by Cara Day
This weekend was one that has brought a lot of attention to newer, more progressive-style arguments being read in Public Forum about inclusivity and equality. Coronado BS’ reading of the “you guys” argument, which critiqued the use of gendered language, has inspired many debaters to evaluate their own practices both in their behavior in rounds and in the language they use. This argument, however, should also inspire introspection on the part of judges.
Upon hearing arguments like these, it seems to be, at least from my observation, the knee-jerk reaction of most PF judges to vote for the team who initiates these debates, without giving much consideration or credence to arguments made in the round by the opposing team. But, this isn’t really their fault. Ostensibly, it would make sense to vote for these arguments, as they seem to make debate more inclusive. However, as we saw in the ASU semis round this weekend, there are plenty of reasons that can be presented as to why they accomplish the opposite of their intention or why reading theory is a bad method of enforcement. Most judges in PF have not heard or read arguments like these because they were not around when they competed. As someone who has judged and competed in both LD and PF, I wanted to open discourse not only about this type of argumentation but also about how judges can approach evaluating it in a way that ensures that rounds remain inclusive for both teams. The following are my recommendations as to how judges should evaluate debates about issues like this:
Go into the evaluation of the argument with an open mind. As we all come into debate rounds with our own personal experience and predispositions, as educators, it is our job to listen to the arguments that the students make in-round and attempt to evaluate the round from an objective standpoint, otherwise, it defeats the purpose of having a debate in the first place. It works the same way as substantive debate does. Though someone might have the opinion that gun control is good or that there should be a UBI, that doesn’t mean that we vote for the same side every round because then the benefits of debate are squandered, and the students get nothing from the rounds.
Remember that the students also have different experiences in debate than we do, so don’t make assumptions. Part of your job is to make sure the debate space is inclusive for students, so if you hear an argument and immediately vote, rather than hearing the discourse on the matter or different interaction with this argument (For instance, small schools responses to things like this), then you shut down discourse on the matter because the other team knows their efforts will be futile. You are also unable to give productive feedback to students on their arguments and their interaction if you refuse to consider the other side. For instance, in the semi-finals round where the “you guys” argument was read, one of the students made a response about being a Venezuelan immigrant and how not debating about the human rights in Venezuela was equally as oppressive, but none of the judges really even took this into account in their RFDs.
Think about LD and Policy: K debaters don’t win every round. This is because there is no argument in debate that is without problems or that is objectively good or bad. Really listen to the responses of the other team and provide feedback after the round that goes beyond just “I think this argument is true, and there’s not much the other team could have done to win.” Think about the argument and TEACH. Help them come up with ways to better cope with these types of arguments, as many teams are just as inexperienced as you are.
Make sure that you are able — to a certain extent — to separate a student’s emotions from the degree of the correctness of their argument. Just because one student speaks more passionately or sounds more upset about the shell they read than the person reading responses to it does, it doesn’t necessarily justify a ballot for them.
Remember that debate is supposed to be an educational activity and that students come into the activity to learn. Don’t admonish students for ignorantly using language in a round that was an accident and that had no intentional malice. It is, of course, a different issue if kids are intentionally being offensive or problematic, but make sure that your RFD and feedback is productive, rather than condescending or designed to make students feel bad about themselves.
Educate YOURSELF. Go read literature on more progressive arguments, go watch LD rounds online and listen to RFDs, or talk to people in the community who know more about the evaluation of these arguments than you do.
The most important thing is that our job as judges is to facilitate education and make sure that debate is a space that fosters inclusion and that it is an environment in which students will thrive. If a judge shuts down conversation or never gives the students a chance to respond to things like the “you guys” argument, then debate is ironically no longer a space where productive debate happens. Remember, while it is the students’ job to make sure their rounds are inclusive, as the adult in the round, it is your job to do the same. The way to do this is not to vote after an argument is read but to ensure that both teams have a way to win the round with you in the back of the room.