A Letter to my Novices

by Liaa Fernandez

Dear novices (and JVs),

I was originally not going to write you this note, because I hadn’t been elected captain at the last minute after losing the presidency, because I hadn’t found Beyond Resolved, because my schedule had been preventing me from competing and researching forensics as often as I’d like, because I wasn’t supposed to go to the Women’s Debate Institute, a camp meant for policy debaters that somehow left me despairing more about the exclusivist state of PF….because until a few months ago, I hadn’t been planning on debating this year at all.

Soon you will learn from this activity that sometimes the things we love the most cause us the greatest pain. But hopefully not at the same level with which I have wrestled with debate over the past few months.

Perhaps at the end of my high school career I’ll wax poetic again of all the laughs we have shared at tournaments, over bad judges and inside jokes and opponents that just didn’t seem to get it. And hopefully by then I’ll be able to say that the internal – yet no less painful – struggle I endured during my junior season was worth it. But I’m not here to write you a sonnet today.

Dear novices, I urge you to think about the state of the activity you partake in. Sure, people may say that this is a burden to impose upon doe-eyed freshmen just looking for a hobby, but purveyors of change only work when they pass on those ideas to the ones that will come after them. It’s never too late to start.

Think about why you are only able to compete at 1-2 tournaments a month, despite having a coach and several captains who want you to maximize your cases as much as you can. Your officers will never tell you that the school’s lack of financial support has them struggling to make ends meet. Think about why everyone at tournaments looks like you – all white or brown boys – and why the few girls that joined you at our interest meeting have since dropped out, citing time commitments or other priorities. Sure, you can make the warrant that perhaps they weren’t really interested in debate, but then why do you never compete against many girls either? Why do you take the boys – whose voices are about as loud as mine – more seriously than me when I’m trying to start the lab? Why do you constantly talk over the female varsity members on your team and require a reprimanding from our coach or the other male officers?

I guess what I hope you take from these questions is not that your captain is bitter about the time and commitment it has taken for her to get to her level; in fact, debate is what has given her the friends she has now, and it has saved her life multiple times (but that’s for another post). She hopes that you gain the same level of support she has acquired in order to achieve your own goals. But here I present for you a list of questions that I would expect you to ask me in a crossfire.

Because when my time in PF is over and I move on to the college circuits, I hope you would continue the work of mine and so many other girls in returning PF to the people it may not have been written for, but who desperately need this platform in order to learn the true value of their own voices: kids of all genders, races, religions, sexualities and more. Not the oversaturated, white, predominantly upper-class boy game it has become in my time here, with topics that (sometimes) pertain to what we hear about and experience on the current day.

I’d like to humbly think that my argumentative skills and newfound confidence in everyday interactions is because I’m product of just how much PF can positively impact your life. And the reason I stay after when I feel like giving up is because I want you to reap those benefits too. Use your voices to vote for NSDA resolutions that speak to your experiences and when you don’t get the ones you asked for, don’t let that stop you! I’ll keep teaching you social/structural arguments until I get my diploma to prove to you that you can leverage your sport as a platform to speak about your own experiences. So that when I look back on my high school debate years, maybe you (and the rest of my successors) will finally be able to prove me wrong on the resolution that “Resolved: Public forum debate no longer caters to the demographic makeup of America’s public forum.”



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