Community: A Privilege Without a Price Tag

Nicholas Ostheimer | 9/6/23

In the middle of 8th grade, I was struggling to find resources that would help me learn Lincoln-Douglas debate. After viewing the 2019 NSDA final round, watching random handy LD tutorial videos on YouTube, and cutting my first few cards on a Google Doc, I stumbled across the Forensics discord server. Little did I know that this heralded perhaps the most important point in my speech & debate career.

In the few weeks I'd been a part of the server, I had learned all about theory, counterplans, and the wiki. I found other debaters like me who were looking for practice rounds, and I bugged the server moderators to judge our debates. The people I met were genuine, friendly, constructive, and inclusive. After mentioning that I had mostly been a congress debater up to that point, someone sent me an invite to the Congress discord server.

The cycle repeats - I asked people for ideas on legislation I have to debate and begged experienced debaters to review and critique my speeches. At some point, two experienced and accomplished debaters hosted a free lecture on crystallization speeches. I found it fascinating. Applying what I learned from that lecture, I competed in the online 2021 Middle School Tournament of Champions in congressional debate, and was overjoyed to win 2nd place.

In the coming summer, I participated in the Online Debate Institute, a free LD camp that taught me the basics of progressive Lincoln-Douglas debate. I received mentorship from generous and talented congress debaters, which shaped both the way I debate and my outlook on debate. Perhaps mostly importantly, I started CrowdPrep Institute with some friends I had met with a shared passion for speech & debate. That would go on to become Equality in Forensics.

Years later, I would get more out of speech & debate than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Along my journey, I have to thank dozens if not hundreds of people who have extended me mentorship, contacted me about opportunities, and offered me advice. Without them, I truly couldn't have made it to the final rounds of tournaments like NSDA and TOC.

This article is about community. Having a community to back your endeavors, help you find new opportunities, and empathize with your background is a tremendous privilege - a privilege without a price tag.

Speech & debate can be harsh, isolating, and exclusive. The single most important thing a debater can do, no matter their experience, background, or financial situation, is to make connections. Community has many incredibly important things to offer:

There's always something going on! Before you can participate in hundreds of camps, tournaments, and other events about speech & debate, you have to know about them first. Speech & debate communities allow information about these opportunities to spread like wildfire. When you're out of the loop, you can miss out on 

If it weren't for speech & debate communities, I would have never heard of interesting educational opportunities like the Online Debate Institute, Space City Camp, or Academy37. I would have never heard of valuable competitive opportunities like the International Public Policy Forum, the FCDI National Civics and Debate Championship, and Team USA.  I would have never heard of the NSDA Student Leadership Council - now I have the privilege and responsibility of being part of the inaugural council for the 2023-2024 season.

I'd always been interested in world schools debate, but coming from a tiny school program, I never had enough people to compete on a team with me. Thanks to the many other debaters I met who are in the same boat, I was able to form hybrid teams with them and compete in national and international tournaments! A few months ago, I started a Discord server specifically for people to find WSD teammates to attend tournaments with.

Through online communities I learned about the "LD for dummies" series of YouTube videos, teaching me some of the basics of the event. That led me to learn about many of the interviews on the YouTube channel Debating for America's Youth. Online Discord communities helped me find PO sheets that I still use for congress today, including this template.

Now, Equality in Forensics is actively working to compile the most effective, comprehensive, and accessible free online resources for speech & debate in existence. 

I found many mentors on these online communities. Not only that, but many active and engaged members of these communities were just willing to discuss bills and topics and offer me advice on my speeches. Everyone has so much to gain from organic, good-faith discussion with other competitors participating in the same events, tournaments, and preparing for the same topics.

In this regard, I've always felt compelled to directly give back to my community by answering when people ask for help, advice, or resources. Equality in Forensics has also offered structured mentorship programs, where our volunteer coaches would meet with students, especially those from underprivileged schools and debate programs. These programs are inherently redistributive - people with experience, privilege, and advantages have an opportunity to give back by helping those who need it most.

Back in 2021 and 2022, I probably participated in half a dozen practice rounds hosted on the Forensics Discord server ( I've created prep and practice groups with congressional debaters attending the UK TOC and NSDA nationals. I've listened to many practice speeches from congressional debaters on Discord seeking advice.

These communities are a great way to bounce ideas, both in theory and in practice, off other qualified competitors. Many people have a hard time attending truly challenging tournaments with experienced, competitive debaters. Often these are circuit tournaments, which are rarely online and always expensive. Very few people have a local league anywhere near as competitive as the national circuit. Online communities are the best way to link up with growing and experienced competitors alike and find these practice opportunities. For example, Equality in Forensics runs free online tournaments specifically as an opportunity for debaters across the country to practice against each other, network with each other, and win bragging rights.

I have met hundreds of brilliant people through speech & debate, and I'm sure my connection with them will endure long after I graduate. Speech & debate can be such a formative and empowering experience. The only thing more liberating than using your voice and expressing yourself is doing it alongside others. 

Even meme pages deserve recognition. What do they accomplish, if not a shared sense of community and culture?

(My two favorites: @nsdanatsmemes and @extempmemes)

Equality in Forensics realizes that community is one of the most valuable assets as a speech & debate competitor. That's why we run free congress scrimmages twice a month, publish 14 free extemp questions every week, and constantly host free workshops, lectures, and office hours. Not only that, our Discord server of over 1,000 members is an invaluable source of mentorship, resources, and friendship.

Today, the Equality in Forensics Discord server added a new role and channel specifically for team captains and presidents. We will use this to make team captains and presidents aware of new opportunities, and helpful resources we offer to make speech & debate more accessible to you and your teammates. No matter your school, state, or financial background, we are proud to offer you a community to be a part of.