by Brooke Blanton
Note: This post talks about my personal experience on the Houston circuit and if you would like to discuss anything I mention below, please message me on Facebook.
The Houston, Texas debate circuit could be considered extremely toxic. It is dominated by prep groups that close out almost every tournament on the circuit that they attend. Although strategic, the prep groups tend to be exclusively male leading to the toxicity we currently see at local and national tournaments on the circuit. Most coaches that coach for the teams that participate in the prep groups either turn a blind eye to their students’ sexist actions or encourage it by favoring their male debaters over their femxle ones. This cause the perpetuation of prep groups being created even after the ones who originally created the group graduate. Although I personally have not experienced the favoring because I am on an all-femxle team, I have experienced the impacts of coaches turning a blind eye to their team’s toxic actions. The toxicity that exists within our circuit is perpetuated in 2 ways.
The first is through gaining “clout”. Clout exists when teams fear hitting certain teams because of their past success. This rises teams to a level in which they exist in somewhat of a higher form on the circuit. When exclusively male prep groups gain clout on the circuit, it further encourages males to be seen as better debaters as a whole because males are consistently seen as a higher form within the circuit. I find that when teams gain clout on the circuit there is a correlation with allowing them to get away with things in round that people without clout would not be able to. When I was going against a male-male team that was pretty well known on the circuit in a heated round where both teams were being aggressive with each other, I was told after the round that it was somewhat of a norm for males to act the way they did but when I had done the same thing, it made the judge feel uncomfortable. The judge followed up by telling my partner and me that we needed to act differently specifically because we were femxles. This made me feel as if I wanted to quit the activity because I would always have to be more polite than my opponents solely because I would never have the clout that all male prep groups receive. The clout that the people we went against possessed created an unfair advantage for them in the round because it was expected that as they were perceived as better debaters, they would always be correct with the actions they took or acted in rounds. I generally am aggressive in rounds, and this made me feel that specifically because I was a femxle on the circuit I would have to change. By talking to other femxles on my circuit and in debate in general, I know this feeling is not one just felt my me. Also due to these exclusive prep groups consistently closing out Houston tournaments, there has been a consistent lack of representation of femxle debaters in out rounds. This has made many of my femxle peers and I not feel as confident and at some points no longerwanting to participate in the activity because we did not see ourselves represented in later rounds. It makes me feel hopeless that I could never make it to outrounds due to many factors preventing me from getting to that level. To further explore how femxles have statistically less of a chance to win rounds, I would highly recommend reading the research-based evaluation done by Rich Kawolics, https://beyondresolved.org/2019/06/20/pfchange/ .
The second is through allowing these male prep groups on the circuit to disrespect their peers and end up getting away with it. When femxles have spoke up about the problems on the circuit and how they have been disrespected, they have been silenced. I was verbally abused by a well-known member of one of these prep groups by having them ask on multiple occasions whether or not I would be interested in having a sexual relationship. Even after I clearly stated that I would not be interested, I was still pressured into it. This made me feel extremely uncomfortable. After telling some of my other friends on the member of the prep group’s team whom I trusted and my coach; they told the member’s coach and little action was taken to stop the continuation of harassment done by this team member. The people on that team who I told about it were told that they could not speak about the situation, allowing for it to be silenced and not addressed. In the future, hopefully we will remove the precedent that males with clout on the circuit will continue to be allowed to disrespect and harass womxn with little punishment. I know that I am not the only person to be disrespected by someone with clout on the debate circuit and although I cant tell their stories, I hope more action will be taken to prevent this from happening in the future by encouraging others to speak up about their stories.
I did not write this to attack anyone on the Houston circuit who has participated in these toxic prep groups in any way, but to encourage a conversation about what exists on my circuit and many other circuits all over the country. I also hope that this encourages other people to speak up if they have been disrespected or harassed by someone in a power position on the circuit. I think that it is amazing that we have this platform to share our stories and encourage discourse within our community and I hope that other people will take advantage of this opportunity as well.