By: Lydia Haindfield, Joy Yochem, Bailie Schaefer, & Anonymous
Compiled by: Sydney Fritz
There is no argument within these words; they are not meant to change you, and they are not pointing towards any grand conclusion. What they are is a perspective, my perspective, and I figured I’d share them with you because you have imprinted yourself upon me. This is, perhaps, a take-it-or-leave-it situation. I’m slipping my letter under your door, and it’s yours to do with it what you please. With that, I suppose I should start in a fairly simple spot.
To Whom It May Concern:
1. My first real year of debate was my sophomore year. I, a simple sophomore, pulled up to Varsity and pushed myself to succeed. My partner and I qualified for UIL & TFA State and even managed to snag a spot for NSDA Nationals. My self esteem was higher than it had ever been. For the first time, I didn’t feel like I was struggling with the echoes of my depression, and it was all thanks to debate.
I walked into the second round of TFA State feeling optimistic despite being down a ballot. If I had known what I had in store for me, I would have turned right around. To be fair, what should have been an easy ballot turned into a wash because I got nervous and unsure of myself, but nothing warranted what you said about me after the 2AR. Apparently, you forgot I wasn’t in the room when you started your RFD, so by the time I returned from the water fountain you were already ripping me apart.
You were the first person to ever say that I should quit debate. I didn’t even hear most of your comments and it was enough to wreck me after you said I didn’t deserve to be there. I stopped crying after an hour, but your words and sentiments never went away. You are the person who confirmed my worst fears at the worst time, and you killed my passion for debate.
2. This past fall, my female partner and I attended a bid tournament two hours away from my home. Our competitors were a team of two boys from a nearby school. We found friends in common and enjoyed chatting before the coin flip. Then, we walked into the room to find you, the young male judge in front of us, complaining with exhaustion about the headache you’d had hall day.
After my opponents read their case, you stopped them. All eyes lifted at the sound of your voice. You turned to my opponents, leaned back in your chair with crossed arms, and asked them to restate their argument. So, the first speaker rephrased their case. That’s weird, I thought. How come you didn’t ask the same of us? I brushed it off and let the rest of the round unfold.
Yet, suddenly animated, you kept questioning and conversing with our opponents as if you were old friends. After the final handshake, you glanced at your flow with an expression of confusion and pointed to our male opponents. “So, you’re saying that…” Again, you invited them to clarify their argument. The exchange among the three of you was conversational, as if you had forgotten my partner and I were in the room. At one point, my partner and I tried to include ourselves in the post-round discussion, but you were dismissive and didn’t give us the opportunity to contribute. Our opponents presented their argument in yet a new way that you seemed to appreciate. “Ah!” you finally exclaimed, “I understand now.” You then submitted and announced your decision to the room. It was as if you had finally found a way to vote for them. I felt my cheeks burning in fury and looked at my partner, who shared my frustration. We received very low speaker points and, because of your ballot, were the only team at the tournament that didn’t advance to elimination rounds- despite our qualifying record.
3. The judge told us before the round that he “just wanted everyone to be polite.” After first crossfire, my partner sat down shaken after your partner called her stupid and screamed over her speaking. I was shocked when you sarcastically made fun of a human trafficking argument. Every time you addressed us, it was disrespectful and sarcastic, and the judge would even look at us for a second as if to say he understood. I was so angry that my head was spinning. It took immense restraint to not start screaming right back- of course, I knew I couldn’t do that. Really all I could do was take it, and debate. So that’s what we did.
Directly after the round, I told you that was the most abusive behavior I’d ever experienced in round. You laughed. The judge grimaced. I shook your hands again, just like I had an hour before. My anger deflated into feeling drained, sad, and guilty. Was I overly sensitive? Was I sensationalizing something that can be common in debate? Was I just scapegoating sexism for being the reason I gave what suddenly felt like a bad rebuttal? I felt stupid for having cried in the bathroom after the round. How you’d treated us didn’t matter anymore- it was in my own head. The judges RFD on tabroom made it even worse: “A spirited debate, perhaps a bit over the top at times, but good content.” He voted for us, and so it was water under the bridge, right? That’s what my teammates said, and that’s how I tried to remember it. It wasn’t.
Most debate rounds leave my memory within a few hours max. I remember this one as if I have a recording of it in my head. That means that often, when I think about debate, I don’t think about winning bid rounds or having the competitive success we’ve had since that day; I think about you screaming at me.
I hope that you’ve changed. Maybe dropping your round against us taught you a genuine lesson, or maybe you dropped a much more consequential round for the same reason. Either way, I hope you didn’t make other girls feel the way that I did- and still do- because of our round.
4. You may not realize it, but your round made my tournament. I had just dropped my out-round and I was devastated. The only thing I could think about was how we could have lost, so my partner and I decided to shadow our coach’s round that she was judging. That round was yours. Novice semi-finals at one of the few TOC bid tournaments our schools attended.
Your round was a pleasure to watch. Both teams were extraordinarily kind towards one another in the round. You could tell all four girls respected each other in the debate space. You two had a much higher skill level than your opponents, but neither of you were cocky about it. I was honestly impressed by your debating styles. It seemed much more advanced than I would have expected.
After the round, my partner and I went up to you both congratulating you two on the amazing round. We were completely gushing over how good you both were, before realizing we hadn’t introduced ourselves. You, however, told us that you already knew us.
One tournament prior was the first TOC bid tournament of the season. Your coach was judging us and told you both to come and watch my partner and me in an out round. You explained how you took notes on our debating style and wrote your speeches based on ours.
I took two main things away from the tournament:
Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis needs to be fixed and have decent media coverage, and
Every debate counts.
No matter how big or small nor win or loss, every debate counts.
So to the two novice girls in the semi-finals round,
Thank you for reminding me of the importance of debate, and never, ever, give up. You two are going to accomplish great things.
Lydia Haindfield, Joy Yochem, Bailie Schaefer, & Anonymous