[eDebate] "Illegal debating" discussion

Sherry Hall shahall
Tue Nov 6 07:10:21 CST 2007

Most of what I have to say in response to this is in my previous response to Shawn's post.  I would like to address the argument about my proposed policy legitimizing speech restrictions on any aspect of any speech that makes someone feel uncomfortable.  I said this in a previous post, but I might not have articulated it as well as I would have liked.  There is a difference between one team's arguments making the judge and/or the other team uncomfortable by challenging belief systems and making a team feel uncomfortable by creating a racially and/or sexually hostile environment.  I agree that one of the most powerful ways to make people assess and evaluate their own beliefs is to create a rupture in what they thought was settled belief.  Subjecting someone who is uncomfortable with explicit references to sexuality through pornography or simulated sex acts or subjecting African-American debaters to the continued use of the "N" word in a debate round is different.  Here you are not just challenging beliefs, you are potentially creating an environment where the other participant is psychologically unable to participate.  Federal and state law has defined that action as illegal because people have a right to an educational environment that does not undermine their ability to participate.  

Is this a hard line to draw?  You bet it is.  I am struggling to come up with the perfect definition that will capture the difference between the two, and it is very challenging.  Thinking about Shawn's previous post, maybe the problem here is fundamentally bound up in this difficulty.  I read Wende's post and think "they clearly expressed to SFSU that they considered this sexual harassment" because that's what the words Cal Poly used to describe their experience mean to me.  The SFSU folks might have heard those words and thought "but it's supposed to be uncomfortable" and can't understand where all this talk about hostile environment and sexual harassment is coming from.  The difficulty in characterizing the interactions between the Cal Poly team and the SFSU team is precisely why I think we need to try to formulate a policy.  The alternative is to bury our heads and say anything goes, and I don't think that's a very attractive alternative. 


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: James E. Radford jr 
  To: Shawn T Whalen 
  Cc: Sherry Hall ; edebate at ndtceda.com 
  Sent: Monday, November 05, 2007 8:54 PM
  Subject: Re: [eDebate] "Illegal debating" discussion

  And. as a postscript.. I just Shawn's post.. It seems that there teams are doing whatever they're doing for a political purpose that is highly legitimate and well thought-out. I don't think anyone should be deterred from speaking and performing the things that are important to them. I think we can draw a ready distinction between what they are doing and a jerky coach talking aloud about the titty bar in front of young female students. 

  The occasional discomfort and offense is the price we pay for a culture of unfettered political speech. What if the complaint was that a team from Army, who had lost their best friends in Iraq, felt uncomfortable, to the point of tears, when teams advanced arguments that cast the war as a farce? I think we would be quick to defend the teams advancing those arguments, even if it led Army to feel hurt or excluded. 

  On 11/5/07, James E. Radford jr <jeradford at gmail.com> wrote: 
    Neil---The first amendment argument makes sense in relation to one's speech subjecting them to an actionable claim in court for which a judgment may be enforced via the coercive power of the state. I realize that, in that context, protections for speech aren't absolute ( e.g. libel, slander, "true threats," etc.), but there is a balancing act that has to be performed to weigh the first amendment concerns vs. the benefit of making the speech actionable. Of course I realize that the first amendment does not apply to, for example, the debate community's attempt to discourage or penalize speech. Imus's firing from NBC did not violate the first amendment; but most of the legal claims against him by the b.ball players were dropped, most likely, because any judgment would run into first amendment concerns. I refered to the first amendment in the context of my concern that someone would bring a legal claim for sexual harrassment. 

    Sherry---Thanks for engaging me in this discussion. Although I have a bit more libertarian view on this issue, I respect the need to prevent behaviors that discourage women (or anyone else) from benefiting from debate. 

    On 11/5/07, Shawn T Whalen <swhalen at sfsu.edu> wrote: 

      As read these last few posts, you support a policy that would provide judges the ability to render decisions on hostile environment claims and the passage below suggests that the only necessary proof of the allegation would be the feelings of those making the accusation.  Are you really comfortable with the effect that would have? 

      Hostile environments can be created in a variety of ways and their is case law on race, religion, ethnicity etc. in addition to those resulting from sexual harassment.  I cannot imagine a single contemporary academic debate where someone could not make such a claim.  The effect of this logic seems devasting to me. 

      On a completely seperate note, I am continually amazed at the speed to which people assert the hostility of our affirmative to women.  First and foremost, go see the damn thing before you make a judgement.  The Cal Poly debaters never made that assertion and nothing in Wende's post seemed to say that either, except that Wende and her partner happen to be women.  (It is also not accurate that any SF State coach said that the argument was designed to be hostile to women or anyone).  The reduction of sexual discussions and sexual behavior to biological sexual catagories of male and female are at the heart of heteronormativity. 

      Also, let me ask you to consider the position of my students a bit more (and I am not referring to just the two debaters who run this argument).  If we should be concerned about the effect that arguments have on participation, we should consider my students as well.  In 10 years working with undergraduates at SF State, the most unifying similarity I've witnessed is a sentitivity to the effects of heteronormativity on their expressions of self.  The criticism in this performance is evident in most of the perfomances done by our individual events students as well.  If you outlaw these discussions (and the aesthetic choices necessary to leverage them) then you exclude them. 


      Sherry said:

      "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...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." 

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