About Us


The Story of the WDI

The WDI was founded in 1999 by Jeff Shaw, Kari Mar (then Kari Shaw), and his college debate partner, Leah Castella. Jeff, who was working as a high school debate coach in Washington State at the time, was concerned about the lack of women on his local debate circuit. Though girls and boys joined debate in equal numbers, something happened in the junior and senior divisions that drove girls away from this vital, empowering activity.

Convinced something had to be done, Jeff and Kari conceived of a debate camp that would just be for girls. Leah, a staunch advocate for debate’s role in helping marginalized communities, helped design a program that would incorporate both high-quality debate instruction and personal empowerment. With the help of some of the top debate minds in the country, the founders created a camp aimed at serving dozens of girls each year and closing debate’s gender gap. Since, WDI has grown into a national event that benefits young women and gender minorities from every corner of the country.


Our mission is to advocate for and facilitate a more gender-inclusive environment that advances educational and professional opportunities for marginalized gender identities in the debate community. We continue to fulfill this mission with the expansion of diverse programming and resources. From our anti-harassment training, to our annual summer camp, we are dedicated to providing resources to cultivate an inclusive environment for all. Please check our annual reports to find out more!


The Women’s Debate Institute is a community of debaters dedicated to empowering young people to discover and use their unique voices. To that end, we support self-empowerment of the participants in our organization by providing a community that cultivates the skills to be successful debaters.

Meet The Board

Jyleesa hampton

Jyleesa Hampton

Board Chair, HS Institute
Programming Committee
Co-Chair, Director of WDI Mobile

Jyleesa Hampton is the Board Chair, HS Institute Programming Committee Co-Chair and Director of WDI Mobile programs. She currently works as the Assistant Director of Speech and Debate at Presentation High School. While finishing another year as KU Debate coach, she is currently completing her Ph.D. in Public Administration, focusing on American policing, carceral policy, law and administration. Leveraging more than 10 years of debate experience as an elite competitor, nationally recognized collegiate coach and experienced high school instructor, she is a fierce argumentation professional. Jyleesa is also a strong advocate for making debate accessible to everyone and welcoming to all kinds of styles. She proudly serves her community as an advocate for speech and debate as the Communications Director for the Association of Black Argumentation Professionals.

Sarah glaser phd

Sarah Glaser, PhD

Executive Mentor of the Board
Chair and Executive Director

Sarah Glaser has been a WDI Board member since 2005. Previously the Director of Finances, Glaser is active with the Finance and Fundraising Committee. Sarah debated policy for four years in high school in Emporia, Kansas and went on to debate at and coach for Kansas State University.

Leah castella jd

Leah Castella, JD

Finance & Development
Committee Chair

Leah Castella, J.D. is the Finance & Development Committee Chair and a co-founder of the WDI. Leah started her debate career at Duncanville High School in Duncanville, Texas where she competed in LD, exempt, and oratory for four years. She went on to compete as a policy debater for four years at Lewis & Clark College. While there, she won numerous awards, including a quarterfinal finish and a third-place speaker award at the 1995 CEDA National Tournament. After finishing at Lewis & Clark, Leah went on to attend law school at the University of Texas School of Law and graduated with honors in 1999. While there, Leah coached the debate team at Southwest Texas State University. Leah is now a full-time litigator. She has been practicing in the San Francisco Bay area since 1999, and is a partner at Burke, Williams & Sorensen. In addition to her work with the WDI, Leah is on the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Urban Debate Commission.

Christi siver phd

Christi Siver, PhD

HS Institute Programming
Committee Co- Chair

Christi Siver, Ph.D. is the HS Institute Programming Committee Co- Chair. Christi is Professor of Political Science at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University in St. Joseph, MN. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington, where she coached the parliamentary debate team for nine years. She competed in policy debate at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR and at Sunset High School in Beaverton, OR.

Una kimokeo goes

Una Kimokeo-Goes

Una Kimokeo-Goes (she/her) has worked with the WDI for five years, focusing on University Sponsorship and High School Programming, as well as teaching at the Institute for several years. This is her first year serving as a Board member. Una got her Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Penn State and teaches in areas including rhetoric and identity, argumentation and public speaking. She has been involved with speech and debate for twenty years, including several formats and international debate. Most recently, she has been involved with Worlds Style Debate (also called British Parliamentary), hosts collegiate and high school tournaments and frequently serves as the Equity Officer at events. Una currently is the Director of Forensics at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon.

Squid monteith

Squid Monteith

Community Development
Committee Chair

Squid Monteith is the Community Development Committee Chair and a certified trainer. Squid is an incoming graduate student at Kansas State University in the Department of Communication and an assistant coach, and was a former high school and collegiate debate competitor. They have been coaching high school debate for several years and are heavily invested in making debate an equitable and welcoming environment for all.

Latoya green

LaToya Green

Director of Collegiate Scholars Program

LaToya Green is the Director of the Collegiate Scholars Program and the WDI’s 2016 Keynote Speaker. Toya is an active member of the collegiate debate community as a Director of Debate and professor in Human Communication at California State University-Fullerton. She owns and operates a business that inspires greatness within others, Higher Definition Leadership and Empowerment Coaching (HDLEC). She encourages others to invest in themselves and create positive change in the world around them.

