It took me four days to come up with the courage to post this message. I say
courage because I know how ugly our community can be when we are put face to
face with our own shortcomings. But, ultimately, this issue is too important
to let my fears of alienation prevent my post. People constantly question why
Dr. Warner did what he did with the Louisville squad and on our trip home from
UNI, I was asked, Sarah, why do you think that there are so few adult womyn
in the debate community? Before the Kentucky tournament, I had some
semi-formed answers, but after Kentucky this past weekend, I have a much more
Last Monday morning there was a noticeable lack of African Americans and
femyle judges in the open double octofinal round. In fact, saying there was a
lack is an understatement. There was A SINGLE femyle and A SINGLE Black male.
There was not one African American femyle. In the open octafinal round, there
were TWO white womyn and not a single African American. THIS IS NOT
ACCEPTABLE, especially not for a community who prides itself on being so
liberal and open-minded.
Let me first say that I do not think this is accidental or purely how the
computer happened to tab it. I have worked in enough tab rooms and talked to
enough tabroom directors to know that judge placement, especially in elims, is
not something left up to the computer. Some one always goes over the panels
and checks who is placed where. Tabroom perceptions of experience and
competence certainly play a factor in who gets to stay on a panel and who must
go. And, even if the intent was not so malicious in this particular case, why
is it that many of the tournament participants INSTANTLY noticed the lack of
femyle judges, while the tabroom did not (or if they did, they did not care
enough to change it)? I do not believe this is something that could have just
been overlooked by those pairing the rounds. Seriously, this disparity was
VERY OBVIOUS to a majority of the debaters, judges, and coaches.
Some may argue that those who were placed in the open debates are THE best
judges our community has to offer. While I will not take issue with any
particular judges in those debates, I will say that there are many VERY
capable (and often more capable) people that were left out of those open
debates, including (but certainly not limited to) Adrienne Brovero, Kenda
Cunningham, James Roland, Phil Samuels, Marissa Silber, Anjali Vats, Shanara
Reid, Sarah Partlow, Lindy Simonsen, and Ede Warner. This is a list of highly
accomplished and well-respected judges that were left out of the open debates.
I believe that being left out becomes a very dangerous cycle of exclusion.
Debaters notice which judges are on outround panels and are more likely to
pref them in the future. Those judges who are already somewhat marginalized
because they are marked with difference are then further pushed out because
they are deemed to be unable to judge good debates.
Some may say that my argument is wrong because six womyn and one Black male
judged the morning Frosh break-out debate. I do not believe that this
remedies the harm. Although I do not want to belittle the work done by those
successful in their first year, I also believe that the frosh break out is
seen to be similar to novice and JV divisions in other tournaments. Tournament
directors relegate judges they deem to be less suitable for the open division
to the JV and novice division. And even if it isnt perceived like that at
this tournament, I will wager money that the open division was paired first
and only one womyn and one African American male made the cut.
A final argument that may be forwarded is simply that womyn and African
Americans are not the most preferred judges. First, I take issue with this
claimsee the list of judges above. Second, why not? It seems that this just
proved my argument about the cycle of exclusion. If you do not pref womyn and
African American judges, you should question your motives and assumptions. Is
there something that you believe makes us less capable of judging you?
So I opened this post with a few questions that ultimately speak to the
retention of womyn and minorities in our community. The answer now seems to be
self-evidentthese populations are noticeably and continually undervalued I am
not sure that this message will make any substantive changes, but this is not
something I can let go as I stand idly by. Debate is one of my true loves and
I think it deserves better.