top of page

A New Chapter for SPEAK

Greetings from the Executive Director

2018 has been another important year for SPEAK! As we continue to deepen and broaden our work in Vermont and beyond, it is important to take some time to reflect on the leadership and vision of our founder Jessica Bullock. Recognized with the UVM Outstanding Young Alumni Award, Jessica serves as Chair of SPEAK’s Board of Director’s and continues to lead programs and inspire a new generation of volunteers. In addition to our continued work at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, this year SPEAK presented alongside Department of Corrections staff at a conference in New York, was a finalist for a Victim Outreach grant from the Department of Justice, and was invited to offer two new programs in Vermont. With support from the Dorothy Byrne Foundation, our work to bring the skills and values of debate to more diverse audiences continues apace. By working with educators, students, and traditionally underrepresented individuals, SPEAK’s mission remains to promote powerful voices through public speaking, education, critical thinking, and diplomatic dissent. Onward!

Programs and Community Interactions

Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

This fall, SPEAK volunteers (Emily, Gill, Hannah, Jess, Kierstin, Sarah, and Tim) ran an eight-week program at the Chittenden Regional correctional facility—Vermont’s only correctional facility for women. The program culminated in a debate on the topic “The government should decriminalize all drugs.” The debaters provided solid argumentation on both sides. The debate centered on whether a policy that decriminalized drug use would provide safer conditions for users and combat social stigma around drug use and treatment, or whether decriminalizing drugs would ultimately increase drugs use, particularly for young persons, without regulation, resulting in further harm. Brava to our incredible cast of debaters this fall!

Leading up to the debate, the SPEAK debaters at the CRCF learned about presentation skills, researched and developed argumentation strategies, and practiced speaking on various topics in front of the group. In addition to our central topic, debaters also engaged in impromptu debates on participant-crafted topics, including “Ice cream cups are preferable to ice cream cones” and “A vampire offers to bite you and give you immortal life. Do you accept the invitation?” Additionally, SPEAK had the distinct pleasure of attending Liza Jessie Peterson’s performance of “Down the Rabbit Hole: A Peculiar Patriot/ All Day Mash-Up” during her visit to the CRCF. This was an incredible and inspiring performance on an essential topic — the American criminal justice system. Many thanks to the CRCF for continuing to host our programs, and we look forward to returning in the spring!

Dispute Resolution Conference

In October, Johannes Wheeldon was invited to present “The Best of Both Worlds: Bringing Together Restorative Justice & Mediation” alongside Laura Zeliger,Community & Restorative Justice Director, Vermont Department of Corrections at the 2018 Annual New York State Dispute Resolution Association Conference in Saratoga Springs. The presentation explored the similarities and differences in the principles and practice of mediation and restorative justice. It featured an interactive debate about how practitioners within each discipline can incorporate tools and skills in a variety of conflict settings, including maintaining neutrality while building connections/relationships; inherent challenges of victim/offender paradigm; and self-determination within applicable standards of practice. Attendees reported they obtained a better understanding of the similarities and differences between mediation and restorative justice practices, learned strategies for applying different tools and skills in a variety of conflict settings, and explored how practitioners within each discipline can benefit from lessons learned.

Victim Outreach Fellowship

In partnership with the Montpelier Community Justice Center, SPEAK! was a finalist for a fellowship from the Center for Victim Research’s (CVR). The proposal involved a year long set of activities designed to connect SPEAK!’s work with the justice center including new programs, technical assistance, and collaboration on a unique form of victim outreach and support. While the partnership was not successful for this year’s competition, there are a number of activities planned on the next year to further and deepen this potential relationship.

Focus on a SPEAK Volunteer: Emily Bruggeman

Emily Bruggeman is a junior at the University of Vermont, double majoring in Russian and Political Science with a minor in Economics. She has been debating competitively since high school, and is a member of the Lawrence Debate Union at UVM. While competing for UVM, she went to the Oxford/Cambridge international debate tournament, as well as the 2018 Worlds Universities Debating Championships in Mexico City. In recent years, she has worked in Vermont Politics, working on numerous campaigns as an intern and as a Leahy House Fellow.

What does SPEAK mean to you?

SPEAK is consistently the highlight of my week because I love seeing the tools that are instilled in debate being put to practical use outside of a tournament setting. Debate is one of the most important things I have ever done for myself, and seeing a similar transformation in other women through teaching reaffirms my belief in its inherent value. I am very proud to be a part of this program, and am excited to see it grow in the coming years.

I have been in the debate world for a third of my life, and although it is often an empowering activity for the people involved, debate also has the tendency to become an echo chamber and exclude those who could benefit the most. Not only does this mean that debate inevitably caters to the most privileged of our society, but it also means that important perspectives and stories are shut out of the discourse. SPEAK is a critical program because it works to bring advocacy to people who have frequently been ignored or silenced, and teaches necessary skills for self-advocacy and persuasion. Teaching these skills and empowering people to speak up for themselves is one of the first safeguards against further marginalization.

Bringing debate to under served demographics is what makes SPEAK important, but the way in which SPEAK members teach debate is unique. We strive to create a safe environment where speaking in front of a crowd is fun, and where students are ultimately in control of how and what they learn. Giving students the space to make the program work for them, listening to their needs, and making adjustments is what sets SPEAK apart as a program truly oriented around the well being of its participants.

Is there a particular moment you recall during your work with SPEAK that sums up what we are trying to do?

It's not so much one moment, but a collection of moments that reaffirm why SPEAK is so valuable. Every time I come home from a lesson, I reflect on a student who has shared a personal story, or an opinion, or delivered a full-length debate speech for the first time, and it is invigorating. We have many students who resist participating as long as they can, to inevitably deliver a speech in our final debate. Seeing that transformation is deeply rewarding. After people get over the initial hurdle of speaking, they then talk about how they will use these skills after release. That is our ultimate goal, and seeing it manifest makes the whole process worthwhile.

What’s next for you?

I will be going to Saint Petersburg for the spring semester to study abroad, where I will be enrolled in Russian classes and conducting research related to my senior honors thesis. Although I am extremely excited to embark on this aspect of my academic career, I am so sad to be missing out on another semester of SPEAK!

Awards and Recognition

In October, SPEAK founder Jessica Bullock received the University of Vermont’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Since 1979, this recognition has been awarded to a UVM alumni who graduated within the past ten years, is a dynamic volunteer who has given dedicated personal service to UVM, and is recognized for their outstanding contributions to their profession or life's work. Jessica was selected for the award based on her work through SPEAK, empowering traditionally underrepresented voices within our society, and inspiring volunteerism. In accepting her award, Jessica reflected upon one of the group norms from her third-grade classroom in Baltimore: No needless meanness. “There can be a lot of negativity in the world,” said Bullock, “and you never know what challenges somebody else is going through.” Congrats to Jess for continuing to promote debate, discourse, and understanding!

SPEAK is a 501(c)(3) founded in 2016. We accept donations from individuals and foundations. You can help support our volunteers to bring debate and dialogue to more people in Vermont and aboard. Donations can be made online ( or by check directed to:

SPEAK Donations

8 Commons St.

Rutland, VT. 05701

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page