by Yukiho Semimoto
This article has non-graphic mentions of sexual harassment and trauma.
This is a little rant of my thoughts I wrote right after TOC weekend, and a manifestation of the goodbye’s that I want to give before I leave this chapter of my life behind. While I will be the acting Executive Director until we fully transition into the next Administration, my role in Beyond Resolved is coming to an end. So here are my (hopefully) last words.
Processing my goodbyes for this activity is difficult. I’ve spent countless hours staring at my computer screen, trying to find the words for how I feel, but none spill out, because there are so many things to say and so few ways to say them. Writing has always been a safe space for me, a place to process my feelings. Today it is not. I feel defeated by the painfulness of last weekend (TOC) and the state of debate.
My senior year was difficult– I won’t sugarcoat any of that. It was a painful journey of recognition that as a girl in this activity I would feel forced to choose between focusing on my own competitive career and giving back to the community, as I quickly learned that doing both was almost close to impossible in a world of time constraints. My entire common app essay was about that: my guilt when I focused on my competitive success and my love for debate. I felt like I was doing a disservice to the younger girls that came after me, that not running Beyond Resolved perfectly would fail them and make them feel the way I felt in this activity growing up. I knew it wasn’t healthy but I clung on to my dreams of what this activity could be, the ones that I’ve clung on to since I realized in freshman year that this activity wasn’t meant for people like me. I clung on to the idea that maybe sacrificing a competitive career would be worth it. Thus, I sacrificed my mental health over the summer and at the beginning of my senior year. I barely slept as I pushed myself to make the free online camp function, to get every committee in Beyond Resolved started, to deal with every complaint, problem or scandal that Beyond Resolved went through. I felt obligated to it all. These lines from my common app essay haunt me : I will choose BR everyday over the trophies that my coaches and younger me dreamed for me in the earlier years of this activity. Trophies rust over time, but heartbreaking stories and experiences won’t always fade away. The girls that come after me deserve a chance at a story unlike mine, a chance at whatever dream they want for themselves in debate. They haunt me because I deserved to choose me over BR, because I believed that not prioritizing my happiness in this activity could be worth it, and because making the decision to prioritize my love for this activity (surprise: debate is more than just trophies) instead later on in my season was an unimaginably difficult one.
TOC weekend was everything that I’ve struggled with throughout the entire year hitting me all at once. The lack of representation makes me feel defeated, powerless, in what seems to be a never-ending sea of unchangeable systemic issues. I can’t help but feel guilty: what more could I have done? What else could I have done to show the younger marginalized folk that come after me that it is within their realms to dream big and be spectacular?
TOC weekend was also difficult because I chose not to compete the morning of. My senior year was a world of not competing– not going to tournaments because of BR, and even when I wanted to, I found myself often partnerless due to circumstances out of my (amazing) partner’s control. I would find myself at tournaments, feeling broken and not competing — just rooting on my novices and my friends. I wanted to compete. Debating in the support system of my brilliant friends was when I was happiest in this activity, I loved debate. Yet every time I felt broken this season, I told myself it would be okay. At least I would have the TOC to make up for a horrible season of tears.
There were so many thoughts running through my head on Friday morning as I told Brian, my amazing coach, in tears that I wouldn’t be able to do the TOC due to how (physically, not figuratively) sick I was. I almost felt weak for prioritizing my health. But making that decision was freeing and the correct one.
Part of the bittersweet tears that I had before making that decision came from the empty anger at the thought of never being able to compete ever again; I deserved my closure– my “at least I’ll have the TOC” moment — I just wanted one more round. The other part of my tears came from the rhetoric that I’ve had to fight off as a debater. When I walk into a room or enter a conversation with another debater, I’ve always felt like I was seen as the BR girl first and a debater second. I resented that. I resented the numerous condescending remarks that I received due to my “lack of success” my senior year compared to my peers, I resented the dialogue that surrounded my peers that didn’t surround me, I resented that it felt like I was only recognized for the work that I was or wasn’t doing enough for the community. I’m not insecure about my competitive success my senior year because I did well, I’m smart, and even better, I had some incredible rounds. I know I’m competent, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t still trying to fight for a better acknowledgement of myself as a debater by the people around me.
