An email sent to the northeast debate listserv from Mary Nugent (Coach at University of Vermont and former Cambridge Debater/Trainer):

Hi all,

During lunch on Saturday, Rochester hosted a luncheon discussion to talk about underrepresented identities in debate. In true debate style, we discussed three questions:

1) Problems that exist may prevent under-represented groups from participating in debate.
2) Solutions to these problems that have worked for debate societies in our region.

3) Solutions that we haven’t tried that might benefit our region and its diversity.

The summary of our discussion is attached (note this is just an account of what was said, rather than any ‘conclusions’ that were reached). We thought it might be useful for people who weren’t able to
attend but are interested, and I think has some useful to suggestions to think about if anyone is pondering the question of how to make their debate society as inclusive and diverse as possible.

Thanks to Amelia [Poulin, URDU debater] for taking the minutes and Alia and Rochester for organising it all! There was a general consensus that the discussion was a useful exercise that people would like to repeat, so perhaps this is something to think about for other tournaments in the future (maybe we could aim for one per semester or similar?).


The meeting notes:

1) Problems that exist may prevent under-represented groups from participating in debate.

Recruitment. If our recruitment efforts are not consciously wise we will end up with perpetuating any biases already on our team (in terms of subjects studied, gender, ethnic group).  We may unconsciously keep recruiting people who ‘are like us’ since we assume these are the people who will be good at debating. This effects not only access to debate programmes, but reduces the diversity and thus quality of the activity.

Language/accent barriers. Some people spoke of how immigrants maybe dissuaded from debate since other people have difficulty understanding them. This can be a frustrating experience.

Perceived difficulty/expertise. People spoke about how difficult debating seems from the outside, especially if  it is perceived as an activity “not for people like me”. Some people assume that you have to be comfortable talking, or be knowledgeable about debate already, so they might not try it out.

Retention & Gender is a big problem for lots of debate societies. Some people said retention was even more of a problem for girls joining. One of the causes identified was male dominated squads, as this might make it difficult for some girls to feel comfortable on the team.  It was also suggested that, due to the way girls are often socialised in society, a welcoming and supporting community may be even more essential to help overcome the challenges of the combative activity that is debate.

Gender perceptions. Some people said they felt that as female speakers they sometimes felt they were being taken less seriously than their male counterparts. In particular, a female speaker who is passionate and loud whilst speaking may at times be seen as less effective and persuasive than a male speaker doing the same, and get feedback to this effect (which is a frustrating experience).

Race. Some schools find they have mainly one race make up the majority of their team. Someone  noted that sometimes minority groups mix primarily amongst themselves, so perhaps debate societies should make an effort to reach out (similar to the ideas about recruitment).

2) Solutions to these problems that have worked for debate societies in our region.


– One school puts up posters that emphasize that anyone can be a good debater, and made sure that posters appeal to a variety of people, rather than just trying to attract people who we already think are good at debate.

– Have a public debate with a more accessible format (shortened speeches, etc). This helps to combat any ideas about barriers to entry and the diversity and inclusiveness of the activity. Make sure the participants are diverse to reflect the inclusive nature of a programme, to encourage participation, provide role models etc.

– Have new people participate in public debates with you, and let the audience know this is their first time, to make people see how accessible debate can be. In particular, reaching out to a variety of groups on campus to collaborate in public debates helps widen our appeal.

– Make sure introductory sessions are accessible and easy for everyone to participate (one school spoke of how they’d play debate games rather than an entire practice debate to start with).

– If you get a person from a group that is currently under-represented on your team, you can use them to recruit people from their group. If they are excited about the activity they can recruit people unintentionally because their friends will see what they’re getting out of the activity.

– Some people spoke of the benefits from targeting exchange students, which can help build diversity if they are welcomed onto the team.


– People spoke about how important being encouraged by older members at their first tournament was in making them feel welcome and able to participate.

– Team cohesiveness might especially help providing a more accessible environment for women.

– Having a larger representation of women (especially in out rounds) might lessen the perception gap between men and women when it comes to speaking styles . It would also lessen the ‘only female in a debate’ experience which can be off-putting. This was recognised as being somewhat of a chicken/egg problem though!

If the leadership was more diverse, maybe the recruitment would be more diverse too – though the time lag problem is recognised here!

3) Solutions that we haven’t tried that might benefit our region and its diversity.

A few solutions used in on other circuits were mentioned:

– Women’s tournaments.

– Gender quotas on teams selected for International tournaments.

– Women’s summer debate institute.

