Pro Se: Empowering Justice-Involved Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities through Speech & Debate Training


Pro Se Speech & Debate provides 3 months of virtual one-on-one and group mentoring and educational programming to youth and young adults (ages 14–24) who have current or prior involvement in the criminal-legal system, or multiple systems (e.g., foster care, child services). This will be done through a free, online certificate program from Cornell University. The program offers virtual trainings in speech, debate, and self-advocacy, delivered by Cornell undergraduates from the Cornell Mock Trial Association, Cornell Speech & Debate, the Advocacy Project, and pre-law minors and student groups.

The program contributes to three known best practices for the participant population: (a) one-on-one peer mentoring; (b) supplemental educational programming outside alternative or home school settings; and (c) rebuilding social networks and social/career capital.

Participants can earn a “Speech & Debate” certificate of completion from Cornell, which will provide them with additional cultural capital for transitioning into postsecondary education and/or employment. The program aims to offer essential two-way service-learning opportunities. These opportunities are for participants and for future legal professionals from Cornell, who can drive juvenile justice innovation and reform from within.

Project Activities

  • Virtual one-on-one and group mentoring and coaching in Speech & Debate, provided by Cornell undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Participants earn a “Speech & Debate” (S&D) certificate of completion from Cornell.
  • Creating a community of practice among the “Speech & Debate Coaches” to evaluate the pilot program and curriculum, and to discuss workshop improvements.

Contact Information

Matthew Saleh

Funding Agencies

The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties, M&T Bank/Partners Trust Bank Charitable Fund (pilot program), Engaged Cornell (seed grant)

Principal Investigator

Matthew Saleh (PI), LaWanda Cook and Timothy McNutt (Co-PIs), Katie Brendli and Johanna Richter (Project Coordinators)

Collaborating Partners

Central New York Health Home Network, RIYS Diversion Program