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Why I Didn't Quit Debate... Again

by Sara Catherine Cook

So the past few months have been interesting. I almost quit debate again (after literally writing a blog post about not quitting debate), and now everything finally feels like it’s getting back to where it all started: an actual love for the activity. While this post isn’t for me to stand on my pedestal and talk about how I think people should view debate, I need to express something that I’ve learned. This is my advice to you:

1. Stop basing your happiness in this activity on the wins and losses. For most of last year, even at tournaments where we did well, I always felt a little bit sad afterwards. I was so focused on becoming what I said was “the best I could be” that I could never appreciate how far I had come. Every time we won, I took a deep breath, and every time we lost, I crumbled. It was a constant cycle of pushing myself to an impossible standard, instead of being happy just debating.

2. Appreciate the educational value of the activity. Yes, the competitive aspect of debate is important to me and I love walking out of a round feeling like I’ve won. But in the way the activity is shaped right now, often we ignore the long term gain we get from debating. I’ve learned to critically think about arguments and how they affect different groups of people, I’ve learned to enjoy researching and learning about topics, and I’ve learned how to be strategic with the way I articulate things.

3. Debate for the love of debating. Debating only to prove yourself to other people, win rounds, or gain “clout” is really frustrating, and it won’t make you happy (or at least it never made me happy, even when we were winning). The people who are happiest after debate ends aren’t necessarily the national champions, the teams with a ton of bids, or the teams who made it to late outrounds at TOC. Sure, some of them are really happy, but I can guarantee you there are debaters who are equally happy who didn’t have as much success, never traveled on the national circuit, or never broke at a tournament. That’s because they debated literally just for the fun of it, and I promise this is more productive.

Now, I get it. It’s easy to sit here and think that I’m wrong, that I’m never going to be successful because I “don’t take this activity seriously” or “don’t care about debate”. But that isn’t the truth. I care about the activity more now that I care about the success less. My partner and I are having fun debating again, and we are loving just competing together. Caring about the activity and choosing to enjoy it regardless of success are just not mutually exclusive. You can be happy regardless of winning or losing and still get better and want to do well. It’s just about perspective.

Here’s some highlights from the past month:

Watching Anna Kate (my partner) slam her laptop shut after a rebuttal (yes, we switched speaker positions), and knowing that she feels confident and proud of the speech she just gave. It was also really funny to watch.

Giving a summary and knowing it wasn’t perfect, but being happy regardless.

Hearing Izzy (our coach) tell us how proud she is of us every time we improve just a little bit, and feeling like we are improving, even if only slightly.

You might be surprised that none of these are about wins, bids, or ballots. I’ve realized that these things don’t matter to me as much as they used to. This isn’t meant to look down on you if you care about those things; I know how great it feels to pick up rounds, or bid, or win awards. But here’s my hope for all of you:

I hope you find someone in this community who makes you extra excited to go to tournaments because honestly, debate is way more fun with friends. I remember walking into Yale and running up and hugging one of my best friends who I hadn’t seen in months. Believe me, I know it’s hard sometimes. The debate culture makes it intimidating to talk to teams who have “clout”, and almost impossible to make friends as guys clump up together at tournaments, and don’t leave room for femxle representation. And if you haven’t found your people yet, it’s okay. Beyond Resolved can be your people; I can be your person. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see all your messages, comments, applications to the Mentor Program (PLEASE APPLY), etc. Seeing how much you all care about womxn in debate and what we are trying to do really makes me happy, and I want you to have those running-hugging moments at tournaments too.

I hope you feel empowered. One of my favorite things that has happened this year was hitting so many femxle teams at Holy Cross. I’ve realized that I love watching other femxles debate because it’s awesome to see them sit down feeling confident after a speech, and carrying that energy throughout the rest of the round. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone is good at debate, and that ANYONE can be great at debate. I want all of you to feel valued as a debater, and sit down from every speech feeling powerful, regardless of what the ballot tells you.

I hope you learn to tune out the debate community sometimes. Unfortunately, the debate community sometimes is mean, or rude, or sexist. (That’s why we are trying to create a counter-debate community that isn’t like that). I want you all to know that you don’t deserve it when people say your partner carries you, or that you sound annoying in round, or that you won off of “luck”. You create your success in debate, and you deserve credit for everything you accomplish. Don’t let people diminish what you’ve achieved, and stand up for other femxles (or just people in general) in the community when you see it happening. I want Public Forum to be an event where we celebrate each other for successes, no matter how small they might be.

I wish you didn’t have to handle issues of exclusion and discrimination, but I hope you learn how to. Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues of sexism in the debate community. It’s no secret to any of us. I hope you realize you aren’t alone. I hope you realize that there are solutions to the issues you are facing and that there are ways to make your team and environment inclusive and supportive. You belong in this activity and I want you to always feel like it. There were a lot of times last year when I felt like I wasn’t good enough, or shouldn’t be in this activity. I urge you to talk to strong femxles around you about this because I want you to love debate as much as I do and stay in this activity.

I hope you look back on your time in debate and remember the late night dinners (tournaments are NEVER on time), and the close relationships you formed with people from across the country, or on your local circuit. I hope you flashback to feeling like you own the round after a killer speech or crossfire. I hope what really matters to you lasts.

I’ve been talking to some of my debate friends recently about what really matters to me, as it’s dawned on me that my debate career will be coming to an end after this year. What matters in this activity is what you take away from it. It’s the way you feel when you FINALLY find that card, or finish that case. It’s everything that makes the slight stress and not-at-all-slight exhaustion worth it. It’s the people you wait weeks or months to see, but talk to all the time. So hopefully for the last time, this is why I’m not quitting debate.


Sara Catherine

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