It was suggested that the community should have an explicit statement endorsing diversity in participation, providing reasons for directing resources and effort, which may help progress.

It was agreed that future discussions, to allow sharing of problems we can identify and good practice for encouraging diversity, would be a good idea.

This Luncheon discussion was hosted at the University of Rochester Brad Smith Debate Tournament at the beginning of October in 2011. I thank Mary Nugent who acted as a DCA for the tournament (along with David Hernandez) and facilitated the discussion. I hope more debate tournaments will provide for similar discussion opportunities.

We are preparing for the Brad Smith Tournament at the University of Rochester (Oct 1-2nd) and it has been a breath of fresh air. I am told to remember that whatever I do not like in a tournament or a team can be influenced if I get the necessary degrees and head coach job. I still remember that but the tournament we are hosting at the U of R is a nice little test.

Last year I was loathed to write my own motions for practice. It seemed an art I could not grasp but this year I already have a list of motions I want to run by the DCA’s closer to the date of the tournament and it has been an easy list for me to create. For all of you running your own student-led debate programs – it can be a comfort question and while students on your team may complain that you do not have enough forethought on the matter, please keep in mind that muscles need training. I’m still checking in with my trainer here and there.

The luncheon we are hosting will be as close to a copy of the Hart House Debate Tournament “Women in Debate” Luncheon that I attended several years ago. I’m excited that the UR is probably sending students across the border to this year’s Hart House tournament and am eager to re-examine the luncheon. How we talk about these matters is sometimes more important than the actual affirmative action or lack thereof policies debate squads have. But the discussion needs to be broached sensitively to provide an edifying, productive environment. A DCA I respect greatly has agreed to facilitate our luncheon at the UR. While Hart House is great, I also want to hear students’ and coaches’ opinions on the inclusion/exclusion of other identities currently under-represented in our community. I do not know what this luncheon will look like for our region but I certainly hope it can enrich our programs and activity.

With some initial guidance from my old coach I have begun to cut cards for our Policy half of URDU. We shall see what good (if any) comes of that.

For the first time in my life I am alone. Hopefully this year and only perhaps the two years after it will be the most alone I will ever be. The quality of my position is best appreciated with a reminder that I grew up with a twin sister – whom I loved and was inseparable from in my everyday sense of self. I love her still but we have become used to finding communion with the nearer souls considering our well over 3,000 miles distance this past 5 years. I filled my life with debate and boyfriends during college. But now my boyfriend, Buddy Khan, is in law school in D.C. and I’m coaching debate again where we met at the University of Rochester.

First of all, it was entirely my decision to come back to the U of R to coach again and I cannot, will not regret it. Something about the “project” I inadvertently signed up for by working alongside Novice-focused debate minds like Ken Johnson and Gordie Miller and with my entire Rhetoric department at St. John’s University (gorgeously sensitive to their own pedagogy – Steve Llano, Jaime Wright, Michael Hostetler, John Greg and Jeremiah Hickey) left me unsatisfied with my only one year of “work.” Last year I was overcoming so many personal dilemmas as the go-to person of a classroom (I can’t call myself a full out “teacher” without some sense of presumption) and had to feel out the dimensions of a Policy/Worlds debate squad. I felt the team was owed some sort of consistency on the Worlds side of the squad. For all of my flaws as a debate mind I think I can at least offer them consistency of practice and improving feedback.

So I am here. May I always make such decisions so as not to become complacent with simple wifehood. This was not meant for me.

That being said, this may be consistency for URDU debaters but not for me. My roommate is a well-meaning and nice 17 year old young lady from MCC and my boyfriend is bushy eyebrows deep in law school work at Georgetown. And the time to myself fluctuates between some pretty damned productive thinking to the resonating sound of self criticism that I feel I cannot control. It breaks the laws of physics in that the repetition becomes louder each chorus.

I told myself I learned by talking and that was why I fought meditation. Other people were my refuge from me. Left to my own tools I dismantle each interaction with a tiny magnifying glass, a large hammer and dull screw driver – rough tools. “Why did I say that?!” and “They are so much smarter/prettier/likable than me.”

But this blog entry isn’t to say that I’m the only one to kick myself… hard. I started taking notes on what I expected this year during my summer in Boston and D.C. I knew my self-worth would rollercoaster with the calls I did (but more likely didn’t) get and the passion of the debaters I was working with. However, reading Zami by Audre Lorde has helped me grasp at a new understanding of aloneness.

