[eDebate] Debating the personal from a minority perspective

Ede Warner ewarner
Mon Apr 10 21:57:11 CDT 2006

To Nicole, Nicole, and others willing to leave rather than engage
debates about Roe vs. Wade:  I feel you.
To those excited about having debates about Roe vs. Wade:  I feel you.
I see both sides of this issue because I have been there.  I was
"there" on the civil rights topic when most of the community ran gender
cases and avoided race.  But I was also "there" when race cases where
run and I was personally offended in many of the debates that I judged. 
I had finally gotten what I wanted:  the debate community to discuss my
issue.  It came with excitement that my students and my peers were
discussing issues very personal and important to me.  It also came with
negative racial stereotypes, disrespect, and offensive language choices
that hurt me to the core.  After conversations with our program
coordinator, Tiffany,  and our program assistant, Tria, I'll share a few
of our thoughts in no particular order.
*  Evidence, arguments, and strategies are different from how the
community debates personal issues.  The process of learning about each
other by definition comes with serious "baggage" which gets unveiled in
debates in many unpleasant ways.  Add to this, an already heated issue,
and the emotional beat down everyone takes is easy to imagine.  Harder
to imagine is the beatdown taken by those most personally connected to
the issue.
*  As someone who has made his share of "threats" in response to the
alienation and frustration I've had sometimes to how certain evidence,
arguments, and strategies are being engaged in this community, I would
never tell Nicole how to approach her political activism and where her
line should be.  If she doesn't want to or can't expend the political
energy, I understand and won't try to persuade her or anyone else, to do
less than what works for her.  And although many will say to Nicole,
"let your students decide", again:  that is easier to say when YOU are
not the one personally offended by the choices, and much, much harder
when you are.  It is easy to speak to what others should do, when the
issue doesn't impact us in the same way.
*  As far as the politics of public relations, I agree with Dick
Lesicko, controversial topics that society is grappling with, can be
made into coups if handled correctly.  The flip side is also true, when
handled poorly they can devastate a program.  Getting the public to see
the beauty of critical thought when applied to controversies of the day
is at the least, a challenging task, perhaps overly daunting for the new
director. Over the years, one gets better at public relations, just like
everything else.
*  As difficult, emotionally-draining, and sometimes overwhelming
introducing a personal issue into the community has been, I wouldn't
trade those choices for the world.  The value of doing so outweighs the
costs for us.  We are happy that our students take on personal issues
here in preparation for real-world interactions.  I stay in part,
because of those opportunities.
*  Most importantly from our perspective is something I hope all sides
in this discussion will consider:  there are always several demographics
who are rendered invisible by this entire community, although the
community forces upon them the same discomfort that the Nicole's are
expressing.  This game requires us to "speak for others" all the time,
and we do so with little critical reflection for the importance on
speaking to those who might be affected by our choice to debate "about
them".  This is not a criticism of what we do as much as the recognition
of what we do.  We don't show much respect for offended scholars who
might disagree with how we present their ideas, whether content or
stylistic differences.  On the African topic, how many Africans were
consulted before we decided on the Greater Horn and development
assistance.  On Native Americans, how many tribal leaders were consulted
before we decided to increase control of "Indian control".  When we
research the narrative of the 14 year old girl raped halfway across the
world, is she consulted before we "utilize" her narrative in rounds all
year?  I was on the topic committee, and if I said that we consuled a
lot of Asian folks in the US or in Mainland China, about how to write
the topic with minimal offense to any group of people, or what areas
would be most "inclusive" to the greatest number of folks, I'd be lying.
 The bottom line is we "offend" people all the time, and as primarily an
insular game, there are few checks for the offenses that arise due to
playing the game.  Perhaps that realization is where Colston's and
Richter's fears and beliefs lie.  I dunno.  What I do know is that I
would be a hypocritic to say that we shouldn't debate Roe, but we should
offend someone that doesn't participate in CEDA/NDT debate.  
*  Finally, while whites in the community might object to debating
overturn Brown, we at Louisville certainly would not, and would welcome
being affirmative on that topic.  There is a beautiful complex developed
debate to be had there, although we would be foolish to not recognize
that the overwhelming number of debates in our community won't be
beautiful, complex, or developed, and probably would anger and offend us
most of the time.  But that's okay, for at the end of the day, the
benefits of debating a topic that we care about outweighs not debating
it.  Our goal will be to create as many of those beautiful, complex, and
developed debates as we can, and try to teach ourselves and our students
how to deal with those feelings of being offended in the most productive
and educational ways we can come up with.   But for those that don't
agree, we understand that sentiment too and will not criticize, condemn,
or complain about your choices either, even if that means choosing to
not debate.  I hope that Nicole does what is best for her first and
foremost.  I trust that her decision will encompass the complexity of
her situation because I trust her.
Our squad today was in agreement to vote for the courts first, the
executive and terror second, and ipr third.
Hope this adds productively to the discussion.
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