Protecting Persons, Not Positions by Rebekah Boyer

Rebekah Boyer asked if we would post this to our website.

Protecting Persons, Not Positions by Rebekah Boyer

My name is Bekah Boyer – What I have to say below is my own
opinion and has nothing to do with any institutions or people with whom I may
be affiliated. I apologize for any triggers
in this article, but I need a forum to speak.

I was never a “great” debater; my butt was constantly
whooped by those who worked harder than I did. Coincidently, that self-same
butt was apparently more interesting to some people in the community than my
identity. I was harassed, insulted, and demeaned by members of my own team and
others. Sometimes things were as trivial as “go make me a sandwich,” most of
the time though, things were escalated to a demand for oral sex as a price for
a card that the boys were already sharing. Troubled, alone, and not knowing
what to do – I spun into a depression.  I
wasn’t a lone wolf; I just had no one in which to confide. Thankfully, an adult
in the community noticed that I wasn’t doing well.  She kept me from quitting debate and/or doing
anything drastically permanent for a fleeting feeling.

I got help. The kicker is I had to tell an adult first.

As adults in the community, we have a responsibility as
educators and as chaperones, ethically and legally, to support these kids. The
question is: does this mean I have to vote on it?

No. It does not.

I had the pleasure of judging two very talented debaters at
the Harvard bid round last year, during which a personal narrative was read in
the AC. The ballot story indicated that I must vote for the debater who read
the narrative so she could advance and “spread the message.”

I sat. I voted her down for a simple reason: she lost on the
flow –the other debater had decisively won a conceded, weighed argument against
the nature of her performance while she was busy discussing what had happened
to her.

After the round, I approached her – I came out to her as a
survivor of domestic and sexual abuse. I thanked her for sharing her story,
asked her if she needed access to resources for survivors, and begged her to
warn those watching next time. I proceeded to have my panic attack in private,
and subsequently went to prep out one of the debaters for whom I was
responsible who was about to hit her in the next round.

Does my decision render me a foe to the solidarity of the
movement? Absolutely not: I am a vehement advocate for survivors’ rights, both
as president of the feminist organization on my campus and as a personal
advocate and open “safe space.”

Space is a critical contributor to agency: a
phenomenological approach would dictate that I evaluate lived experience, and
as such, I must pay attention to where that lived experience has occurred. A
debate round is not a forum for crucifixion. If you are a survivor your story
is important… especially to professionals. I have seen many men and women,
cis and trans, walk through the doors of “my” women’s center, seeking help. I
am not trying to say that everyone must decide to prosecute, that is a personal
decision left to those affected. During instances in which someone’s autonomy
was so vilely infringed on, it is vitally important that all possible avenues
are open to them.

 If you decide that
reading your story in a debate round is crucial to your healing process, it is
important to remember three things:

This is not the time for specificity. I may be a
judge, but without a funny wig and a gavel,  I am powerless. Reading a narrative of an
unprosecuted crime is very different than reading a narrative about living life
in prison, for example.  Most lived
experiences, when witnessed, do not immediately implicate the viewer to a court
of law. In being specific, you have made your opponent, judge, and audience
witnesses: If they do not take action, they could be held legally complicit or
in contempt of the court. If you truly want to punish the accused, there are
better avenues to do so.

For the love of all kittens, please disclose the
nature of the case to the judge and to your opponent and to the audience before
the case is read. With 1 in 4 adolescent women and 1 in 10 adolescent men
affected by sexual violence, you can’t “hedge your bets” with who is in the
room. I was only able to handle the round at Harvard because I had my medicine
with me.

Instead of asking for a ballot, which could make
some inferentially doubt your sincerity, donate your speech time to the
“cause.” Silence, when speech is expected, is often more powerful than anything
else. Moreover, should you choose to ask for the ballot, clearly articulate why
the opponent ought to lose the round or why you must be voted up.

If you hit one of these nuanced narratives what should you
do? Firstly, do not pivot your attack around a victim-blaming mentality: it is
not your job to cast aspersions on either of the characters mentioned. (This
issue is entirely avoided if the person running the case avoids specificity.)
We may indict authors, researchers, and philosophers but they are speaking to a
universal or etic experience; in narratives, it is all about perspective, which
cannot be “wrong” since they are not necessarily objective facts. What you
SHOULD do is question the technicality within the case: articulate problems
with the internal warrants of the ballot story. If they do not read a ballot
story, the best thing to do is merely to point that out, thank them for sharing
their story, and move on to your case.

Though I support and understand the educational value of
micro political cases, I strongly urge people not to run micro political
positions that speak on a personal, unprosecuted crime -especially in front of
me — I will write to the guidance counselors and principals of your schools
and I suggest that other adults do the same. We have too much groupthink in
debate: we cannot let someone who is suffering fall to the wayside merely
because of a bystander effect. As adults we must take responsibility and notify
the authorities. Though an event may have occurred in debate, we must keep in
mind that we are not a sovereign nation; there is a “debate world” and a “real
world” and the two are inextricably linked together.  So though a round may not be the ideal forum
for this issue, it is an issue that the debate community must address – but

Coaches can work closely with their school’s
guidance counselors. Debaters are smart kids; smart kids are generally more
vulnerable. We have to remember that these young adults look up to adults more
than even a narcissistic coach would expect. Treat your debaters as human
beings, not as trophy-cases. They have real life problems and unless you are
trained to handle that, you need to work with someone who has the training.

Tournaments hosted at schools can, at minimum,
have cards detailing local resources for confidential and legal reporting of
assault/harassment available in the registration packet. At best, they can
encourage their guidance counselor or a representative of an assisting
organization to be available at the tournament so that immediate action can be

Camps, in addition to having a licensed
counselor on staff, can create anonymous exit surveys for attendees to report
instances in which they were threatened or felt unsafe. Again, local
and national resources should be attached to these.

Judges, after hearing a case, should figure out
if another adult knows what has happened. 
They can then take steps to ensure that the right people know what to
do. There is no confidentiality clause in debate; in fact, most rounds are
explicitly open to the public. Protect yourself and the kids you have judged by

The next step is to encourage your
coaches, judges, schools, and opponents to follow these measures or any others
that may come up in the dialogue surrounding this issue. We need to heal as a
community as well.

If you, or someone you know, is a
victim of sexual or gender-based violence, please tell someone who has the
ability to help you. You are not alone. 
Here are some resources at your disposal:

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network  –
or call 1800656HOPE

To seek multidisciplinary training on this
issue: SATI –

Or select a local center:

Your local Planned Parenthood and your computer
browser are always  good places to start!

I am happy to answer any questions
about this article. You can reach me at
; please indicate that this is what you are writing about in the subject line.