Shelby Jo Long-Hammond, associate professor of communication studies, director of forensics, 406.657.1054,
RMC Media Team, 406.657.1105,

Tribal college debate to expand following grant renewal

BILLINGS, February 12, 2015 – With the recent renewal of the Tribal College Debate Grant, RMC’s debate team anticipates providing more opportunities for debating during the Spring 2015 semester.

“The Tribal College debate program hopes to expand to more colleges,” said RMC’s Associate Professor of Communication Studies Shelby Jo Long-Hammond. “We are currently in discussion with two other tribal colleges in eastern Montana for workshop sessions during this semester.”

The RMC debate team has already been hard at work, spending the first week in February at Little Big Horn College for workshops and mini-debate sessions. Throughout the week, RMC debate team members conducted argumentation exercises with students from Professor Luella Brien’s class at Little Big Horn College. Brien is the Professor of Communication Arts at Little Big Horn College.

During the workshops and mini-debates, RMC’s debate team had the chance to engage with the students at Little Big Horn College about issues that were controversial on the reservation. They also explored some feasible and practical solutions. 

The program is part of the Tribal College Debate Grant, which was awarded to Long-Hammond in April 2013. Long-Hammond received the $34,000 grant to launch a pilot debate program, which began on tribal campuses, including Little Big Horn College, Chief Dull Knife College, and other tribal colleges. The grant was renewed in 2014 for another year and a half.

“Cultural engagement is really powerful,” said Long-Hammond. Her hope is for this program to provide debate education and professional speaking at these tribal colleges, as they have a stake in many important social, political, and environmental issues. There are a number of political debates currently affecting Native American reservations in Montana, including coal and coal-bed-methane mining, subsidies for agriculture, and many other environmental policies.

Long-Hammond believes that a debate network in these tribal schools will help provide an opportunity for college students to develop essential critical thinking and professional communication skills necessary for discussion of the political debates that confront these particular areas of Montana. “There is an importance to being able to discuss multiple political and environmental issues on the reservation, but many of the skills we practice are career preparation,” said Long-Hammond.

Long-Hammond described how the Tribal College debate program has focused on the fundamentals of debate, including basic argumentation, critical thinking, and public speaking. “By taking out the structure of debate and making it more curricular, it is less intimidating,” said Long-Hammond.

The workshops conducted at the tribal colleges focus on the importance of debate and argumentation education, with critical thinking exercises. They discuss the elements of a basic argument and practice argument construction with different resolutions.  During the week, the students work on refutation, fallacies, and engagement of arguments. Following the basic understanding of argument structure, students engage some of their ideas and arguments in a mini-debate.

“A new project we are working on for this semester is a debate tournament with Chief Dullknife College, Little Big Horn College, and RMC,” said Long-Hammond. “With the tremendous support we have had from Luella Brien and Kate Bertin at each of these colleges, we feel that there is an established infrastructure to conduct a debate between our colleges. We anticipate a debate tournament toward the end of the semester.” 

The Tribal College Debate Grant was awarded by Open Society Institute through International Debate Education Association (IDEA), an organization that has been in existence for over 20 years and works with young people from all over the world. Long-Hammond is part of IDEA and has taught at camps in Bosnia, Slovenia, and Mexico, just to name a few.

You can follow the RMC Debate Team’s work with the grant at, or on Facebook and Twitter by following the RMC Debate page. All students are welcome to attend practices in Morledge-Kimball Hall room 125 on Tuesdays and Thursday from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. For more information or questions, contact Shelby Jo Long-Hammond at