by Rhyen Hunt
High school debate since its inception was meant to emulate American politics. Unfortunately, in an attempt to emulate to the positives of politics such as educational discourse, debate also takes on the negatives, like creating environments that are unwelcoming to gender and racial minorities. Although no policy change is implemented because of high school debate, the idea that debaters are supposed to exemplify policy makers is very prominent. To the detriment of the debate community, what exemplifies policy makers is being male and white. American politics for quite some time has been dominated by white males and many politicians today are former debaters. As a product of this, I think we see the root of many of the social and structural issues that exist in regards to race. This is not to say that you are the anti-christ by being a white male debater, but rather that for too long the debate space has enabled the continuation of a cycle that pushes out minorities. To create change at the top we need to start at the bottom, and the way to do that is to make sure the activities that create the senators and representatives of the future are comprised of more POC.
I have been doing debate for 3 years now and I have seen a lot of things happen within the community. Public Forum is trying to become more progressive, and over the summer, many of instructors pledged to create more access to the activity. However, returning from Arizona State University Tournament, I realized I debated very few people of color. In total I’ve only debated 2 Black-presenting debaters in my career. As a biracial African American girl, the lack of representation is troubling to see. As long as there is a low sum of POC, no matter how much people may claim to be inclusive, this will quietly become the norm. We cannot continue to make empty promises that we will help inclusion. As a student at a private school, I realize the importance of reaching out to communities that lack financial resources. If your school already has a speech and debate program, attempt to get POC to join like others did for me. Don’t do this to make yourself feel better, do this because you realize it’s for the betterment of the debate community and society as a whole if more POC are involved in this activity. We cannot keep acknowledging the problem while doing nothing to help it. To those who are reaching out, that is fantastic. The community needs more though. Public Forum should represent the public and needs to include more voices. What we take from debate is far greater than our records. Being around other debaters of unique backgrounds has exposed me to new ideas and opinions. I think as people deeply involved within the community and in a position of privilege, it is our responsibility to include people and increase accessibility. Without it, the activity cannot continue to grow into a safe space for everyone and it spells the continuation of racist social constructs in our future.