She writes about her awakening to erotic expression and love-of-women lifestyle in a time when the name Rosenberg in the Village invoked tears of grief. Difference had literally been killed. In Lorde’s women-centered lifestyle she spent quite a bit of it alone because she was attracted to women and possibly even more often because she was a black and unwilling to take up a specified role as dominator or femme. With that time she wrote poetry on her bathroom walls, in her journals and on her own heart. She fortified herself but tore down some walls with each interaction and modified the structure after moving experiences. I was moved deeply by her courage to move to Mexico for a time just to get away from the oppressive mindset she felt in New York City. And her bravery to go back to school and continue on with her degree considering the kind of college culture she was submitting herself to to do so… she who helped inform pedagogy so that the college experience we have today is different for her.

Her aloneness seems, to me, a difficult but valuable path towards … several things! Her personal voice and sense of strength (though she attributes much of this to her mother, she is on her own when each loss strikes her). Had she spent time in an environment that disrupted her navigational tools with busyness she may not have had the insights she did. Her Aloneness explored:

“We [Audre Lorde and her white lover/girlfriend Muriel] were too afraid those differences [race] might infact be irreconcilable, for we had never been taught any tools for dealing with them.”


“ Being women together was not enough. We were different. Being gay-girls together was not enough. We were different. Being Black together was not enough. We were different. Being Black women together was not enough. We were different. Being Black dykes together was not enough. We were different… It was awhile before we came to realize that our house was the very house of difference.”

I kick myself now for not having treated Zami as a more serious text worth marking up more intensely than I did. I was so comfortable with her voice and straightforward, beautiful style that I felt her rather than analyzed her. But the impression I have of the brief picture she provides of her young life is inspirational and evocative. The separation she feels between her parents and siblings is both realistic and heartbreaking especially for the qualities she enjoys in her dear family that she leaves behind to further herself. And for all the love she awakens to, the relationships are punctuated. And what I love most about Audre Lorde is that she can work through the hardship, which even poetry could not express, to grant the empathetic reader light unto their own path towards Her Self lovingly.

I feel less alone because of Audre. She helps me imagine the strength.

First Day Jitters

August 31, 2011

Tomorrow is the first meeting of the new season. It will be my first experience as a coach with brand new students alongside students I have been working with for the better part of an academic year. This new dynamic is fascinating to me. There are so many more levels to attend to. More of an opportunity to let others teach, let others form the better part of a student’s introduction to this world I love so much. And more stressful, now that I know so many people so much better I have more of an ethical responsibility to be responsive to their personal selves.

It weighs. It excites. I’ve been given advice on what to say officially as my first words/speech back from a summer off and then discussed such advice with many people since but still do not know what to say.

I’ll say things like “hello! Welcome back!” “Did anyone read the news over the summer?” and “what do you want out of this year?” And you know, that’s going to be ok. Debate takes care of her own and she’s always seductive.

Unbelievable verse.

I left the Colgate tournament visibly shaken, physically shaking. The tournament had great motions, headline judges flown in from Europe and the West Coast as well as some great students (UR especially). Sometimes I forget, though, just how fairy tale Debate Land can be (if you choose to view it that way which I have an incentive to do because I am so invested.) But there are times when you can suddenly find yourself clashing for realz with parts of or individuals in the debate community on matters you thought settled. Battles you thought already won. While most I surround myself with recognize the problems that homogenous representations of debate (globally) are symptomatic of – others may not. However even if most see the problem starring us in the face the more controversial issue is how or if the debate community should actively work to solve it.

For those of you just tuning in who are unaware of my facebook status implosion – Colgate held a tournament this last weekend in Hamilton, NY with 20 teams and some famous judges. I took three U of R teams and we paid for another judge to cover our N-1 commitment. 6 prelim rounds with a break to Semis. The prelims saw three female judges which Mary Nugent (The CA – Chief Adjudicator) stated they accounted for less than 10% of the judging pool. This did not pointedly bother me until the Semi Final panels were announced and both panels of 3 were made up entirely of white men. I asked Mary privately why this was the case and she explained the need for qualified, need for balanced panels in number and ended with “we probably should have thought more about it.” Mary was my favorite chair to judge with and I am more than happy to have her as a CA in our region and a DCA (Deputy Chief Adjudicator) at our USU Nationals in Vermont next weekend. However I was/am still bothered.

The scenario where the most qualified (save for Mary who was resting during the Semi) are all white men indicates a problem. I am far less interested in Colgate specifically as a team and a tournament and think it far more productive to focus on how our region has failed to better ensure representative judge panels. If these men really were the most qualified then why are there no comparatively qualified women and/or people of color at Colgate?

