[eDebate] "Illegal debating" discussion

James E. Radford jr jeradford
Mon Nov 5 15:36:43 CST 2007


On 11/5/07, James E. Radford jr <jeradford at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Well-taken. I did want to reply to your characterization of my position
> as "academic freedom should trump all other concerns..." I'm completely
> unconcerned with "academic freedom;" my concern is for regular-old first
> amendment freedom of speech. And I don't think freedom of speech "trumps all
> other concerns." I think there is a balancing act that has to happen in each
> individual instance, and that balance needs to err toward not restricting or
> punishing speech. I worry about throwing the baby out with the bathwater:
> wasn't there some (at least attempted) pedagogical or political value to the
> performance? Does the value of preventing others from feeling harrassed or
> uncomfortable outweigh the value of freely-flowing speech and ideas? I'm not
> answering that question, just asking it.
>
> Another twist to this: from what I understand, the team performed some
> homosexual simulation? If that's the case, then this is far different from
> the harrassment of the past: the guys weren't coming on to or making
> advances toward the women; rather, the debaters simply felt uncomfortable by
> sexual imagery. Would they have felt just as uncomfortable if this had been
> two women simulating sex? And, if so, would this discussion make sense? Just
> something to mull over.
>
> And I don't mean to discourage Wende or anyone else from speaking their
> mind and calling things whatever they want to call them. Just trying to add
> to the discussion.. J.
>
>
>
> On 11/5/07, Sherry Hall <shahall at comcast.net> wrote:
> >
> >  The threatened sexual assault I referred to in an earlier post occurred
> > at another tournament, but involved this same team.  It was explained as a
> > situation where the usual performance "got out of hand."  I was not
> > asserting that a violent sexual assault had been threatened in this debate.
> > I just want back and re-read Wende's post.  I thought she had originally
> > said it included showing pornography, but I agree that that is not in
> > there.  Someone else had written me right before Wende's post and said that
> > it did include pornography, so I confused the two posts.   Whether there was
> > pornography shown or not, does not change the fact that the explicit
> > sexuality created a hostile environment, that this was communicated to the
> > team, and that the coach for that team responded that that was their
> > intended purpose.   It is this admission that the debaters are knowlingly
> > and intentionally creating an environment that makes it impossible for
> > someone else to particpate that I take exception with.
> >
> > I guess I fundamentally disagree with you and Shawn that academic
> > freedom should trump all other concerns.  When I debated there were less
> > than 10 women at the NDT and only one coach who was a woman.  People sat
> > around trying to figure out why more women chose not to participate in
> > college debate.  A not insubstantial number of us concluded that sexual
> > harassment, both in rounds and among squads, was a big part of the problem.
> > We embarked on a grass-roots consciousness raising campaign in the early
> > 90s.  At that time we said that our goal was to try to make people aware of
> > the kinds of practices and actions that made debating difficult for women.
> > I felt strongly that an explicit policy against sexual harassment was
> > unnecessary because most of the people in this activity are basically
> > respectful of each other.  This incident, and other recent incidents, are
> > causing me to rethink this position.  I think it is time that this community
> > decided whether or not we are willing to say that people can say or
> > do whatever they want in a debate round regardless of the consequences it
> > has on other participant's sense of empowerment, sense of
> > inclusion/exclusion, and ultimately the overall levels of diversity of
> > participation.
> >
> > As for whether or not it was correct for Wende to characterize the SFSU
> > performance as "illegal", I have to disagree with you again.  Title IX makes
> > it illegal to create sexually or racially hostile learning environments.
> > This is an academic activity, most of the coaches are professors or at least
> > employees of universities, all of the participants are students at
> > universities (at least they are supposed to be :--) ).  The battle to
> > include legal protections against sexual and racial discrimination in this
> > country was a hard fought one, and if someone, especially a freshman, has
> > the courage to stand up and express her discomfort with this situation,
> > which is not the cool thing to do, and not an easy thing to do, then you
> > should not tell her that it is wrong for her to invoke the legal protections
> > that she is entitled to.
> >
> > I am still mulling over what I think we as a community should do to
> > address this situation.  I am leaning toward a declaratory policy that says
> > that harassing speech and performance in debate rounds is unethical behavior
> > that should be treated like other unethical behavior in debate rounds --
> > such as fabricating evidence.  This would obviously require some sort of
> > definition of harassment, and that is going to be difficult.  But I gather
> > from Shawn's posts and some of those that followed, that there is
> > disagreement over whether or not intentionally harassing one's opponents
> > should be protected, and that question needs to be answered.  My idea would
> > still leave it up to the individual judge to decide how to address a
> > specific allegation in a round, just as the judge does with allegations of
> > cheating.  It has been reported to me that the judges in the debate in
> > question were at a loss as to what they were supposed to do.  I think a
> > declaratory policy might help prevent other people who feel that their
> > opponents are creating a hostile environment from being silenced.  It might
> > also help judges who want to take a stand against the "argument" but don't
> > feel that the rules back them up.  I am not interested in creating the
> > sexual harassment police who will go from room to room looking to see if
> > everyone is behaving in a proper manner.  I think that all the women from
> > Cal Poly were asking in this situation was for their feelings to be
> > respected.  If this policy causes teams that push the envelope to be a
> > little more careful and respectful of the feelings of their opponents, then
> > I think that is a good thing.  You can call this censorship if you want to,
> > I call it basic respect.
