[eDebate] Recent 'pie' controversy

Gordon Stables stables
Wed Mar 19 13:55:12 CDT 2008

I will apologize for the brevity of these comments, but I scheduled to leave
for CEDA shortly.


>From the accounts so far made available, it does appear as though an
incident last weekend has created hard feelings and left many of us looking
for more information. Justin has provided some information and I echo Tuna's
call for additional details before folks provide public judgments on the
individuals and the specific activity.


The numerous sarcastic postings of the last few days do little to help this
situation and ignore the human beings involved. Megan's email should remind
everyone that careless comments or actions can be very hurtful. I commend
those who have taken the higher road in discussing the matter with a needed
respect for all involved.


I would caution those involved in a more extensive discussion of this, or
any serious matter, to minimize using this forum, especially as the primary
means of consideration. The nature of this space tends to generally
encourage those who are least familiar with the details and most interested
in inflammatory commentary. 


Justin provided an important frame for the event when he first posted. He
asked questions about the nature and acceptability of such satirical
practices. David engaged in a line of conversation that I believe Tuna and
others reinforced - satire is an element of political commentary that has
plenty of value  in specific settings, but physical conduct in a debate
setting appears unnecessary and harmful.


The question that Justin opened with, and seems relevant today, is the
nature of satire that crosses into the physical and demeaning conduct of an
opponent. The references to the CEDA constitution speak to the importance of
providing an environment where competitors respect each other. 


It is undeniable that when debaters engage questions of class and privilege
that debaters will feel a great deal of personal accountability in those
debates. Indeed I would imagine that coaches supporting these arguments seek
to have a conversation about these issues. We should all be aware of the
significance and complexity of these matters as we discuss this issue. It is
not easy to confront an opponent that contends you are in some way involved
in class or structural bias, especially if you also feel aggrieved. 


This should not, however,  encourage students to cross the line into
physical conduct against other students. I have tried to learn more about
this incident, but I also acknowledge my very limited grasp of the details. 


At this point I would just encourage students and coaches alike to seriously
consider the problems of such approaches. A variety of personal and
professional ethical norms should cause great caution when encouraging a
student to physically confront another in any form.


I know some have already made claims that this line between speech and
conduct isn't very meaningful. It is hard to dispute that some forms of
language can, and does, create such harm to others. None of this, however,
should be read as a rationale to simply ignore the question of dissuading
individuals from engaging in physical forms of conduct. 


The basic unit of our activity is the ability to provide a political space
for students to engage each other. We are passionate in the ways that we
feel that space should be evaluated. We must remember, however, that without
a common willingness to share that space we don't have much of community. 


Many of our community understand this fragile trust and work to protect it.
This conversation stems from a single, yet important, debate and ideally the
reflection posed by this conversation allows folks to look at it as a means
of appreciating the boundaries of our activity.


It is not to dismiss or belittle to issue to say that the individual
incident should be further discussed and also that coaches and students
consider these boundaries in their arguments and performances.  I am very
eager to continue this discussion both with folks at CEDA and those who are
not attending. Just please heed the call of the many voices in this
conversation who encourage everyone to see the real people involved in this


Travel safely to Wichita.



Gordon Stables, Ph.D.
Director of Debate and Forensics
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Southern California
Office: 213 740 2759               Fax: 213 740 3913
 <http://usctrojandebate.com/> http://usctrojandebate.com


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