Speech and Debate Stories is an organization that works in the speech and debate community to provide a safe space, change the cultures, and create more accountability for people. This information is provided courtesy of Jazmyn Luckett, Zac Davis, Nina Potischman, Andrea Chow, Tara Bhagat, Nikki Suzani, Simren Parikh, and Katie Raphaelson on behalf of Speech and Debate Stories.
What is your overall mission?
As an organization, we have three main goals. Our first is structural change that allows for accountability in debate. This includes creating a reporting system that can be used by anyone in the debate community, and creating an accreditation system for camps, coaches, judges and tournaments. As stands, the debate community is incredibly decentralized. Prominent institutions in debate do not ask employees for background checks, or references from previous employers. Debate’s decentralization is a catalyst for rampant abuse of power. This must change.
Our second objective is cultural change. Too many people speak about the environment of “hero worshipping” in high school debate that places certain people above criticism. This community’s values are wildly off-base. Being a good debater does not mean you are a good person, nor does it mean you are a good teacher, or a safe person to have around children. We should recognize that the physical and emotional wellbeing of debate’s participants matters more than wins and losses. We want the community to recognize how commonplace forms of sexual violence/harassment are and that we collectively have a responsibility to change debate for the better.
Our third objective is to create a space for survivors. We want people to know that they are not alone, and that their experiences matter, and that people are listening. Not only have we debaters come together as a community of support like others hidden across circuits, but we also have learned to provide anonymous mechanisms for others who don’t have those support networks and publicly support efforts to increase debate equity in an organized manner. We believe that anyone who knows how unsafe speech and debate truly are will realize the necessity for change.
Was there anything in particular that gave you the idea to start this?
Around three weeks ago, sexual assault allegations came out against a prominent debater. Not only were the allegations horrible, to many members of this group, they were unsurprising. We began thinking about what factors created a community in which toxic behavior is widely tolerated. Inspired by pages like Black at Saint Anne’s, or Dear Claremont Colleges, we wanted to create a space where people could share their experiences to reveal how commonplace violence, harassment, and discrimination are in the high school debate community. The widespread support and response to our project inspired us to take action to change the conditions that make this behavior possible and tolerated.
Has there been anything important that you’ve learned in the process of doing this work?
Like most people in debate, we had a fantasy of just making a list of all the bad people that we distribute covertly. However, we quickly realized that this idea was not only legally unfeasible, but also potentially dangerous and damaging to members of our community -- through discussions with the Women’s Debate Institute, we recognized the dangerous interplay between anti-Blackness and reporting. Any list must include rigorous investigations and take active measures to counter these biases. While we believe it is important to have a system that investigates reports of misconduct, we realized that we do not have the capacity to execute that system ourselves.
Was there anything you’ve done or hosted in this organization that you’re most proud of?
We collaborated with Speaking up Safely to create a petition demanding the NSDA creates a reporting system, an accreditation system, changes to their current code of conduct, and a board of younger community members to oversee decisions. We have had phone calls with the NSDA in which they recognized the importance of our demands, and stated they are committed to change. Many district chairs have stated their commitment to concrete change to combat violence within their districts, even if the NSDA fails to act.
Do you have any ideas for how you may wish to expand from here?
We are working on registering as a non-profit to expand our capacity in terms of fundraising, and bring in more legal consultation. We hope to create more resources to make the debate community safer and to share a wider variety of experiences. We want to bring more attention to the whiteness of debate, and how debate normalizes racism; we strive to provide a space for people of color to share their experiences with racism and anti-blackness, as it can be hard to speak out in debate, which is such a predominantly white space. We plan to create other demands for policy changes, similar to the NSDA petition.
If people are interested, are there ways for them to volunteer? If not, how can they help out?
Speak out in your own community by talking to coaches and trusted adults. We can raise even more awareness of the issue and create some “lobbying power” to resolve it. People in positions of power, call out problematic behavior when you see it -- especially when it comes from people you see as your “friends.” Distribute the petition more widely (in instagram bio), and have a conversation with your district chairs, other NSDA officials, or officials and administrators on your national or local circuit if you feel comfortable talking to them. The more awareness you spread about these issues, the more people will recognize the need for change.
Reach out to them on Instagram (be sure to look at their linktree in the bio), Twitter, Facebook, and Stories Google Form to follow their journey. As they said, “We don’t believe we have all the answers; we instead want to provide a space where these important conversations can happen. Feedback and contributions are always welcome.” They look forward to sharing with their audience to make debate a better place and create a meaningful space for survivors!
We will share resources and interviews as frequently as we can. If you know of a project that we should spotlight, DM @beyondresolved on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.