by Esme Longely
I strongly believe that, although national tournaments are an effective platform for sharing a message (Ahana and Allen’s TOC round is a great example of how one round sparked a discussion) change is equally as potent at a local level. National tournaments simply aren’t as accessible to most speech and debate competitors. Travel is expensive, many school budgets don’t cover enough, and the tournaments themselves are far less frequent.
When high school ends, and we are left figuring out quite how we got to where we are, many of us will remember early morning bus rides to nearby high schools, oily two-dollar pizza, and Panera stops on the way back — that’s my experience, at least. Even if something monumental happens during a round at the TOC or another large tournament, the ripples of the aftermath often don’t find their way home, and many students don’t experience the impact.
Larger scale events don’t necessarily make us complacent, but it’s far easier to watch the Quarry round on youtube and perhaps text the link to a few friends than to confront the systematic issues within the culture head on. Disclaimer: I hope that didn’t sound disdainful — I think spreading awareness is key. Promoting and sharing videos or any informative material about issues that don’t get highlighted enough provides a uniting foundation that is the basis for change. This conversation has already inspired people to use their voices outside round and have meaningful conversations about equality.
Sometimes, however, I think we get tangled up in how to actually materialise the consensus into something more tangible. So, while national tournaments are an important part of creating change, we can’t forget about the stories of girls at local tournaments.
Hearing about tournaments made for womxn really inspired me to do something similar. That’s why I recently approached my coach with hopes to launch an all-womxn’s local tournament. He was receptive, but, in his practical manner, replied something along the lines of, “What girls?”
It sort of hit me then that I didn’t really know of enough womxn Public Forum debaters to host a tournament with nearly enough competitors. Moreover, like me, most Public Forum girls in our district are partnered with boys. This presents a conundrum when it comes to hosting something of the sort. Beyond the technicalities of a tournament — which, if anyone has any advice or ideas about, please feel free to leave a message — recognising the number of local girls has vastly increased my appreciation of each individual one of them who attend.
So, to my local debate girls (and any other femxle debaters across the nation):
YOU are fantastic, I hope that you feel powerful for every summary or rebuttal or case reading or cross fire and that your words are important. I hope your speeches feel like home and your counterparts of any gender feel like equals.
When you take a step back, debate is occasionally discouraging. You slip on shoes that give you blisters and wake up at unholy hours to spend your Saturday at a nearby high school. You invest hours researching a topic for a month, craft frameworks, and cut cards only to get a ballot calling you a bitch.
I’m really glad you’re here, though. Meeting other girls in the event is a huge inspiration and is honestly a large part of why I still do debate. Overcoming varying degrees of adversity isn’t easy, obviously. Maybe you feel like putting down your legal pad and taking a backseat in debate for a while (I get you), but if the reason you might feel like quitting is because you feel as if you don’t belong instead of you disliking the event for what it is, then maybe we can be a part of changing that.
I think a lot of the time, especially in competitive environments like debate, it becomes easy to use people as stepping stones until the competition becomes less about individual rounds and more about your reputation in relation to others. And that has its merits– a big picture view of yourself and what you do means that you don’t get stuck on an unfortunate judge or a slip-up.
I think, though, that support and unity goes a lot further than comparing yourself to others. Let’s make this and future debate seasons ones where we actively support each other– it doesn’t have to be intense prep groups or close friendships, but any sort of kindness and positivity is always a good idea to spread!
No matter what happens, I hope you don’t quit because of adversity and I wish you all the fantastic rounds this year:)