[eDebate] Stopping the Snowball

Anjali Vats anj36
Thu Aug 14 22:29:32 CDT 2008

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but as someone that is
trying very hard, on a high school and college level, to start new programs,
fight against budget cuts, and generate positive publicity for this activity in
a state that already has a number of very serious barriers to creating
successful debate programs, I don't really want to contemplate how much harder
my job, and the jobs of administrators everywhere, have gotten.  It is not furthering any cause, even that of
combating racism in the activity, to bring negative attention to the
community.  Instead, it's placing coaches
in a position, as several people have already observed, where they must explain
to parents of high school students and college administrators why this is a
worthwhile activity.  And, for those of
you that have coached high school students, it goes without saying that
attracting and retaining students is difficult, and getting more difficult,
given the dramatic drop in the  number of existing
programs in many states and the not so awesome economy.  It doesn't help that the norms of college
debate simply don't translate to a high school level and ignoring the impact of
our actions hurts the ability of coaches to recruit high school debaters, draw
students to at the debate camps that fund our much-loved college teams, and
present this activity in a positive light. 
Whether you agree or disagree with their decisions, the fact of the
matter is that parents don?t want to send their students to camps with
professors and college kids that engage in bad behavior and can?t be positive role
I think it's important to recognize that this isn't just a
one-time, limited issue and it?s not just about ?misunderstandings? or
?clearing up? misperceptions about one incident.  Bad publicity is unfortunately often endemic to this activity, albeit on a smaller scale, and it threatens the funding of more than just one school.  In my opinion, it?s very
important that the debate community as a whole consider its conduct and the
manner in which the activity is being portrayed to the outside world (that's
not to suggest that it is just the publicity surrounding the conduct, and not
the conduct itself that is problematic in many instances).  Public exposure is something very new to this
activity and while there have been many positive uses of that new publicity,
it?s important to remain conscious of how we act.  And of course, in typical media fashion, it's
most likely that those individuals that engage in outrageous or illegal
behavior, as Scott so aptly pointed out, or fall outside the norms even for
debate will end up on video.  Debate is an activity that is fairly unique in the sense
that many young students are permitted to voice their opinions and hold
positions of extreme responsibility. 
It's even more unique in that young students and coaches are permitted
to speak to the media about important issues. 
Some of those students may not be ready for that responsibility.  I?m not professing to judge who is and is not
acting appropriately but I do suggest that if you haven?t thought out the
implications of your actions on others in the activity and the community as a
whole, that you not act as a spokesperson for the activity.  I would also note that many organizations
regulate who is and is not permitted to interact with the media generally, a
practice that I'm willing to bet, few teams follow.  The bottom line is we really don?t need
images of chain smokers, professors yelling at each other in an undignified manner, students posting videos
that may or may not be appropriate for public forums, and countless other less
than savory sides of our community eclipsing the benefits of this
activity.  The jobs of directors are
already difficult enough as Paul, David, Jim, Ed, and several others have already pointed out.   There are doubtlessly some people who find the YouTube video
funny, probably others who think airing their grievances in a very public forum
is necessary to advance their cause, and some who disagree that considering the
impact of their actions on administrations or the community at large is
important at all.  All I can say is
negative publicity threatens the entire debate community.  So, if you're going to
talk about driving on less than enough sleep or take your pants off, think
about the message that you are sending to the world and recognize that if
there's a camera around, in that moment, you are speaking for the entire debate
community and not just yourself. 

- anjali

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