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A Q&A with Concern Debates Judge Jennifer Gillen

LtoR: Claire Williams (19) from Lucan, Dublin and Jenny Gillen (20) from Celbridge, Kildare won the Active Citizenship Award at the 2018 Concern Volunteer Awards on Saturday May 26, 2018. Photo: Jason Clarke / Concern Worldwide.
LtoR: Claire Williams (19) from Lucan, Dublin and Jenny Gillen (20) from Celbridge, Kildare won the Active Citizenship Award at the 2018 Concern Volunteer Awards on Saturday May 26, 2018. Photo: Jason Clarke / Concern Worldwide.
News24 July 2018Jennifer Gillen

As the 2018/2019 Concern Debates opens its doors to school registrations, our search for volunteer adjudicators begins again too. This week, we hear from adjudicator Jennifer Gillen and get her thoughts on what makes the whole experience so special.

Why did you volunteer to become a Concern Debates Adjudicator?

I took part in the Concern Debates for three years from Transition Year until 6th year, reaching the National Final in 2016. I found the programme to be a hugely influential part of my education and in my decision to pursue a degree in Law with a minor in History. Within the debates programme, I found an encouraging community of people that valued the contribution of youth to critical discussions around global developmental issues, It was an incredibly inspiring space to occupy and I came away from each debate with a renewed enthusiasm to further educate myself and to draw those around me into these culturally relevant conversations.

When I aged out of the competition in 2016, I was reluctant to alienate myself from a community that had such a positive effect on the development of my interests and my overall outlook and confidence. I continued my involvement with the debates as a volunteer, using my millennial skill set to cover the Semi-Final and the Final on Concern's social media accounts. My enthusiasm for the programme grew even further due to the material effect I could see that it had on each of the participants. When the 2017 Debates programme came around, I decided I wanted to take a more hands-on approach to the Debates and was confident in my abilities to contribute in a positive way to the programme by applying to become an adjudicator.

How did you find the whole experience?

I have honestly found the whole experience to be so rewarding. I think it is easy in the world we live in now to slip into an outlook of cynicism and pessimism for the future and I have found adjudicating to be the perfect cure for that. It is almost impossible not to feel optimistic for the future when faced with the talent and passion embodied by the students that take part in the debates which you see grow and grow as the rounds progress.

Had you ever been to a Concern Debate before?

Only about 20 or so!

How did the whole process work?

There was an adjudicator training session in September before the debates started up to go over the marking scheme, how to deliver feedback, the logistics of the debates etc. From then on, it was pretty straight forward; I received an email or text when there was a debate in any of the areas that I specified on my sign-up form and I replied whether I could make it or not. Then on the day of the debate, I showed up at the address, asked where the debate was, heard the debate, marked each speaker on the marking sheet according to the criteria given, discussed the marks with my fellow adjudicators, announced a winning team, drank the free coffee, ate the free biscuits and headed home again. I found that each debate usually ran in between 1.5 - 2 hours.

Scenes from the 2016-2017 Concern Debates Final, The Helix, Dublin. Photo: Ruth Medjber / Concern Worldwide
Scenes from the 2016-2017 Concern Debates Final, The Helix, Dublin. Photo: Ruth Medjber / Concern Worldwide.

Were you able to fit it into your busy schedule?

Yes of course! there were a number of debates that I could not make it to, but generally if I was going to be home in the evening I was able to make debates in my surrounding area, which consisted of Celbridge, Lucan, Leixlip or Maynooth. If I knew I was going to be finishing up later in college, I made myself available for debates in schools around UCD. Wherever you are, there is probably a debate taking place nearby! 

Did you learn any new skills?

I feel I developed skills around critical analysis which has thankfully stood to me when writing college essays over the last year. Another essential skill that I feel I might have use for in the future is how to deliver analysis, some of which is criticism, in a way that is constructive and ultimately encouraging.

Were you nervous at all doing it?

I was a little hesitant to give the feedback speech when acting in the capacity of Chief Adjudicator. Having spent three years listening eagerly to the same speech with crossed fingers waiting to find out if my team had won, I know how influential the adjudicators feedback can be in motivating and encouraging the teams to continue debating. However, after the first time I delivered the feedback, I settled into the role and it has become a highlight of the adjudicator position.

I see the feedback speech as an opportunity to convey my love of the programme to the participants, to reaffirm the value of the students' voices to these conversations around which the motions are set and to offer constructive analysis of the debate in the way that I found to be most beneficial when I took part in the debates.

Were there many people adjudicating with you?

There was always at least one other adjudicator with me, but usually there were two. It was interesting to see the range of backgrounds of the adjudicators which included; teachers, actors, toastmasters, debating alumni and solicitors to name a few. However, I feel that it is not necessary to have a background in debating or public speaking in order to volunteer as an adjudicator, a variety of expertise within the adjudication panel often offers the most interesting and constructive perspectives on the debate.

Would you do it again?

Try and stop me!

Become a Concern Debates Adjudicator

Interested in becoming a Concern Debates Adjudicator? for more information and to find out how to sign up, just click below.

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