Thus my Facebook status which sparked the controversial discussion:

The Semi Finals at this weekends Colgate tournament are being judged by all white, male panels. We have a long way to go.

The magnitude of this problem (a problem I think is undeniable) is that I think Debate Land problems tell us something about our society, culture and values and these are positions of power with no logical reason for why they are occupied so predominantly by certain identities. There are so many identities either missing or less “successful”.

What do we think is persuasive? What do we think is objective? Who do we think is a good advocate? What are the right things to advocate for?

It’s important to interrogate the results of our social experiment: Debate. Institutions, coaches and debaters involved claim they are educated, enlightened and relatively objective. If that is the case, why do our underrepresentation and retention problems seem so similar to the less educated, less enlightened and relatively subjective society at large? The attempted vindication (if that’s what it was) that Mary Nugent is the first female CA for the NE Worlds Region which should calm our bunched up panties about all male and white panels in the Semis sounds just like the “America is post-racial and truly a land of opportunity for all” that we heard after Obama won the election. If it wasn’t meant as a vindication then I want our community to be very aware that it is dangerous to give off the perception that enough progress has been made. I’m very happy for Mary and happy with Colgate’s selection of her but I do not think that we should be derailed by a minority of successes when the majority is what it has always been. Debate is still an old boys club. Let us continue to diligently work on that.

A Colgate student pointed out to me that we are in Upstate NY and I think this is a sorry, misguided and offensive justification. Women and people of color debate in Upstate NY – the issue is most likely one of retention.

To productively think about how to solve this problem we have to understand the nature of its cause. Stephen Boyle and Mary Nugent have it right on my status when they indicated the same. While my thoughts below will be gender focused I would like to hear how people think these issues may or may not affect other underrepresented identities in Debate Land.

FYI – The status quo predominantly sees a near equal M/F ratio at the novice levels – and that reality was confirmed by the majority of the women at the HartHouse Women In Debate Lunch two years ago which I found extremely useful. Women from Australia, Europe, Canada and the US shared their perspectives about our precious Debate Land (We should have more discussions like this at more tournaments.) However the M/F ratio is a problem at the top rooms, the coaching/advising figures and judge panels. Retention is the problem thus my arguments will focus a little less on how to get them in the room and more about how to keep them there.

“Women are less resilient to losses.”

This is a possible justification floated to me by a Colgate debater this weekend just before we left. He wanted to make sure that I had considered all of the possibilities, he said. I sincerely hope he doesn’t believe that something about a woman’s biological makeup means that this is true. Two reasons: 1. Highly unlikely considering lack of bio evidence and the plethora of famous and ordinary women in world history who took the risks and got back up even after great losses. Susan B. Anthony was arrested for illegally voting in the presidential election and fined even after years of campaigning. She did not stop. 2. If it were true (but come on) then we could do next to nothing about it. I refuse to accept the docile existence that such a conclusion means for me.

So let’s look at some reasons why this statement may be true as a socialized fact.

One of the most wonderful women on the planet sent this article to me (The Trouble With Bright Girls). The higher the IQ a fifth grade girl has, studies say, the sooner those girls give up on learning especially complex material.

…there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty — what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.

Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or “such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.

Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart,” and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

The author argues that girls have been conditioned through the learning/teaching process that our intellect is a well of finite-ness that cannot be expanded with effort. Socialized understandings of ourselves are lifelong challenges:

Even if every external disadvantage to a woman’s rising to the top of an organization is removed — every inequality of opportunity, every chauvinistic stereotype, all the challenges we face balancing work and family — we would still have to deal with the fact that through our mistaken beliefs about our abilities, we may be our own worst enemy.

How often have you found yourself avoiding challenges and playing it safe…?

Based on this argument, boys may be better equipped for the long term effort that needs to go into debate. Debate is difficult. It takes awhile to learn usually. Very few have the skills to enter as a novice and easily break. For a female debater the losses necessary to learn the game and form her own brand of persuasion may feel like too many for her. She may believe she is not equipped with the necessary (more finite) intellect to succeed.

Coaches and judges who are aware of a female debater’s possible self-perception can be especially attentive to focusing on the ability of the student to learn and expand her capabilities. Feedback from judges should be especially constructive. Regardless of identity, all speakers should get this. At the point where you are pressed for time then the judge needs to remember the possible difference feedback can have on retention of female debaters. If we were to expand any part of a debate tournament it should be feedback because this is where so much of the learning happens – the very purpose of what we do.

