[eDebate] "Illegal debating" discussion

Sherry Hall shahall
Tue Nov 6 21:36:22 CST 2007

I want to thank Shawn for agreeing that this is an issue we need to work on together.  I hope that we can move forward productively as a community to try to come up with some solutions.  No one in this activity wants to be in a position of censoring someone else's arguments.  No matter how hard we try to craft the perfect policy, we are never going to come up with one that will completely satisfy everyone.  My hope from this discussion is that we strive to treat each other with respect.  If someone tells you that your performance creates a sexually or racially hostile environment, then you should be ethically bound to respect their feelings.  If we can't agree on the basic premise that we should treat each other in a respectful manner, then we have some real serious problems.

As far as solutions are concerned, I received an email from someone today who said that she had judged so many different rounds that centered around explicit sexual discussions, imagery, etc. (not necessarily SFSU debaters) that she decided to address this issue in her judging philosophy.  I don't think she would mind my quoting her judging philsophy since it is already a matter of public record.  She says:

Explicit material in debate - Although I am for free speech, I am also a strong advocate for creating non-hostile environments in educational settings. I believe debate is an academic activity that uses the classroom as a laboratory, but it is still a classroom and I am still an educator. Therefore, I am inclined to disallow material in debate that I would disallow in my classroom experiences. I believe that you can discuss certain things without using explicit sexual descriptors and/or explicit language. Although this has not been widespread in debate, I feel its important to let people know that I will consider a request from the opposing team (or from me) to stop the use of explicit material/language to be a signal of discomfort on their (or my) part, and deserving of respect. In the end, if you are going to make such arguments, it is probably a good idea not to prefer me. And if you have me as a judge, I consider this a statement of my discomfort with this material and hope that you would respect that and change your approach. 

I think that everyone should update their judging philosophies and include some mention of what your position on this issue is in it.  This allows each person to express her/his views to the teams in advance, with fair warning to both teams.  It is also something that each of us as individuals can do without having to rely on the CEDA policy, or for the NDT Committee to implement a new policy.  Instead of waiting for some other body to express what may or may not be your feelings on this matter, use your judge philosophies to express them for yourself.  

This issue is on the agenda for both the NDT Board of Trustees and the NDT Committee meetings at the NCA convention.  I seriously doubt we will have completed the necessary research to craft a final policy at that time.  If anyone is interested in helping in this effort please contact me and let me know.  


----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Shawn T Whalen 
  To: Sherry Hall 
  Cc: James E. Radford jr ; edebate at ndtceda.com 
  Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2007 7:52 PM
  Subject: Re: [eDebate] "Illegal debating" discussion

  Seems as if much of my response to the earlier message was unnecessary - this is precisely the issue as I see it.  I fully support a community effort to wrestle with the difficult and complex problem.

  Thanks Sherry,


  Sherry said:

  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. 
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