While the WDI has a lot to be proud of with the competitive successes of our past campers and collegiate scholars, it is important to recognize the real-world application of the skills learned at the WDI. Corinne Sugino, former WDI Collegiate Scholar and college policy debater for Wake Forest University, is demonstrating the connection between debate and activism. As a leader and participant of the Alexander Literary Organization at Wake Forest, Corinne has been volunteering at Alexander Correctional Institute for the past few months.
Once a month, the Alexander Literary Organization introduces a new workshop topic to the group of inmates. Initially started by Wake Forest senior Alex Gibson, the organization is led and run by the students at Wake Forest who believe that everyone should have the opportunity to engage in discussions on liberation.
The leadership and topics of each workshop is rotational, so each student gets the opportunity to present and discuss their own subjects. Sugino chose to present about debate. Sending the inmates the information in advance, Sugino was met with attentive inmates who had compiled pages of notes in preparation for her workshop. The goal of Sugino’s workshop was to teach advocacy skills to the inmates so they could empower themselves and work toward rehabilitation back into mainstream society.
Sugino believes that she’s gaining as much as the inmates: “it definitely gave me some perspective,” she explains, “it’s easy at Wake to just exist in this bubble where you don’t interact with the larger community. Going to Alexander allowed me to meet people with completely different experiences and perspectives.”
It is often the case that debaters and scholars discuss and debate liberation from systems of oppression in their ivy towers without ever interacting with the people that they are theorizing about. “It’s unhealthy to just theorize in academic spaces. It’s easy to let that be all that you do. Talking with the inmates helped to discuss the theories in more concrete terms that you can apply in your own life.” Connecting theory to practice is where Sugino sees the most positive influence of the program for both the inmates and the instructors.
Corinne Sugino initially heard about the program through her former debate partner, Joe Leduc, who had been heavily involved with the Alexander Literary Organization. “I got involved because I feel like a lot of people don’t deserve to be in prison, and they especially don’t deserve in injustices and lack of resources in the prisons.” Sugino believes that her work at the prison has more of an impact than organizing a rally on campus because it meets the inmates where they are. “The inmates genuinely want us to be there and I have learned a great deal from the other members.”
This month, the group is discussing the book Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates with a guest professor from Wake Forest University.