High school students from duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, donated their $1,500 in winnings from the International Public Policy Forum (IPPF) debate competition to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The students debated a topic relating to the refugee crisis as part of the 2016–17 IPPF competition and, through the research and advocacy process, became drawn to the idea of donating their contest proceeds in support of refugee protection.
Founded in 2001 by the Brewer Foundation and New York University, the IPPF is a free competition that gives high school students around the globe the opportunity to engage in written and oral debates on issues of public policy.
During the 2016-17 contest, the IPPF sponsored the topic, “Resolved: The obligation to provide safe haven for refugees should outweigh a government's right to control its borders.”
The five members of the duPont Manual team spent months researching the topic of refugee resettlement and exchanging written debates with opponents across the globe. Their dedication earned them a trip to New York City, as a guest of the Brewer Foundation, to compete in the IPPF Finals – an oral debate competition involving the contest’s final eight teams.
As a semifinalist, the duPont Manual team won $1,500. The students decided to donate their prize money to the UNHCR, a United Nations (UN) program that provides emergency assistance to refugees, such as clean water and health care, as well as shelter.
“It was an opportunity to give back to an issue we were researching for months and months,” said team member Mihir Kale. “Getting into the research opened my eyes to how big of an issue it is. It made me feel grateful for all that I have.”
IPPF Founder William A. Brewer III, a partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, said the empathy shown by the team is inspiring.
“These students impressed the judges with their superior research, writing and advocacy skills,” Brewer said. "It is heartening to see talented young people contribute their prize money toward helping the very people they researched so intensively for the IPPF debate competition.”
Letter to the UNHCR
The students wrote a letter to UNHCR Commissioner Filippo Grandi expressing their desire to do their part after learning the scope of the refugee crisis. They described how arguing in the affirmative at the IPPF Finals touched their hearts and minds.
“Hearts, because some of us, as children of refugee parents, have direct experience of the trials and victories of refugee resettlement,” they wrote. “Minds, because, though marshalling arguments on both sides of a question is critical in debate, our team developed a strong, reasoned preference for accommodating refugees over strict border controls.”
They continued, “In writing and thinking through our arguments, we concluded that the status quo of governments pursuing their own border prerogatives in isolation was unsustainable in the face of what was both a pressing humanitarian catastrophe and a broad-based threat to global stability.”
On Jan. 31, the students received a thank you letter from USA for UNHCR Executive Director and CEO Anne-Marie Grey.
"Refugees from Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Myanmar continue to flee violence and persecution in numbers not seen since World War II," she wrote. "Your gift will help shelter, comfort and heal vulnerable people until they can be resettled or find a new, permanent home."
Team member Jennifer Xu recalled that students began topic analysis, crafting arguments and preparing their cases in September 2016 – well before the October qualifying essay deadline.
After being selected as one of the competition’s “Top 64” teams, they met for hours or participated in online video chats, staying up late perfecting their arguments. Xu recalled that because IPPF judges are professionals, students felt as if they were “presenting advocacy to a real-world policymaker.” She added, “It felt like I was actually presenting a plan.”
Xu said being immersed in the subject matter motivated the students to act. “Because we were constantly exposed to it, we realized this is a legitimate problem,” she said.
Team member Mark Raj explained that the team favored the affirmative argument and developed a position argument that developed nations should enter into a “burden-sharing agreement” to remedy the current international crisis.
During the course of the team’s research, Raj noted that they become aware that the UNHCR was “severely underfunded.”
“We realized it could do so much more if it had more funding,” Raj said. “For us it wasn’t even a question. As soon as we realized our winnings total, we thought this absolutely has got to go to the refugees. We were all in agreement after researching for so much time.”
For team captain Allison Tu the issue was even more personal because her mother is a refugee from Vietnam who immigrated to the United States.
Tu added that although students had a strong opinion in favor of refugees, and she had her own very personal connection, they applied themselves to researching both sides.
“I had a pretty strong personal opinion on the crisis, but I knew in debate it’s important to put that aside and objectively consider all the sides,” Tu said.
Tu encourages other high school students to take part in the IPPF. She advised that students get an early start on their research and drafting rebuttals so they are not overwhelmed later in the competition. She noted that students will contribute a significant amount of their spare time to the competition – even weekends – but the time investment is worth it.
“Participating in IPPF really helped me work on the writing side of my communication skills,” Tu said. “Beyond that, in person the competition really helped me with public speaking, thinking on the spot, and being able to speak eloquently in my arguments.”
The fifth student on the team was Nivedha Loganathan.
Coach Mike Battaglia praised the students for their dedication and donation to the UNHCR. He also praised the breadth of the IPPF experience in developing students’ research, strategy, and debate skills.
“It was a big time commitment, but of all the things we’ve encouraged our kids to do, I don’t think anything has been a better return,” Battaglia said. “I love that IPPF requires as much work as it does.”
The students concluded their thank you letter to the UNHCR with heartfelt gratitude.
“From advocacy and assistance, to safeguarding and public health, to coordinating asylum and migration, the UNHCR is a beacon of practical hope for refugees across the globe and an important inspiration to us all,” they wrote. “Please accept, along with this modest donation to your work, our deepest admiration and gratitude.”