Secondly, one of our beautifully thoughtful University of Rochester Worlds debaters shared another idea with me that could explain part of the retention problem. Yayi explained that the nature of boys activities and games may make them more comfortable with public loses. Sports games are especially public where there is a clear winner and clear loser. Girls’ activities more often center around creativity like dance, art and music. Debate rounds are public with clear winners and losers. Perhaps female debaters feel the loss differently.

Third, my Philosophy of Feminism professor introduced me to Carol Gilligan who, in In a Different Voice, argues that boys and girls also learn to prioritize moral values differently (her response to Lawrence Kholberg’s Stages of Moral Development theory in which he found women were a full stage less developed than their male counterparts) because the nature of their games reward different behavior. While boys play the more public sports games or the not so public computer games there are usually clear, rigid rules that all players need to follow. Hurt feelings are less important than making sure that the integrity of the game is intact. Whereas girls grow up playing games like house, makeup and my personal favorite: store. These games reward inclusion and harmony. The roles and rules are various and evolving based upon how those involved feel about the scenarios. Debate rounds are adaptive spaces, yes, however there are still strictures that have to be abided: Role Fulfillment, Appropriate or Expected Clash, Proper Argumentation (seems to differ a bit from person to person as to how much is “enough”). Perhaps some female debaters feel that this environment is unwelcoming and does not reward the skills they invested in.

Attendance to the second and third points is tricky. Clearly women can rise to the upper echelons of a white male-dominated, white male-defined system and we have several women in the NE region and around the world who are successful by the same standards we deem male debaters successful. However, at the point where there are women walking into our meetings, we are best equipped to encourage and coach them if we understand where they may be coming from. Sadly, that is all easier said than done. I don’t have an answer. Keeping these things in mind, I think that I can try to contextualize better the debaters I work with. This is especially important as the majority of the U of R worlds team is not made up of US citizens. The questions that indicate self-doubt may be more deeply rooted than they seem. Dispelling the myths we believe about ourselves will require subtlety when appropriate and volume when necessary.

A fourth reason why I think women and other minority identities do not seem resilient in the debate game is because there is little visible indication that the environment is one in which their identity is rewarded. The reward can be two-fold: On a personal level, as Stephen Boyle already pointed out, women can feel isolated from the rest of the community because of their difference. Especially if that difference doesn’t seem rewarded in the second sense of prelim and out-round wins and chair appointments.

This is the controversy, now isn’t? The long run game is one that all of us can agree on: actively recruit underrepresented identities, encourage them into visible places of influence and coach them conscientiously. The short term options of affirmative action quota judge allocation or fee waiving carry with them the risks of backlash and relatively worse judging. I do not know a lot about the affirmative action debate partner selection in Australia (point me to good sources if you have ‘em!) but I have heard that the results were real. American Policy Debate has evolved to gain the benefit of meta-debate where questions of how we judge, who judges and how our positionality and identity is perceived/treated by the debate community can be asked, argued over and even rewarded. That evolution, thanks to the Louisville Project, Towson, CSU Longbeach and CSU Fullerton, has normalized in Policy Debate Land the concerns I raised about the Colgate tournament and encouraged coaches and debaters to prefer their judges with these systematic perceptions in mind as the community works to better itself. Where other parts of Debate Land have made progress on this issue, I hope we in the NE region can learn.

Ideas Moving Forward:

While I respect, admire and like Mary Nugent I think that her response that “we probably should have thought more about it” is unacceptable. We need to think about these things. I think we are, in fact, obligated to.

I think that our judge evaluation system is probably too trusting that debaters will be fair to their female judges – women are judged more harshly as teachers, businesswomen and decision makers in general. Teacher peer evalutations of female university professors often focus on “problems” rarely pointed out to male university professor counterparts – like dress and formality. She is disciplined. So much more pronounced might that problem be from the perspective of a university student who has just received a different evaluation than what they expected. A flustered woman is a chaos of a different matter when compared to her an unsettled male counterpart. An aggressive female is quite different from an assertive male. Confession: I know that I am harsher on my female students – probably because I am shaped by the stereotypes I was taught but also because I desire fervently for the girls to be amazing – to me it is very clear that they will have to do that much better to overcome the preconceived notions we all have about the feminine body. I check myself sometimes but fighting one’s preconceived notions is a daily, never ending matter.

