[eDebate] Pies, Privilege, and People

Darren Elliott delliott
Thu Mar 20 01:13:43 CDT 2008

I have given a lot of thought to this email.  I have a lot of things for
interested parties to consider.  I have gone back and forth between
allowing my anger and sometimes disgust, determine the tone of this
email.  I have tried to garner the serenity needed in moments like this,
to make sure the email had both purpose and message.  I hope to maintain
that purpose and message throughout.  

I want to begin with telling you about 3 important people in my life. 
Number 1 is my daughter.  She is 4 years old.  Her name is Ashley.  She
is intelligent, beautiful, and a wonderful inspiration.  I love her with
all my heart.  When I watched her play today, and realized I was taking
time away from her--precious moments--I wondered why.  Why is this game
of debate so consuming, so heart breaking, and so wonderful all at the
same time.  The sadness I have felt over the last few days surely
weighed on my mind.  She was now an unknowing participant as my mind
often wandered.  I have felt sadness for a sub-culture that is often
more focused on hurting and not healing.  I felt sadness for people I
have known for years, friends, who have had sharp tongues on this forum
in the last few days.  I felt sadness for the other 2 people I want to
talk about.  These 2 happen to be on my debate team.  They, like my
daughter, are intelligent and wonderful inspirations.  I wont call them
beautiful, but you get the point.  I am not ashamed to say they are part
of my extended family and I love them as I do anyone in my family. 
Today they hurt too.  I write this for them.  I write this in the hopes
that my time stolen from my daughter somehow serves another purpose.  I
write this for a community I love.

By now the controversy has taken all shapes and forms.  There is
probably more fiction than truth in all of the side conversations going
on.  I will address some thoughts I have had and specifically some
concerns raised by those whose tongues have been the sharpest.  Please
indulge me if you have been a part of this discussion.  First I want to
thank the literally dozens of you who have expressed support in private
emails.  The message seemed consistent.  This community is sometimes so
political it is feared that public support will lead to damage to your
own students.  More sadness.  Those who have publicly commented, thank

PRIVILEGE--I have thought a lot about this concept over the years.  I
have given it special attention in the last few days.  I believe we all
have a choice when it comes to our privilege.  I believe some friends of
mine, while calling out the privilege of debaters they know nothing of,
have lost the moment to recognize their own privilege.  When you are an
adult, employed by an Institution of Higher Learning, you have
privilege.  You have the privilege of being in a position of power. 
With that power comes great responsibility.  I believe that
responsibility is shattered when you use that position to demand names,
demand details, and turn that demand into a call for what I believe is
an incitement to harass.  Harassment at any level is an abdication of
your responsibility to your privilege.  My initial thought was perhaps I
misread the intent of that author.  Then another in a place of
privilege, without firsthand knowledge, followed through on the call to
harass.  His email specifically stated that he would exact revenge on
the program he felt responsible.  He would vote against the deed doers
should they not strike him.  He furthered the incitement by encouraging
others to, in debates, use this as a reason for decision.  Another
person in a place of privilege encouraging harassment and vigilante
justice.  Sad indeed.  I cannot comprehend why it is ok to use privilege
to incite harassment as a way to justify punishment for other
transgressions.   I would ask them to reconsider their approach.  In the
meantime, I would encourage others to not go down that path.  Continued
harassment is not only unproductive, but does real damage.  Anyone
conducting themselvebehalf of others is probably not your place.  Beyond that it is in
violation of the very code of ethics cited in the first email on this
subject,  Certainly the 2 people referenced above cannot ask for
violation of those codes as a way to enforce them.  Hopefully calmer
heads will prevail.  If not, I am confident in the organization?s
ability to ensure a harassment free tournament for all participants.

