Debate Can Be Accessible AND Safe

By Anonymous

Over my school’s extended winter break, I begrudgingly agreed to judge a high school debate tournament because I really needed the money. I have had a longstanding love-hate relationship with debate. I recognize the formative value of the activity, but I associate my memories of debate with heightened anxiety levels (diagnosed) and unnecessary stress. Looking back, I think I was overwhelmed by the hypercompetitiveness, and wish I could have relaxed and enjoyed the experience more. These complicated feelings, coupled with tournaments’ sudden inability to pay judges on time in a virtual world, have prevented me from judging frequently this season. For that reason, I was really surprised by how the activity has changed in even just a few short months.

When I logged into the Zoom room for Round 1, I noticed a participant named “Tabroom-Livestream.” I asked the competitors if they knew who this was before the anonymous speaker piped up to explain that they were here to live stream the round. I was taken aback; why was I not asked beforehand if this would be okay? I checked all of my emails from the tournament and even reviewed the form they had me fill out as a hired judge. Nothing mentioned live streaming. I informed the Tabroom rep that I was uncomfortable with my video being live streamed, and minutes later the tournament director emailed me individually to ask if I was comfortable being recorded because they, “had an extensive process to get rounds live streamed,” that for some reason did not involve informing judges.

I responded that I had not been informed that I would be live streamed and reiterated that I was not okay with my video being shared. The director emailed back that she understood, but “it would’ve also affected our decision for hire.” As in, if they had known that I was uncomfortable being recorded- which has exactly zero effect on my ability to judge- then I would have been relieved of my contract with the tournament. This insensitivity to individual circumstances took me by surprise.

I understand that recording rounds has educational value and is a very effective tool in making debate more accessible. I used to watch debate rounds all the time as a competitor in an attempt to improve. That being said, audio is just as educational as video. There is no benefit whatsoever to having video of a round shared. Videoing rounds, in person or online, is a norm that needs to end. This is especially true in the case of virtual debate considering debaters are often debating from their own homes.

Imagine if a student was in an abusive relationship. Sharing their video in real time reveals their location. Survivors of child or revenge pornography could be identified via facial recognition technology. There are plenty of very real reasons for why someone, especially a child, would not want their video shared. Competitors and judges alike should not have to explain their reasons for not wanting to be live streamed, and such objection should certainly not be a reason for their exclusion from the activity.

Consent to being recorded is not enough justification for this practice to continue. As long as videoing rounds becomes a common occurrence, those who do not feel comfortable being filmed will continually have to defend themselves and potentially be forced into compromising situations. In my junior year of high school, I nervously entered a round of a national tournament that was already filled with spectators there to support my competitor. Immediately, my partner and I were asked if we were okay with the round being filmed. Intimidated, we agreed. In hindsight, I recognize that I felt competitive pressure to consent to being filmed because that was how I could “really make it.” I cannot help but think that today’s debaters feel the same pressure to agree to being recorded, even if they are not entirely comfortable with doing so.

Tournaments need to find solutions that promote both accessibility and safety. Audio recording (with consent, of course) is an easy way to achieve the same effect as video recording. Put simply, there is no good reason to record and live stream video of minors debating from their childhood bedrooms. Let’s stop that.


The author is a former Public Forum debater and current occasional Public Forum judge


Note: The Beyond Resolved blog reflects the ideas of individual authors and not necessarily of the organization as a whole.

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