[eDebate] [CEDA-L] Accusations of Illegal Debating

NEIL BERCH berchnorto
Fri Nov 2 07:23:34 CDT 2007

Well, now that I have a little context, I actually will offer a few thoughts.  First, while CEDA has a sexual harassment policy, it technically only applies to CEDA Nationals.  Other tournaments can (and often do) apply that policy as well, though CEDA leaves it to the tournament (since the CEDA policy could conceivably contradict school policies).  What CEDA requires is that the general principles of its policy against sexual discrimination be enforced.

I want to talk about two situations that occurred at our version of JV/Novice Nationals the past two years.  I think they illustrate some of the complexities involved here.  
Year 1 (China topic):  Coach comes up to me after round 1 or 2.  Coach is outraged, because a debater from a CEDA Northeast school has gotten almost naked (down to his underwear), ostensibly to look at the "Made in China" labels on his clothes.  The coach reports that the two women who debated for her/his school in the round felt as though the other debater had created a hostile environment.  Coach throws out the term sexual harassment and indicates, among other things, that I could be in trouble with my administration for allowing this.  We discuss this for a bit, and eventually, someone says something about a procedure.  A light bulb goes on for me.  I tell the coach that the first step in this case is going to be informal mediation.  I appoint a mediator (another reason why it's really cool to have Vanderbilt come to your tournament is that ML doesn't usually judge, so she's available for things like this!).  Later on, I see the coach of the other school.  I mention the situation to her/him and indicate that there is a concern.  S/he says something to the effect of that the "nudity" is not crucial to the argument (so why do it?!), so the debater won't do it if anyone objects.  S/he is very helpful in resolving the problem.  I relay this to the complaining coach, who is still not happy, but who graciously agrees to leave things alone.

Year 2 (Supreme Court topic):  Debater gets naked in a round and then walks out into the hallway where he runs (not quite literally) into the parents of one of my debaters who are donating their time to the tournament (note:  all of this is third hand, as I'm home recovering from surgery, though I did make the final call on this).  The judge in that round is very upset (and I believe feels harassed).  The parents of debater handle it well (they just think it was stupid).  My tab room staff, etc. want to kick the debater out of the tournament and have him removed from campus.  I overrule them.  I am, however, absolutely livid with the coach of the naked debater (s/he probably didn't know this until now), fuming to one person, "If s/he wants to be a leader in this activity in the future (which s/he does and already is in many respects), s/he can't have her/his students going to other people's campuses and doing stuff like this."  Only months later do I find out that the coach had no idea that this was taking place and was angry about it as well.  I feel sheepish about being mad at her/him.

Here's the point:  it's great that Shawn has an administration that is supportive of him and his students as they test the limits of discourse.  However, it's not just your administration that you need to be concerned about.  I'm pretty sure (virtually certain) that I could have explained either of these situations satisfactorily to my administration (though I'm not sure I would have wanted to expend the necessary capital).  There are other hosts who could not do so.  Do you really want to argue that your expression of artistic license outweighs the potential cancellation of someone else's program?

I was there, when after the initial "nude debate" at the NDT, the ADA passed a rule banning nudity and drug use in rounds.  I voted against that rule, because I thought it was stupid and unnecessary.  I expected that, after the first incidence of "in-round nudity" (which was well thought-out and was necessary to the performance), people would say, "Been there, done that".  I was wrong.

I still think that debate organizations shouldn't be about banning debater practices, but, as Sherry points out, there are limits.  And one person's challenge to the existing order is another person's sexual harassment.

That said, I'm not sure the legal arguments belong in-round (though they are reasonable to bring up with Shawn out-of-round as well as with the tournament administration).  And, I haven't seen the performance of Shawn's students, so I'm just speaking in terms of abstract principles.

--Neil Berch
West Virginia University

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Sherry Hall<mailto:shahall at comcast.net> 
  To: Shawn T Whalen<mailto:swhalen at sfsu.edu> 
  Cc: Shawn T Whalen<mailto:swhalen at sfsu.edu> ; NEIL BERCH<mailto:berchnorto at msn.com> ; eDebate at ndtceda.com<mailto:eDebate at ndtceda.com> ; ceda-l at ndtceda.com<mailto:ceda-l at ndtceda.com> 
  Sent: Friday, November 02, 2007 7:22 AM
  Subject: Re: [CEDA-L] [eDebate] Accusations of Illegal Debating

  Just to play the advocate here, it is my understanding that CEDA has specific policies against harassment in debate rounds.  I know when we put an invitation out to our tournament and claim to be "CEDA-sanctioned" we are agreeing that those policies will be enforced at the tournament that we are hosting.  If people feel that your argument is in violation of those rules, what's wrong with asking the tournament to take action.  I must also confess that I am not as familiar with the CEDA rules as I am with the NDT governing documents, and am not sure what a host is supposed to do in response to such accusations.  It is also the case that probably every University in the United States has policies opposing harassing language on campus.  From my experience with various university policies that were implicated at summer debate camps over the years, most universities prefer that harassment issues be dealt with within the university before calling in law enforcement (unless a physical assault was involved).  Is your objection to last weekend's action that your arguments were characterized as "illegal"?  Would you really have preferred that police be called?


    ----- Original Message ----- 
    From: Shawn T Whalen<mailto:swhalen at sfsu.edu> 
    To: Sherry Hall<mailto:shahall at comcast.net> 
    Cc: Shawn T Whalen<mailto:swhalen at sfsu.edu> ; NEIL BERCH<mailto:berchnorto at msn.com> ; eDebate at ndtceda.com<mailto:eDebate at ndtceda.com> ; ceda-l at ndtceda.com<mailto:ceda-l at ndtceda.com> 
    Sent: Thursday, November 01, 2007 10:45 PM
    Subject: Re: [CEDA-L] [eDebate] Accusations of Illegal Debating

    Hi Sherry,

    I really don't think its necessary - my point is that if someone thinks that the law has been violated and wants it enforced, they should call a cop and/or an attorney.  The debate tournament is not equiped to deal with those claims.

    That being said,  our debaters critique the heteronormativity in traditional international relations scholarship and in traditional academic debating.  They suggest that the results of heteronormativity have resulted in the structuring of terrorism and queerness in similar ways.  They attempt to "interrupt these discourses, informed by queer pedagogy, by performing a narrative which involves explicit language and some abbreviated, fully clothed similated sex acts.  The accusation was that our performance was sexual harassment.


    I have to agree with Neil.  There is no way for anyone to add constructive comments or opinions about this issue when they have no idea what you are talking about.  Whether you want to debate the merits of the claim or not, some brief explanation of what the issues are -- what is your argument?  what is the nature of the accusation of illegality?  -- is necessary.  Surely, if someone threatens to kill someone else in a debate round, that is not protected speech just because it occurred in the setting of a debate round. 
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