Community New Year’s Resolution #2: PF + LD Solidarity by Sunhee Simon

SunHee Simon is a LD curriculum director at VBI. She is currently a junior at Stanford University and coaches here and there.

Resolved: The LD and PF communities need to work together to combat inequity.

“This may be more specific to public forum, but due to the lack of progressive arguments in the event, having a panel similar to vbi’s at certain tournaments would be really interesting to hear/partake in. Especially at tournaments such as the TOC, where external resources play a huge rule in your ability to be there, having more community discussions to better understand ours and other’s privilege would be, in my opinion, a really great idea. Before expecting the community to change and become more equitable, we all need to better understand our privileges and the advantages we’ve been given.” – Pia Dovichi, The College Preparatory School

At each session this past summer, there were several PF staff and students who expressed not having the ability to run progressive arguments or discuss progressive issues. With more “lay judges” and debaters who simply do not question their privilege or opportunity, this is a significant road block to creating a community where opportunity can be expanded to those at the margins. It is important to remember that these same concerns could have easily be said about Lincoln Douglas only a few years ago. In some areas, this still is the case. While it’s become more common place for the LD community to reach into the Policy debate community for judges, arguments, camp hires, and more, there needs to be more interaction between LD and PF in terms of approaching questions of inequity in the activity.

For a variety of reasons, some debate institutions—especially ones that prioritize circuit LD debate—put PF on the back burner. This often replicates itself in our discussions about inequity. While this certainly is not the case for everyone, there tend to be more opportunities for LD to talk about these problems at times by nature of arguments that have been introduced and more progressive adults involved in the activity. We must be aware of these discrepancies and be deliberate about working together within and outside our respective communities. As articulated by Sai Karavadi from Quarry Lane High School reflections on our camp’s Equity Day:

I’m an LD debater and today, I felt seriously over-accommodated. I honestly loved the lectures and activities we did, but I’m not sure that there was much touch on how things operate for PF debaters. And I think that including PF specifically into our discussion is key to seriously create some form of solidarity, because otherwise, we reproduce the same forms of exclusion that we spent all of Equity Day talking about stopping. I suggest we also let students lead some discussions themselves. We’re already separated into labs, so we might as well use the lab time on Equity Day to talk about our experiences, our coping mechanisms, and our struggles in debate, for those who are comfortable in doing so (if someone isn’t comfortable doing so, lab leaders should probably feel free to move on to normal lab activities or discuss their own personal experiences if they themselves feel comfortable in doing so). If we seriously care about creating a community of caring people, we have to understand one another and I think that, as amazing and beneficial as Equity Day was, that we should include more outreach to PF and some forum where students/instructors (if they want to) can share their subjective experiences and opinions, besides simply constant lectures by teams of 2 people.

These are two vastly different yet equally beneficial forms of debate. They can both be used in strategic ways to bring more people into the world of debate and make existing spaces revolutionary if the intention is there. So, what are the potential remedies we can use?

1. Team Bonding

Here is a simple start that most coaches and students. Be deliberate about doing activities that students involved in either activity can participate in. This can range from social activities like games, presentations, or an unofficial day out as team to open discussions or team meetings about disparities that exist in each activity. As Sai mentions, LD tends to be over accommodated and centered in most discussions, so being intentional about balance is key. If your team shows the opposite tendency—where PFers are prioritized over LDers—the same need for balance applies. Meeting half way and tuning into the concerns, desires, goals, and aspirations of all students regardless of their form of debate helps create a strong community within your schools. Before changing the activity, thinking about changing dynamics on your own turf is an easier place to start, especially when planning to discuss race, gender, and class disparities in both activities.

2. Judge training

This is one more for coaches. Several schools that have parent judges or judges who have never done debate have training sessions where they teach them about how arguments work, the structure of debates, how to work Tabroom and how to be an efficient judge. If it seems possible, integrating sensitivity training and/or implicit bias awareness could be a step in the right direction. A quick google search (I recommend looking at activities geared towards teachers since judges are educators) can reveal numerous activities and resources that one can use to bring awareness to these issues. For students, perhaps bringing this idea to your coaches or others on your circuit you respect could make this possible. Coaches, being deliberate and finding a way to integrate this into training is worth a shot. There is no reason a judge, regardless of their experience, should tell a student her voice is too shrill or put their pen down as soon as student says, “racism exists”. We shouldn’t shrug this off as a typical experience. We should do everything we can to rewrite the narrative and educate more people about the danger in bias—especially when targeted towards children.

3. Community Discussions

As Pia mentioned, a panel or workshop can be a great way to talk about privilege and equity especially when more “progressive” arguments are not run in debate rounds to spark these discussions in the activity. This strategy seems to be popular with student suggestions, so if this method speaks to you, give it a shot (for an example of a panel, you can check out our LA2 format , the video starts on information on how the panel will be conducted)! While you might not be able to find an easy fit for these conversations at tournaments, narrowing your scope and your audience at first is a helpful place to start. For PFers specifically, maybe starting at a major tournament on your local circuit first can help you figure out how an event like this could be structured. If you’d like for these to happen at a large tournament, contact administrators and tournament directors. Take initiative and plan ahead of time. You’d be surprised with how far you can get and what doors you can open.

4. Promoting the Accessibility of PF

While PF is certainly going through its changes as well, in terms of speed, content, and presentation PF offers an amazing opportunity to bring debate to people who don’t want to speak at 400 words a minute, want a partner for support, and don’t want to spend closer to an hour in one debate. It also presents an opportunity to bring everyone to the table, from the ESL parent judging for their child to the guest professor interested in the activity to a college policy debater. It provides the ability to discuss worldly issues in a digestible way which is an incredibly useful skill. This is a great example of public speaking and it is a skill that students and parent across the board find useful. Play into that and emphasis that their presence—as a girl, a person of color, a low-income student—is a great addition to your team. There is an amazing opportunity within PF and all of us, regardless of what we coach or compete it, can use it to bring more people into debate in general.

These are of course from the perspective of an LD and somewhat policy background. I’d love for PFers to take the lead on this discussion, poke holes in these strategies, and/or enhance them even more.

Read the previous community resolution here.