Lang Center
for Civic & Social Responsibility

Debating for Democracy

Debating for Democracy (D4D)™ inspires students to become successful advocates in their communities. To encourage engaged citizenship, Project Pericles requests original letters to elected officials from teams (two or more students) at Periclean colleges and universities. A panel of judges will select the winning teams for the 2019 D4D competition.

Five teams from five different colleges will win $500 to work on their issue.

Internal Program 

The Lang Center has developed an internal program to support students who wish to participate in Debating for Democracy. 

All who participate in the internal program will receive a gift card to the Swarthmore Campus & Community Store and will be eligible to be selected to be a delegate representing Swarthmore College at the 2019 D4D National Conference in New York City on March 28 and 29, 2019 -- all expenses paid!

Here’s how the program works:

1. Attend the Advocacy Letter Writing Training with the Friends Committee on National Legislation on Monday, October 8 from 5:30 p.m. to  7:00 p.m. in the Lang Center. At the training, you will learn how to craft an effective advocacy letter, form letter-writing teams, and focus your letter on an issue you are passionate about. RSVP to Dr. Jennifer Magee (jmagee1).

2. You and your letter-writing team meet with a Lang Center staff member during the month of November to receive feedback on your legislative proposal and develop a project idea.

3. Submit your letter and project proposal to Dr. Jennifer Magee by December 12.


Participants must

a) be a full-time undergraduate;

b) be a first year, sophomore, or junior student during spring 2019;

c) write and mail a letter (no more than 1200 words) to an elected official advocating for a legislative solution to contemporary problem;

d) provide a 2-page project proposal that is relevant to the legislative solution you advocate for; and

e) return to campus in the 2019-20 academic year so as to insure that winning teams can work on their project together.

Students who are awarded funds will be expected to carry out significant advocacy and educational activities to advance their issue during the 2019-2020 academic year. 

Selection Process

All students who wish to participate in Debating for Democracy must attend the Advocacy Letter Writing Training with the Friends Committee on National Legislation on Monday, October 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the Lang Center. Students must then set up an appointment to receive project advising from Lang Center staff. Finally, students must submit their letter and project proposal to Dr. Jennifer Magee by December 12. The Lang Center staff will review each letter and select up to four to forward to Project Pericles. The names of all of the students who worked on each letter must be sent to Project Pericles. All letters should be mailed by the students to the appropriate elected official by February 4.

A committee consisting of people with significant experience in public policy will review the submitted letters and project proposals. Based on this review, five winning teams will be selected. Project Pericles will announce the five winning teams in February 2019.

Important Dates

October 8 — All students who wish to participate in Debating for Democracy must attend the Advocacy Letter Writing Training with the Friends Committee on National Legislation from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the Lang Center. 

December 12 — All letters and project proposals are due to Dr. Jennifer Magee (jmagee1). 

February 4 — Be sure to mail a copy of your letter to the appropriate U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, State Senator or State Representative by this date!

February 20 — Five winning teams announced after review by a panel of experts.   

Judging Criteria

The evaluation of each submission will rest on the students’ success at conducting high quality policy analysis and research; clarity of presentation; and adherence to the rules detailed on pages 4-5. All submissions should include a project proposal that describes how the team would use an award to advance their issue. 

1) Policy Analysis and Research: The most important aspect of the letter is the quality of the analysis and research (55% of the evaluation). The evaluation will rest on each team’s success at identifying a federal or state policy problem in their letter, proposing a solution to the problem they identified, and conducting and interpreting research to bolster their letter.

  • Does the letter present one public policy issue in a convincing manner?
  • Does the letter focus on a federal or state public policy issue that impacts the student and their community and explain how this issue impacts them?
  • Does the letter contain logical judgment and analysis?
  • Does the letter demonstrate the use of primary (personal experience, community experts) and secondary resources (journal articles, books) to bolster their argument?
  • Does the letter demonstrate an understanding of the historical context of the problem and solution being discussed?

2) Clarity of Presentation: The ability to write a clear and compelling letter will be considered. In addition to a logical argument, persuasive letters include a narrative about how the issue impacts the authors or other constituents (30% of the evaluation).

  • Is the letter effective in communicating the significance of the problem and the solution?
  • Do the authors offer a compelling narrative? Do the authors make a compelling case as constituents? Is there
  • a tie-in to either the authors or other constituents from the elected official district?
  • Are the letter and proposal clear and grammatically correct?

3) Quality of Related Project Proposal: The project proposal should not exceed two pages and should present the authors’ strategy to have a meaningful impact on the topic they tackle in the letter. As such, the proposal should clearly outline how students would use the $500 award to instigate positive change. (15% of the evaluation).

  • Is the project proposal creative and effective in addressing the problem presented in the letter?
  • Is it feasible given time and financial constraints?
  • In all cases, the goal of your project should be to advance your issue. Campus events should have a tie-in to an “ask” in which you request that your fellow students or community members take an action, such as contacting their elected officials, that will advance your issue.

Submission Requirements

  • The letter must be on a state or federal issue. The majority of local issues are also important federal and state issues.
  • The body of the letter may not exceed 1200 words (excluding footnotes and project proposal).
  • Students must identify their elected official and their address. Since the authors will be urging their elected official to support or oppose a legislative solution, they will want to select the official who will be most responsive to their letter. Elected officials are concerned with their constituents. 
  • The letter must begin with the phrase "Dear Representative (last name)" or Dear Senator (last name)" and be addressed correctly.
  • The letter must begin with a sentence that tells the elected official exactly what the student wants them to do.
  • The first sentence in the letter attached provides an example.
  • The letter must contain the student’s mailing address so that the elected official can confirm them as a constituent and the elected official can write back.
  • The students must sign and date their letter.
  • All primary and secondary sources used in preparing the proposal must be cited.
  • The project proposal should not exceed two pages.