[eDebate] Accusations of Illegal Debating

Wende Cooper wendecooper
Sun Nov 4 21:04:14 CST 2007

I'm the debater who made the speech in question. I've been following
this thread, and thought I should add a few things.

First: what happened. Many of the posts on this thread have stated
that there cannot be an objective assessment without knowing the
facts. From my perspective, this is what happened: My partner and I
had been told that this team from SFSU ran a case where they
participated in, as Mr. Whalen states "fully clothed similated [sic]
sex acts". My partner told me the night before the tournament began
that she is very uncomfortable with explicit representations of
sexuality, regardless of the orientation of the action. She asked our
coaches if we could ask the team not to engage in that part of the
performance, and whether or not it would constitute sexual harassment
if they refused. Our coaches informed us that sexual harassment does
exist when someone creates a hostile environment by continuing
explicit behavior when they have been specifically asked to stop. My
partner asked me if I would support her if she decided to leave the
round rather than have to watch a performance that made her
uncomfortable. My first question was "Are you genuinely
uncomfortable?" My partner indicated that she was genuinely so
uncomfortable with SFSU's potential actions that she would not debate
against them if they did what they claim to do.

We debated this particular SFSU team in a prelim round where we were
the affirmative. Before the round, my partner and I explained to them
that she was uncomfortable with explicit representations of sexuality,
and asked that they not use their usual performance. They agreed, and
ran the same framework and arguments without the performance. My
partner and I were completely willing to engage the ideas of the SFSU
team; all we asked was that they not engage in a performance that my
partner found sexually offensive.

In the semifinal round the next morning, we debated the same team
again, so we were locked negative. Before the round, my partner once
again asked the SFSU team not to engage in their usual performance
because the explicit sexuality made her uncomfortable. She was told by
one of their coaches that their intent was to make her uncomfortable.
The affirmative, however, is supposed to create discomfort because of
its attack on heteronormativity, but ignores the notion that the
discomfort may come from the explicit nature of the performance not
the substance of what is being critiqued. In other words, the explicit
display is what made her uncomfortable, whether it was homo-, bi-,
trans-, or hetero-, normative. In his posts Mr. Whalen has suggested
that we should have voiced our concerns outside of the debate round.
We did voice these concerns twice before the round in question, and he
personally told us that the team would not accommodate them.

I would not have given the speech I did if my partner was not
genuinely upset by the performance. I feel that using sexual
harassment as a ploy to win a debate round is inherently wrong and
demeaning to all the people who try to fight cases of genuine sexual
harassment. However, this is something that should be emphasized: it
was the other team's actions, not their words or ideas, that my
partner found offensive. I understand that there needs to be room for
academic discussion of all ideas in debate, but a line needs to be
drawn for actions (as other have stated, no one feels it is within
someone's academic freedom to punch another debater in the face as
part of a "performance").

My speech was not a strategy. Our goal was not to win the round; the
only reason we cared about that happening was as a message that these
sorts of actions are not acceptable in a debate round. I like debate,
and I like winning, but there are things that are more important, and
for me, protecting my partner from being sexually harassed is more
important than winning a debate round. This is one of the reasons
that, when we were asked if we wanted to advance, we declined. This is
also not an attempt to "shut down" an argument, we engaged their
arguments when they were presented without actions that created a
hostile environment.

I don't want this to become a personal issue with SFSU. I did not
intend to defame anyone's character, but I do believe that sexual
harassment existed in the round, that it is wrong, and that it should
not be employed because it might "teach us something". No teacher
would allow someone to perform that 1AC in their classroom, especially
if another student expressed their discomfort. I acknowledge that
there has been explicit sexuality in debate in the past, but I am not
aware of any instances where a team has been asked not to perform to
prevent someone from being so uncomfortable that they were unable to
debate. If SFSU wants to perform their 1AC in front of other teams and
judges who are not uncomfortable, I have no problem. But when they are
asked to stop, they should respect that.

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