Agency in Activism

by Divya Sarma

We’ve come pretty far when it comes to the dialogue surrounding sexism in PF. The conversation has come to the forefront in the past year or so, from TOC octas, camp forums on inclusion, and this blog. 

Regardless of all the advances we’ve made, however, I’m cynical as to whether we can break down barriers in debate, not just sexism, but also ableism, racism, and elitism. We have many weapons/tools at our disposal; Our brains, the written word, the internet, and our voices, but we lack one thing: AGENCY. 

The truth is, to most people, we’re just kids involved in an extracurricular activity. We don’t even make up half of the effort that comes with making debate a nationwide activity. Our parents let us participate and pay our expenses, our coaches (if we have them) help us prep and do out best in and out of round, our judges (parent or otherwise) volunteer their time to make our rounds possible, our school administrators (and donors) allow us to represent out school and host tournaments, and tab is responsible for coordinating all of that. If we’re going to change debate for the better, we need to understand that these adults are the biggest barrier to change. 

You and I are in no position to make any sort of decision that can have an impact on this community. Forums on inclusion exist because the adults want them to exist. At Bronx Science, we have Women in Speech and Debate, which was launched my freshman year. Some of my friends tried to launch Equity in Debate to fight other issues, but it never got the green light from our administration. Banning sexist/racist/ableist/elitist language is only possible when judges refuse to allow it in the debate space (even then, not all judges express that on their paradigms, and we’ve seen it happen in rounds before, just read the Hall of Shame). Coaches or admins can decide which teams go to what tournaments and how much/little they want to help those teams, and only tab has the discretion to disqualify teams, so long as tab thinks it makes sense to. If the adults want things to change, they would have done something concrete by now, and we have yet to see it. 

We can talk all we want about how many boys have checked us out and called us bitches, how coaches give that boy-boy team all of this great prep, and how the judge didn’t like how aggressive we were in cross. But understand one thing: youth activism is all bark and no bite so long as the people in power don’t want change. I don’t know how we can change that, but I will continue to bark until I have the strength to bite, and I hope you will, too.

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