affirmative (6 minutes)

Cross examination by 1st Negative (4 minutes)

2nd Negative (6 minutes)

Cross examination by 2nd Affirmative (4 minutes)

2 minutes of preparation time

Affirmative Rebuttal (6 minutes)

2 minutes of preparation time

Negative Rebuttal (6 minutes)

*For teams of three, the third and last affirmative speaker (instead of the second) should conduct the cross examination of the 2nd Negative speaker. And the third and last negative speaker (instead of the second) should conduct the cross examination of the 1st affirmative speaker.

Instructions for Preliminary Round Judges

Please click here to to find the handbook that will be given to semi and final judges. 

Elimination rounds will be judged by panels of topic stakeholders who will be given the SJD topic, topic statement, and judge handbook. This means that as a prelims judge you are preparing students to debate before topic stakeholders who will be using the published topic, topic statement, and judge handbook provided above to guide their decision making process. Your most important task as a prelims judge is to judge rounds in a manner that prepares the students advancing to elimination rounds to excel in those debates.

Judges are asked to interpret the research questions raised by the topic in a manner consistent with the topic statement. Students are responsible for analyzing the topic and topic statement and understanding the research questions raised for debate. Students may quote from the topic statement as necessary to establish the parameters of the research questions raised by the topic.

Debaters are asked to provide direct, succinct responses to direct questions in cross examination. Filibustering, answering questions that haven’t been asked, and otherwise failing to provide direct, succinct answers to direct questions should result in lower speaker points and--in very
close debates--assigning a loss. (Obviously open ended questions may require open answers.)

The judge handbook identifies specific obligations for students introducing evidence. This includes being ready to immediately provide copies of relevant portions of the introduced sources to their opponents for review upon request.

The Judge Handbook describes the adjudication process as follows:

"The primary question you should ask yourself as a judge is which team has done the better debating on the question raised by the tournament topic. First and foremost, this question asks which team has been more effective in meeting their basic burdens of advocacy and rejoinder. This means “constructing” complete and persuasive arguments supported by logic and evidence, as well as directly responding to the key arguments constructed by their opponents. Secondarily, judges should consider factors such as public speaking skills, organization, and command of the subject matter.

There is no single formula for determining which team did the best debating. In short, you are attempting to assess which team presented the most powerful advocacy when considering all of the many factors that advocacy entails.

Although judging is subjective, it is important that you do not allow personal bias or beliefs about the issues being debated to influence whom you choose as winner. Indeed, you may conclude that a team has been more powerful in making its case even if you do not personally agree with the team’s arguments."

Finally, in preliminary rounds, speaker points should be assigned on a scale of 90-100 with no ties. Judges should be "reluctant" to give speaker points between 97-100; i.e., absent an exemplary performance reflecting high level research, argumentation, delivery and performance, judges should not give speaker points in this range. "Very Good" performances should receive scores in the 95-96 range. "Good" performances should receive points in the 93-94 range.

No low point wins.  No ties.  Half points allowed.

Decisions should be announced and explained. Speaker points should not.

Teams may record rounds provided they notify their opponents and their opponents do not object.  Recordings are to be used for private purposes only.  Any individual recording a round agrees that they will not publish the round to any platform or otherwise share or distribute the recording without thepermission of all involved individuals.