I think that waiving judge fees for female judges may be a good way to encourage a growth in our judging pool. I don’t know if more marginalized identities should be included in the exemption but I think that an incentive could help us keep her in the room longer as she is encouraged by her coach or team to judge while she also makes her identity more visible for other women in our community. Additionally, I think this method would be better than permitting women or marginalized identities to count for more against judge requirements. The point is to get more women in the judging pool so CAs have options when they form Semi Final panels. If the waiver reminds coaches and teams to prioritize recruitment of women (and racial minorities) then we have probably better ensured that there will be more women at the get go and more of them will still be with us two or three years from now when they are experienced enough to chair.

Also, I think that Buddy made a good point when he argued that becoming a better judge requires practice in difficult rounds.  I think that choosing a slightly less qualified female judge for a round of consensus judging does not carry the harms with it that people mention.

If the female judges truly do receive “dreadful feedback” as Josh Martin stated that I did then I wonder why that criticism was not forwarded to me so that I could understand where I had gone so terribly wrong. I think his decision to blare the quality of my feedback is also harmful as it serves to poison the well of debaters I may receive future feedback from. SO… Chairs should be encouraged to directly engage with the panelists about how to become a better judge in this format OR at least feedback forms should be turned back to the panelists so that they can try to figure out for themselves how they conducted themselves in each round and how it was rewarded by the chairs. A specific form of pedagogy (I have sat through so many, many briefings so obviously I need tailored instruction) directed at judges seems a very productive move.

Listeners, this grew longer and deeper than I expected. I do not consider myself a radical – prob few radicals do. But the reaction to my post has deeply bothered and saddened me. I thank those who bravely engaged even if I disagree with you and I want to especially thank those who tried to focus the discussion onto more productive ground. Thank you, community.

For my last suggestion, dear dear NE Worlds Debate, can we model ourselves after Harthouse’s luncheon discussions about this topic and others? Simply offer the pizza in two areas (one near General Assembly and one in the room alloted for discussion) and let the people of our community weigh in.

I know that our debates stop with the sound of a timer or a knock where we then exit the room and shed our specific advocacy but may there be no knock to this debate until we have truly accomplished a community of equality. Let us do more to really deserve the right to point to our activity as an idea affirming one. Let us act so that we can hear more voices.

My very first JV/Novice Nationals in Towson, MD last weekend. I knew roughly what to expect because I judged at Bronx High School of Science and West Point last semester. I also have the benefit of dating a veteran who is patient enough to answer my questions as they come up. With that under my belt, I was more sensitive to my place in the Policy debate community this weekend. Can I help the University of Rochester students? What about debaters from other schools? What’s my role/purpose?

While I was committed to judge 4 rounds, I only judged 1. Debate was happening all around me and I had no addition to make to it – in many situations I did not even understand the Open debate in front of my face – I shadowed Buddy for a few rounds. Once pairings were up, debaters and coaches bustled about de/constructing rhetorical strategies. I felt like a fly on the wall, a barely visible, silent observer. I became progressively more unsettled each round I wasn’t judging. I felt unwanted, unneeded and locked out of the community for not having been involved as an undergraduate. Buddy admits/thinks that I am probably unwanted because the sport is such a specialized one where it takes years just to learn how to flow properly and adapt one’s ear.

I was mislead by expectations that a similar sort of openness the NE Worlds (BP) region has towards untrained judges would be present in American Policy debate. But you can’t brief new judges in Policy because the rules themselves are up for debate – always evolving. It’s also very important to the debaters that you are familiar with the topic. They want to have seen you at many tournaments before especially because that is the test of your voting tendencies. I was on the other side of the campus judging Worlds so I was a distinctly un-preferred judge.

Nevertheless, I am very proud of what the U of R debaters have accomplished and am excited to get more involved next year by generating arguments and strategies. Because while I felt terrible at JV/Novice Nats I am in love with debate and several of the unique things that can happen in the space that Policy provides. I’ll probably be a K judge. Those are the arguments that speak to me loudest. And it’s no coincidence – they interrogate some of the very same assumptions and questions I was first drawn to in college and still fixate on.

Why, you might ask, am I posting so late after Towson JV/Novice Nats? I was scared. I was/am afraid that my little blog might be found by our policy students and that I may be ridiculed for my considerable insecurities. Almost more frightening, to me, are the possible (yet probably only imagined) consequences of honesty about the community to the community – I am, after all, (only) a novice. Yet both of these fears are the kinds that thinkers should work to operate against not only because they are unlikely in many cases but also because we must assess our surroundings honestly. In revisiting these thoughts today I have decided that I am conducting due diligence on the subject of the NE Policy community and my place in/value to her. Openness is key to education. I am still open and willing to understand.


