Guest Post: Why Melekh Akintola Loves Debate

Melekh Akintola photo

Melekh Akintola recently became the brand new Program Coordinator for the Minnesota Urban Debate League, but they’re no stranger to the community. In fact, Melekh has been with us as a high school debater at Roosevelt High School, camp counselor at MDAW, and coach at multiple teams, so it just feels logical they’d become our next full time staff member. In the following guest post, Melekh explains what motivates them to do the hard work of building the Minnesota debate community.

There is a beauty in the evolution of ideas. It took thousands of years of Euclid arguing about lines and parallelograms because a foot could land on Mars, and it took one hundred years of policy debate before students found a way to incorporate dinosaur earth into a speech act.

There are three reasons that I really enjoy being inside policy debate, and the MNUDL more specifically.


I feel lucky to have been raised in Minnesota Debate. At every turn, especially in recent years, the MNUDL has continually reimagined the ways in which policy debate can look and connect with students. This begins at the Novice Packet. Long before I ever had the capacity to contemplate the hypothetical implications of endorsing a policy action, the Novice Packet was born. Its purpose? To bridge the massive and expansive gap of comprehension that a student has to undergo before they can even begin debating. This includes an understanding of the rules of the activity, content knowledge around the topic, and the various intersections between the two. Unlike in other games, the rules aren’t stringent. They are negotiated and agreed upon in round, or during the transference of ideas between the two sides. This is why knowing the rules and how they function is only half the battle. To win in a debate, you must not only outline and endorse a set of rules, or a policy action, but you also have to prove why the endorsement is correct against the claims made by your opponent.

The only way someone could do that is if they fully understand what their evidence is saying, what their opponent’s evidence is saying, and what that means in the context of the rules of debate. The Novice Packet provides a stasis point for new debaters to understand the activity. The packet allows students with no content knowledge or debate experience to debate, even if they don’t fully understand what they’re doing yet. From there, we have divisions where students are broken up by experience. The idea is to progress students through the packet based on their understanding of the rules and content. For example, more complicated arguments like Kritiks can only be run in Novice B, or by students who have already progressed through Novice A.

Once students have made it all the way through the packet, they move onto Junior Varsity, where they are allowed to start creating their own arguments and evidence. The point of saying all of this isn’t to say that our packet is perfect. Rather, it’s my opinion that it’s beneficial to be building up a student’s understanding with scaffolding and curriculum before dumping them off into the deep end. The packet, in this way, represents the starting point of the MNUDL as we see it today. As an organization that is focused on how to best reimagine debate to ensure that all students are getting what they can from it.


If you were to just drop in at a tournament during awards, you would immediately be met with rows of students. All adorned with medals. Snacking on Goldfish and Nature Valley bars. Laughing, cheering, celebrating. You would have never guessed that these kids just got done, explaining in their own words how the individuals with disabilities acts would be successful if teachers had more resources, the merits of aid for East Africa, NATOs role in international politics, how banking and financial institution can best serve communities, and  El Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico se debe ser incorporado como el estado número 51 de los Estados Unidos.

Everyone wants to say that in some capacity, they’re doing something good for the world. I’m not carrying people out of burning buildings, preserving the liberties of our nation, or saving wildlife from ecological destruction. But I believe that all of our programs help funnel students into post secondary education while giving them the skills and techniques to tackle those issues, or whatever else guides their passion and interest.

The MNUDL isn’t trying to create the greatest debaters the planet has ever seen. I would personally enjoy doing that, but that’s not where the focus and energy of the league goes. We want to create equitable educational opportunities that are culturally and socially informed. To better ingratiate ourselves within our larger communities, and empower students into becoming agents of social change. Success is measured by our ability to maintain, engage, and educate students in ways that they find to be relevant and important, not by how many tournaments we’ve won, or trophies we’ve hoisted.

We don’t exist in isolation. We rely on Teachers, Students, Administration, Custodians, and Community Coaches. We are a part of a greater ecosystem of speech, communication and education. The MNUDL has made strides in recognizing the contributions made by community members in recent years, but there’s still ways we would like to ensure that each person who takes part in a debate tournament feels rewarded for their time and effort in a way that’s personal and meaningful.


I don’t believe there is a binary between education and sport. Debate is an activity that perfectly blends the two. Athletes tend to build a physical capacity to increase the pool of moves in their reservoir so that they can better their opponents. It’s one thing to know that you should crossover your defender because he bit on your fake, it’s a wholly different thing to be athletic enough to do that successfully.

Conversely, the more that students understand about how the activity is structured, or what the topic is about, the better they are able to express themselves and convince their judge.

In the same way that in each action done a field or court has some associated probability that’s interrelated to all other possible actions. (Steph Curry takes a shot. There’s a probability it goes in. A probability he gets the rebound, gets blocked, etc.)

There are continual examples of aging players who lack the physical capacity to successfully compete. Their mind will tell them “I need to chase under this screen so that he doesn’t get an open lane”, but their legs can’t keep up with their mind.

Debates are a little bit more literal, where each statement gets written down and compared to all other statements. Those statements interact. Empowering, negating, converting, rotating. The judge evaluates all of these interactions and determines which students are ahead. This “aheadness” is a bit vague in a sense. But it isn’t completely baseless.

Each judge has a different view of debate. In the way I view these statements and interactions is like a series of lines. These lines have different intensities and lengths depending on their function and quality of arguments. If one students disproves the argument of another that line disappear.

Conclusion (?)

I hope this doesn’t come off as a series of platitudes, because my experience in working with the MNUDL hasn’t been about collecting cliche sentimentalities, or patting myself on the back. We are very serious about providing the best product that we can. There is an infectious energy that bleeds through the eggshell white walls of the Augsburg campus. It’s a growing fervor that rings through the voices of anyone contemplating a policy action. I will work tirelessly to ensure that every voice is heard and that the conflagration that surrounds me never goes out.


Abdi Melekh Che Akintola

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