Making Debate Accessible for People with PTSD

By Anonymous

CW: Non-graphic mentions of PTSD and abuse

Going into debate, I never thought that I would be taken advantage of in round due to my mental health and triggers. This is my last year debating, and I can tell you that if it wasn’t my ticket into college, that I would’ve quit my sophomore year. It was never safe for me here and it never will be.

I unfortunately was diagnosed with PTSD (seperate from MPTSD) due to a very public abuse situation that left me broken for many years, which I am still healing from now. With the publicity of the abuse, I assumed debaters would be much more understanding than the general public about my mental health and what would be appropriate behavior regarding a seriously traumatizing matter. But not only was it made light of, mental health disorders are regularly fed into through debate spaces, advocating for unhealthy coping mechanisms.

My sophomore year, a close friend faked screenshots of a girl threatening to hurt me as a means of getting me out of the competition. I never knew they were faked until I talked to her this year, finding out she didn’t even know who I was. My mental health disorder is not fair game for attack- and if you have to do that just to win a round, you shouldn’t be in debate at all. : Everyone's response to the matter was the same: “Just beat them and they will leave you alone.” But when I beat them, It only ramped up- to the point where I couldn’t eat or drink during debate tournaments. Right now, I haven’t been able to take care of myself because I know at CX State, people are going to take advantage of something I didn’t have control over. I didn’t have control over the publicity either. Performative activism is wearing a shirt that says mental health matters while yelling at me that because you were a victim of violence yourself, that I don’t have the right to feel uncomfortable reliving this experience.

So here is me begging you to start making changes around you, and take some advice from someone who went through it before. You might be thinking:

  1. I provided trigger warnings, so if you can’t listen to it, just excuse yourself from the round.

The trigger warnings at the beginning of your case only do so much, the commodification of my own experiences as a roll of the ballot is not only insulting but directly makes the experience of debating sickening for those who went through it. I still have to flow the aff- and mentions of war and abuse are fine, but going into graphic details about sexual abuse doesn’t serve anyone well. To specify, I am not talking about performance affs, as those often don’t use the direct experience itself as a roll of the ballot. I’m not even talking about the cases where gender violence, rape, and queerness are examined as a policy impact. I’m talking about the teams who use rape as a shock factor for judges, as talking about a girls experience with sexual violence with such horrific detail makes debate inaccessible to people like me.

  1. Everybody yells in CX, it is just the game.

I’m a very soft spoken person naturally. I don’t yell, I don’t enjoy the experience of yelling, or even being confrontative. So tell me why you feel the need to scream about how wrong I am about your case? To be clear, I don’t even mind it if you yell during your speeches, and I actually love loud, empowering performance affs. But when a man yells or screams at me during CX, my brain can’t tell the difference between you and my abuser. It forces me back into a place where I’ve worked hard to get out of. Yelling directly at a person with PTSD, depending on their trigger, gives you an unfair advantage. I don’t get the choice to forget what happened to me, you have the choice not to yell and scream about menial things. Intimidation shouldn’t be a commonly accepted CX practice. And believe it or not, in other sports, that can get you kicked out for “unsportsman-like conduct.” Why we don’t have these rules in debate is a mystery to me.

  1. Well why are you in debate then? Just leave. You wouldn't have done well anyway.

I did. But that’s not the point. Throughout my debate career I did well, and can definitely win a round. But I needed this for scholarships. A lot of kids do. And actively using someone's mental state against them means that there isn’t a fair starting place for them- you shouldn’t have to skew the round in your favor for there to be a win. If you have to, you should re-evaluate your place as an ally, and step back from debate if you have to, because hurting people to get to the top just means you have an unhealthy view of success.


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

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