by Sara Catherine Cook
It’s my seventeenth birthday. No candles, no cake, no party. Instead, Florida Blue Key, a box of brownies, and responses that I thought were turns (they definitely weren’t). Shockingly, I didn’t spend my birthday debating because I love giving rebuttals, seeing hundreds of high schoolers in suits, or dragging Anna Kate (my partner) out of bed to get to round. I spent my seventeenth birthday (and will spend my eighteenth birthday) at Blue Key because my closest friends were also at Blue Key (and also maybe I love giving rebuttals, but that’s not the point.)
As you may or may not know, debate and I have almost ended our ~toxic~ relationship a couple of times this year, as it’s no secret to anyone in this activity that it often becomes overwhelming. Adding prep to homework, missing out on weekends, and dropping every break round for three weeks in a row made me want to just go back to the simple life of playing sports (I’m the proud bench captain of the soccer team) and doing my homework at night instead of in the morning. Yet, I always end up staying in the activity because I love late night “prep” sessions (there is very little prep that actually happens), hours spent on the phone laughing about calling everything a turn, and sprints in crowded hallways to hug people I haven’t seen in months.
When I first learned about the national circuit, I was taught to make friends for the benefit of getting their flows, and possibly trading prep with them. Now, I think that debate friends are the most “slept on” aspect of the community, as they do SO MUCH MORE than just give you flows (that you probably don’t even need). In an activity where it constantly feels like you are losing (as most tournaments end in some sort of loss), debate friends are the backbone of success because they encourage perseverance.
Unfortunately, even as an “aggressively friendly” girl in this activity, it’s taken me years to make strong connections on the circuit.
It’s much harder for girls to make friends in this activity because there is strength in numbers, and we don’t have them.
There is no dispute that girls are a minority in Public Forum: it’s obvious. Originally hearing that there were far less girls in the activity, I expected a tight-knit community, where most girls knew each other and talked between rounds. That is unfortunately not the case. Instead, girls get caught up trying to infiltrate packs of ill-fitting suits, often just to see the circles closing as they approach. For a while, guys on my team wrote off our lack of connections as us being “shy” or not trying to make friends. The reality: I walk up to a circle of guys and the circle immediately closes before I even reach it. If I make it in the circle, the room, or the group chat, I’m always on the outskirts, despite the fact that I do try to contribute. Girls are constantly excluded, not because guys actively wake up thinking “no girls allowed”, but because it’s easier to just hang out with their guy debate friends that they met on Reddit or Facebook Messenger. The debate community as a whole needs to take a more active role in inclusion. Right now, I think that is best accomplished by forming a community of girl debaters who support each other, and combating the “boys’ club” atmosphere.
That’s why I actually jump (my mom can confirm) every time we get a follow on Instagram, a like on Facebook, or another Advisory Board application (ps: still open until August 10th!). I started this website (with Anna Kate) because I think the key to combating the massive issue of girls dropping out of this activity is creating a community that they could never see themselves leaving. Yes, debate is a fun activity. Yes, I love giving rebuttals and traveling to random high schools across the country. And yes, winning rounds or breaking at tournaments feels really good. But at the end of the day, I would trade all of the (minimal) success I’ve had in this activity for the community I’ve found over the past two years. Debate friends are what keep me in this activity and they are the way we decrease the high rate at which girls dropout. Let’s reach out.
Thanks for all of the support over the past month, and tune in to Skype calls starting Wednesday!
Edits: Alexis Huang and Adriana Kim