Sarah partlow lefevre phd

Sarah Partlow Lefevre, PhD

Professor in the Department of Communication

Sarah Partlow Lefevre, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Communication, Media and Persuasion and has been the Director of Debate at Idaho State University since 2001. Dr. Partlow Lefevre began her involvement in debate in 1991 at the University of Utah where she completed her undergraduate degree. She then pursued both her M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the University of Kansas where she was an Assistant Debate Coach.

Susan cridland hughes phd

Susan Cridland-Hughes, PhD

Associate Professor of Secondary Education and English

Susan Cridland-Hughes, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Secondary Education and English at Clemson University. Susan is a longstanding Board member and focuses her expertise on assisting our educational assessment efforts.

Rae lynn schwartz dupre phd

Rae Lynn Schwartz-Dupre, PhD

Professor of Communication at Western Washington University

Rae Lynn Schwartz-DuPre, (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and on the Executive Board of the Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. Her research and teaching centers on postcolonial, rhetorical, feminist, race and cultural studies, in primary U.S. contexts. She is author of Curious about George: Curious George, Cultural Icons, Colonialism, & U.S. Exceptionalism (University Press of Mississippi, 2021) and the editor and contributor to Communicating Colonialism: Readings on Postcolonial Theory(s) and Communication (Peter Lang, 2014) and her scholarship has appeared in journals such as Feminist Media Studies, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Textual Practice, Communication, Culture & Critique and The Journal of Contemporary Argumentation and Debate. Dr. Schwartz-DuPre is Co-Chair of Western Washington University’s Social Justice & Equity Committee and has participated in facilitator trainings on diversity, equity and harassment, queer safety zoning, the psychological dynamics of oppression and privilege, anti-violence green dot, racial microaggressions & cross-cultural communication skills, talking with children & youth about race, social media & justice, and implicit bias. Since 2017, she has been a Talkin’ Race Facilitator at universities in Washington and taught implicit bias in elementary public schools. Dr. Schwartz-DuPre was a nationally competitive debater for the University of Vermont and coached National Debate Tournament qualifying teams for the University of Vermont, Wake Forest University and The University of Iowa. As a WDI Board member (since 2007), Dr. Schwartz-DuPre served a variety of roles including teaching instructor, finance committee, professional development, curriculum and public relations.

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Meet Our Staff

Ava vargason abd

Ava Vargason, PhD

Ava is a PhD candidate at North Carolina Chapel Hill in the school of pharmacy. She is also a former collegiate debate competitor (University of Kentucky) and assistant coach.

Jessica kurr

Jessica Kurr

Dr. Jessica Kurr is a rhetoric scholar and a postdoctoral teaching associate at Northeastern University. She primarily writes about institutional rhetorics with a focus on politics, economics, and LGBTQ issues. She debated at the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her undergraduate degree, was an assistant coach at Baylor University, and served as the Director of Debate at Penn State where she earned her doctorate.


Lisa Covington

Lisa Covington is a PhD Candidate at The University of Iowa, studying the sociology of education. She focuses on the learning processes of suburban Black Girls experiences.

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Caitlin Walrath

Caitlin graduated from the University of Michigan with a BS in Psychology. While at Michigan, she was an NDT semifinalist and octafinalist, a first round bid recipient, and 3x champion of the Hoosier Invitational held at Indiana University. Before attending Michigan, she debated at Rowland Hall and Juan Diego Catholic high schools in Salt Lake City, UT. She has coached for the University of Kentucky and currently is working as an Assistant Debate coach for Wake Forest University. She also coaches for Notre Dame Catholic high school in Los Angeles, CA.

Mya whittaker

Mya Whittaker

Mya is the first Bay Area Urban Debate League Champion. She received her bachelor’s degree in Communication from San Francisco State University. As an Emerge graduate, her long-term plan is to run for Congress. Mya organized a roundtable for youth to speak directly to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Superintendent Antwan Wilson. Students came together to speak to powerful policy makers about their education. Mya makes a difference & empowers Oakland youth.

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Nadia Hussein

Nadia Hussein graduated with her MA in Communication from Wake Forest University, where she also served as an assistant debate coach. Her research focuses on debate, rhetoric, interpersonal Communication, Film/Media Studies and all things Black.

Jazmine pickens

Jazmine Pickens

Jazmine is a recent graduate from the University of Oklahoma where she was a very successful debater, winning the CEDA National Championship Tournament.

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Lucia Scott

Assistant Director of Debate at The Barstow School. She has coached middle school through College with great success at each level. Lucia’s teams have won multiple tournaments and received several bids to the HS Tournament of Champions.

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Pia Sen

I have been involved with debate for 9 years, starting with debating for LASA HS. In college, I debated 5 years in college and qualified to 3x NDTs with Texas Debate. Throughout college, I read primarily critical arguments including object oriented ontology, gender arguments afro pessimism and settler colonialism. In the fall I will be starting a PhD program at Rutgers Newark.

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Nyx Moore

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Emily Mendelson

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Lydia Brown

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Flynn Makuch

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