Revisiting Bin-ness

March 19, 2011

To continue my issue with the Manchester IV 2011 video, a section from the Botswana Worlds 2011 Judge Briefing


16. Will I be “binned” (i.e. send to rooms with teams onlower points) if I roll the chair?

Firstly, there are no bins at Botswana Worlds. Every single team here has paid registration, and part ofwhat they are paying for is your time and your respect. Every single team at this tournament meritsconsidered judging and feedback. In fact, less experienced teams (who may well be in rooms with lesspoints) particularly merit your time. Every debate matters – to us, the tournament and definitely thepeople in that room so please respect it.

Secondly, being sent to a room with lower points is not a punishment. Please do remember that this isa tournament with three breaks (Open, ESL, EFL). That means a huge number of rooms remain live untilvery late at the tournament. A room with lower points is likely to be on the edge of a break, making itextremely important. Even in rooms where it is not possible for a single team to break, all four of thoseteams deserve feedback. If we want to punish you, there are plenty of other things we could do.

Thirdly, no. We will not seek to punish in any way judges for rolling their chair. We want wings to takerolling very seriously, but we do not want it to never happen (otherwise, we would simply not bother withwings, or not give them the power to roll).However, if we have good evidence that a judge is not taking their job seriously or acting in anunprofessional manner, we are likely to rank you lower within the judging pool (meaning you need betterjudges to manage you) or make you a shadow judge.

Betsy Woodruff blogged an open letter to the Feminist Movement that has my head and heart reeling.

She asks some really good questions and here are my thoughts:

My first thought about the open letter was that the message is too easy to disregard because most feminists can say, “well my belief system is more complicated then that.” She has not captured the reality of feminism’s diversity. Yet, parts moved me. A few comments echoed. Although I don’t think that these issues are mutually exclusive – I can write about, act out for both the developed and developing world issues. However when the majority of self-labeled “feminist” blog entries (mine included) have more to do with developed world problems then we may be misusing some of our political capital.

On the Feminist Movement as an audience: Betsy, I do not know who your audience is.

I rely heavily on bell hooks as gateway to feminist thought with ideas like this:

We resist hegemonic dominance of feminist thought by insisting that it is a theory in the making, that we [feminists] must necessarily criticize, question, re-examine, and explore new possibilities.

-bell hooks 1984

Betsy writes:

You also complain a lot about American Apparel, and I don’t totally get it. After all, if you’re such a fan of complete sexual liberation, shouldn’t you be happy that college-aged women feel liberated enough to pose in unitard-thongs?

To speak of the Feminism Movement as a single entity (and then call out contradictions) makes me uneasy. We are not all the same. Not all feminists support pornography. Those who would attack American Apparel would probably place themselves in that anti-porn category. Both controversies have to do with the objectification of the female body and it seems unlikely that that extreme of internal contradiction would exist in a person. A Sex-Positive Feminist will say yes to both controversies – no contradiction still.

I think I felt moved to write this response because I feel privileged by both whiteness and my leisurely exploration of feminist thought in college to help insist as hooks says that you ought not to cage feminist thought. She is always being rebirthed.

Your issue with the Feminist Movement (though that grouping is problematic to me still ) does strike some kind of a chord for me.

So here’s my beef with you. Regardless of the legitimacy of the battles you’ve chosen, they all seem to pale in comparison to many of the issues that seriously threaten our gender today.

Unfortunately, you’ve also ignored many “third world feminists” who write about the issues you are asking for though their more radical politics and judgments of the system would likely make you unhappy. The Third Wave of feminism introduced a wrench into the overly simplistic, white, middle class understanding of the gender war. These authors and bloggers may not call themselves feminists first because they are focused on a multiplicity of oppressed identities (gender, race, sexual orientation, class) Gloria Anzaldua, Lauryn Hill, Cherrie Moraga, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and more to exploreMaria Amir. Mainstream women like Sheryl WuDunn (with her husband Nicolas Kristoff wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide) are writing about the oppression women face around the globe and make cases for how we ought to respond. Ms. Magazine blog also hosts authors who focus on the oppression that face women in the developing world.

While the discussions may not be happening as often as you would like, where you are looking for them; they are happening. You should seek them out. Up the readership. Share the links.