The fact that I feel the need to fight off this rhetoric/ perception of me sucks to begin with—that people question whether I will be a valid coach next year (???) or if I even “get” debate to begin with. But something really important that my LD captain told me once (shoutout to Mina) was that when you’re fighting to be respected for who you are and the intellect that you possess– don’t beg for the respect. Just take it. I never really understood what she meant when she first said it– all she said was as a woman and especially a woman of color in this society you’re not always going to get the respect you deserve when you walk into a room. I think I get it now. I was content with not doing TOC because it was my way of not begging for respect– if I debated in a sick state only because of my fear for missing my chance to better my reputation for my intellect, I would regret it. I’m not going to beg for the respect. I’m just going to act like the respect is there to begin with — because it should be, and the work that I put into this activity to be the debater I am today deserves that respect. I am more than just “the sticker girl” or the “BR girl”; I am also a spectacular debater and deserve to be seen and to see myself as one.
While my senior year didn’t go the way it was supposed to, my biggest happiness in this activity is that I became the person I dreamed of being. I have two favorite moments in this activity. The first was when debate finally clicked for me this summer and I started debating in the way I always wanted to, with a heightened confidence encouraged by the certain instructors that made me feel heard as a debater. The second was when I realized I was incredibly proud of who I became in this activity. I am and was not perfect. I was not a perfect debater every round or a perfect activist or a leader. No one is. Yet, I stood up for what I believed in, I put my heart into what I felt mattered most, and tried my absolute darn best.
Some parts of my career will always feel unresolved. I will occasionally wonder to myself: what more could I have been in this activity if I wasn’t a girl? There are so many barriers– we are statistically more likely to be criticized for our voice, the clothes we wear, and face exclusion from the boys club, objectification, and the pressure to fix our community that trades off with our competitive success; there is no doubt in my mind that my career was affected. One of my closest guy friends once told me that there has probably never been an instance in his career that made him think I want to quit, and no trauma that he experienced and that’s shocking, because if my goodbye BR were to be purely about my traumas it would be a good 5 pages (it already is). It would include details of the time in freshman year when my team excluded me because I complained about their nickname for me, “object.” It would be about the time, sophomore year, when I no longer felt safe at tournaments because a debater kept on harassing me and when I said no to being involved with him he posted all over social media that I sexually harassed him. It would be about the time my guy teammates explicitly told me that I would never be good in this activity and that I should just quit, and the countless countless other times that I have felt small, unwelcome, and unsafe.
I am just a teenager. I never got to process all of my bad experiences before I took on an unimaginably stressful role for the community. And to be honest, in a world where people in this community were not shy about telling me that every little mistake I made was a big failure, it was too easy to feel like I was letting other girls down. So a little part of me will still wonder, a little unresolved, what would I have been in this activity if I wasn’t a girl?
So it will take time to process my career, but I do leave this career content due to my pride for who I did become, and with a few messages left to give.
Take activism in this activity seriously, and don’t force marginalized people like me and my colleagues and whoever comes after us to do all the work in this space to make it better. Activism is painful and grueling at times; it is often a sacrifice on top of all that we’ve experienced, a simple inclusivity discussion can be traumatizing for those that are forced to talk about their worst experiences for the sake of educating a new generation. As an ally, don’t just take a Beyond Resolved sticker to put on your laptop — actually consider what you personally can do more to make this activity a better place for your novices and your peers. Don’t just be the voice that says I want to be an ally and I don’t know how, listen to the people that want to speak when they are speaking, and talk with the people in power– tournament directors, coaches, instructors, judges, on how they personally too can make this activity a better place.
Changing this community and activity will be hard; the nature of this often 4 year activity where students get cycled in over and over makes it so that institutions, often with a disregard for bad practices or a lack of knowledge on the extent of the problems that we face, are the ones with more power– whether they use it for good, act as a bystander, or perpetuate problematic norms. Beyond Resolved is only the beginning of a solution as an institution where each generation of debaters will pick up after the next, an institution to hold the status quo accountable even long after we are gone. My last reminder: hold the institutions around you accountable (yes, even BR). Think about the power that the National Speech and Debate Association hold in their hands, the capacity for them to promote change and the capacity of the camp institutions that have access to thousands of incoming debaters, and the capacity of the coaches, judges, and adults in this activity that shape this activity for you. Ask yourself: how can we push them to be a part of our fight or wreak havoc (oops) until they recognize a pressing need for change?
To everyone that wishes Beyond Resolved could have done more this year, I echo that thought, because I too, wish I could have done more. I am sorry for the mistakes that we made and for the change we couldn’t make happen. But I promise you that I tried the best I knew how, and that being your executive director was a great privilege that I will forever treasure.
With lots of love,