> >
> > Sherry
> >
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > *From:* James E. Radford jr <jeradford at gmail.com>
> >  *To:* Sherry Hall <shahall at comcast.net>
> > *Sent:* Monday, November 05, 2007 3:38 PM
> > *Subject:* Re: [eDebate] "Illegal debating" discussion
> >
> >
> > From my reading of the discussion, I gathered that there was some
> > speculation that there had been something sinister, like the showing of
> > pornography or threats of sexual assault.. But, based on Wendy's post, I
> > concluded that that had not happened, but rather, the debaters had done some
> > sort of "performance" on which they simulated sex acts on one another, but
> > there was no nudity. My post assumed no porn and no assault-threats.
> >
> > In-round pornography might, in my mind, constitute harrassment
> > (although, in the context of debate, I would be wary to attach a legal
> > penalty even to porn, for freedom-of-speech concerns, if the display served
> > to further some legitimate pedagogical/political/artistic goal).
> >
> > And I think that Wende, or anyone, certainly has a "right" to call
> > whatever happened harrassment, but, I worry that the discussion of whether
> > the "performance" was inappropriate or even immoral might be obscured by the
> > use of a legal term that means something specific. In other words, lets not
> > confuse the "was it legal" issue with the "was it right" issue.
> >
> > Moreover, I worry that reference to illegality serves to deter
> > potentially offensive speech, which, from my standpoint, and from a
> > constitutional standpoint, is the worst thing possible. There are also
> > obvious line-drawing problems, if the touchstone is whether an act creates a
> > "hostile environment," especially when the very task of debate is to defeat
> > an opponent with a agressively-delivered torrent of combative words.
> >
> >
> > On 11/5/07, Sherry Hall <shahall at comcast.net > wrote:
> > >
> > >  You leave out the showing of pornography to people who have asked not
> > > to be exposed to it.  I think that that clearly violates the sexual
> > > harassment definition at Harvard. Hanging posters of scantily clad women in
> > > office settings has been deemed to violate sexual harassment laws by
> > > creating a hostile working environment under Title VII.  I think the key
> > > here is whether or not the actions created a hostile environment.  I believe
> > > that Wende has indicated that her partner did perceive this to be hostile.
> > > An environment that renders one so uncomfortable as to not be able to
> > > participate in the round seems pretty hostile to me.  I also think it is not
> > > very helpful for you or anyone else to suggest that Wende and her partner
> > > are wrong to characterize this as sexual harassment.  They are the ones that
> > > experienced it, and you are not really in any position to challenge their
> > > perceptions of how they felt.  If they felt they were harassed, if they felt
> > > the environment was hostile, then for them it was.  We as a community have
> > > to decide how we are going to deal with these situations.  We can continue
> > > to turn a blind eye and watch more and more women leave this activity, or we
> > > can acknowledge that some basic standards of respect for the other
> > > participants in this game are in order.  I applaud Wende's openness in
> > > explaining what happened, and wholeheartedly support her right to call it
> > > sexual harassment if she sees fit.
> > >
> > > Sherry
> > >
> > >
> > > ----- Original Message -----
> > > *From:* James E. Radford jr <jeradford at gmail.com>
> > > *To:* edebate at ndtceda.com
> > > *Sent:* Monday, November 05, 2007 12:20 PM
> > > *Subject:* [eDebate] "Illegal debating" discussion
> > >
> > >
> > >  I've been following this discussion with some interest, and wanted to
> > > add something briefly:
> > >
> > > I think it's important to note that "sexual harrassment" is understood
> > > by most to have a specific legal definition, and, when a specific act or set
> > > of acts takes place that meets that definition, those acts may constitute
> > > one element of a legal claim, in court, for monetary damages, under law.
> > > Similarly, many institutions, such as universities, have their own
> > > definitions of specific acts or processes that constitute "sexual
> > > harrassment," and, if one engages in those acts, there is some specific
> > > penalty involved.
> > >
> > > While Wende may be correct that her partner felt uncomfortable and
> > > offended by the team's sexual simulations, it is a big leap to jump from
> > > "offended" or "uncomfortable" to "the team engaged in specific acts which
> > > are proscribed by (a) law, entitling us to monetary damages, or (b)
> > > institutional policy, subjecting the team to a penalty."
> > >
> > > So, there should really be two separate discussions here: (1) Did the
> > > actions constitute actionable "sexual harrassment," and (2) Even if not,
> > > were the actions so reprehensible and offensive, and so lacking in
> > > pedagogical, artistic, or political value, that the team should not have
> > > done the performance?
> > >
> > > I think that, based on Wende's characterization, the actions probably
> > > did not meet the def of "sexual harrassment," and, in that case, that term
> > > should probably be extracted from the debate, so that we can focus on the
> > > merits of the performance and not get distracted by a misleading legal term.
> > >
> > >
> > > Just my two cents, J.
> > >
> > > ------------------------------
> > >
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> >
>
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