I think that one of the beautiful things about feminism is that it tends to encourage personal politics. “How does patriarchy influence me and what can I do to change that?” Feminists can look to either their vote, career, family, writing focus and/or purchasing decisions as points of power where each individual can weigh their values and act. Perhaps this is the root of your frustration. You ask if the topics facing women of color are “too hard” for developed world women to take on and I ask you to be more understanding. There is little controversy in Genital Mutilation Is Bad and Don’t Throw Acid in Her Face blog posts. The audience largely agrees. Who reading an argument against clitoris mutilation is suddenly going to decide not to enact that cultural violence upon their daughter? The basic information is already out there about the matter so those looking can find it. Your average feminist blogger will likely have no expertise on the issue – how could those discussions be furthered? (below I have an alternative to Western Feminists discussing these issues) Also, I think that those seriously fighting these battles are not writing leisurely about it in blogs. Issues of that severity are being written about by lobbyists, academics, human rights watchdogs, and leaders from those areas who can speak to the cultural identity as an insider. (We should be reading these.) Still, I do sympathize with your critique because Western feminists certainly aren’t powerless (more below).

Do consider though that as popular Western bloggers judge their sphere of influence to be their cultural neighbors they write less often about the spheres (Asia, Africa and the Middle East) they feel are beyond their experience and influence. (Linda Alcoff may argue that these women best spend their time listening to the voices of those from especially oppressed areas but should be especially cautious about crusading for that cause because of how disempowering it can be to speak for others.) My neighbor and I disagree on the degree of harm or benefit Lady Gaga has on feminism and thus I will invest my time in developing an argument tailored for that neighbor. American feminists may feel especially removed from issues like genital mutilation because we do not feel the presence of North African immigrants and trust that the US has legislation to protect daughters within our borders (although we do not protect our sons from mutilation at birth).

I would like to note that Spain has done a splendid job attending to the safety of North African girls in Spain by training police officers about the procedure and actively working to inform communities and families of girls believed to be at risk of the criminal nature of the procedure and the terrible harm that it causes. Fighting ideas with ideas on the ground. Spain has seen huge success with its initiative.

In defense of the popular feminist blogger – may she/he always work at persuading those within her/his sphere. These authors are attacking a systematic oppression that at its worst disciplines through rape and genital mutilation and at its least encourages heels. Still, war is waged against attitudes (as persuasively as can be done). The attitude is dangerous because it is silent, ingrained and no one is safe from its influence. Every child can identify the stereotypes and cannot help but act upon/discipline themselves into/against them: Defining us. Seemingly harmless prejudices become warrants for harsh action (women are too genteel for politics thus no vote, women are better equipped to raise children thus no promotion, women want to seem pure so they say no thus I’ll push harder for sex, she’s pretty and that’s why she has the job). To resist this attitude at all levels is valuable.

A good friend and my sister’s ex made an interesting case to me awhile ago. He’s a brilliant young man but does not have a blog of his own because he believes that his many layers of privilege require that he serve as an avid listener – an addict to the perspectives of oppressed groups. He seeks out those writers so that he can better understand his personal interaction with the system that harms those at the bottom. From there he can make changes.

Perhaps this is the framing we should consider as white, developed world feminists. We benefit from privilege that crushes others and thus have a responsibility to understand more and more how that works. We must listen. We must read. And when we write we ought to focus a bit more on our interactions with class, race and sexual orientation privilege/oppression. Outlining the kinds of cases where acid is thrown at girls is probably less useful than a discussion of how to solve for it and other problems that face women – the products we purchase that may support modern day slavery or the US immigration policies towards trafficked peoples. One is descriptive where description already exists and the other is (hopefully) a more detailed approach to solve for these instances. But let not our pen drop from the issues that still move us.

In agreement with your critique, dear Betsy  – I was the least effective woman alive for the first few months after I realized feminism mattered. A Junior in college, I threw myself into countless huffs and ill-conceived arguments about exclusion/inclusion in language and chivalrous (my reading of the word was: evil) manners. While those battles are valuable I was the least persuasive feminist evar. Betsy, I welcome your words and criticism. If feminists all the Western world over are not persuasive to you then please tell us why. Because you are right. We have “considerable rhetorical skills.” Goddess, help us to use those skills strategically and honestly. Strategically so that our world progresses and honest so that we progress as individuals.

It’s amazing how much time I have spent at this tournament wondering how to rewrite my judging philosophy. While the varied wording in my head tricks me into believing that I keep shifted, largely based upon the round happening in front of me, I think my philosophy is more formed than I feel. What a beautiful activity. I’ve never been faced with this kind of judging freedom. It’s productive and terrifying.

More later about this whole experience – my relationship to this community, judging philosophy and some moving moments.