STUDENTS--They are what keep us going.  I often think about debates as
an extension of the classroom and a laboratory experiment.  What happens
when students make mistakes?  How do we handle it?  I recall a situation
where a College newspaper Editor made a bad choice recently.  She
decided to publish a story for condom promotion next to an ad for the
Catholic schools.  To top it off she included a cartoon that included an
obese woman being rejected by a condom machine.  The ?f? word was
prominently displayed throughout the cartoon.  This caused a stir in the
campus and public community.  Emails poured in calling for the student
to be suspended and the journalism advisor to be fired.  The law and
free speech was on their side.  But the nasty emails about the student
especially, were downright sad.  Adults, people in places of privilege,
people charged with the duty of educating were willing to abdicate that
responsibility, because punishment and public ridicule was easier. 
Shame on them.  The journalism Advisor responded to the outcry and made
a good point.  One worth repeating.  When students (kids) screw up in
our classrooms, make bad decisions, write bad papers, include nasty
language, make disparaging comments about their classmates, etc. we deal
with that in private. Federal Law prevents us from announcing to the
campus community what happened.  But unfortunately when journalists make
mistakes its in the public view.  Like debaters, the debate round and
word of mouth, makes similar issues more public.  But like the student
in our classroom, students have rights even if they make mistakes.  No
adult in authority has the right to publically chastise when we are
talking about an educational situation and opportunity.  The problem
with those posting such negative attacks is they want to be the judge,
jury, and executioner.  They want to know all the details because the
pain it inflicts means nothing and the sickness it invokes gives them a
?cause?, something to feel good about themselves about.  But these
are students we are talking about.  The Federal Privacy Law issues
aside, students have a right to make mistakes. Educators have a
responsibility to discuss and fix those mistakes.  This should not take
place in the court of public opinion.  Like any student in a Comp class
or a History class, all students have rights.  

HYPOCRISY-- I often wonder why things play out like they do in our
community.  In the Fall I had people tell me they would never vote for
San Francisco State due to an incident that was put on public trial in
this forum.  I told them that their strategy was morally bankrupt.  They
had an obligation to not ?take a stand? when they were unaware of what
really happened, but to remove themselves from the equation.  Strike
themselves from SFSU.  I hope they did.  Similarly in this situation, I
hope adults with responsibilities and privilege will do the right thing
if their judgment is clouded.  I also think CEDA has a right and
responsibility to make sure when public utterances of intended
unfairness and harassment are to occur, that they act appropriately and
swiftly.  I wonder where the outcry was the first time a pie was used in
a debate.  Were the programs involved too prestigious to get attacked? 
I heard someone once defecated in a bag and touched an opponent with it.
 Where were the folks who so vehemently have attacked 2 students they
know virtually nothing about?  2 years ago I had 2 women who experienced
severe harassment in a debate with the other team expressing how much
fun it was to make fun of these women?s sexualitthey thought it appropriate to tell sexist jokes, all the while with
these two women in tears.  3 judges and only 1 with the courage to say
no.  The others thought it was cool.  A room full of people laughed at
the strategy.  Where was the outcry?  When I mentioned the women had
considered pressing sexual harassment charges at CEDA should this
happen, the response (from one of the most harsh posters on this pie
thread) was to be careful because they would hate to see it threaten the
viability of the offending program.  Imagine my shock when I checked in
today to see what was written about this situation however.  Recently I
viewed 2 coaches, in front of students, engage in a physical
altercation.  I was saddened that day as well.  

RIGHTS and RULES--I hope the conversation about what is appropriate can
continue.  I hope it can do so without sacrificing the rights of any
student.  No student?s rights are more important than any others, and
that is where I am most dismayed in this outcry.  CEDA needs to get on
with the business of writing rules about what is tolerated and not.  I
am fully behind that effort.  Write a rule that says ?no touching? ?no
stealing evidence? ?no hovering? ?no physical contact at all including
the use of foreign objects, pies, etc?.  Write those rules and I will
vote for them.  I hope those on the far left, those who often despise
debate in its current format and call for the abolition of all rules and
structure, will rethink.  What has often come from this is the belief
that it is ok to steal the ballot and sign it, that it is ok to dump out
the other teams? tubs, that you can yell and slam doors during speeches.
 I agree that is not acceptable.  Consider those things when asking for
strict enforcement.  But at the end of the day, wherever you stand, get
on with the business of making these decisions and stop the tactics of
harassment and intimidation.

THE LAW, BOTH WRITTEN AND MORAL-- As educators we are bound by Federal
Law when it comes to privacy and students rights.  I wont violate that
now or ever.  To provide details of everything ever demanded on edebate,
would I feel be a violation of that law.  Why people think they have the
inalienable right to that information is beyond me.  As an educator and
an organization, if we allow this information to be demanded lest
punishment ensue, we are liable under the law as well.  If we are the
demanding party, you are also likely liable.  Perhaps hand in hand with
hypocrisy, you cannot use the law only when it benefits you.  That said,
I think one other thing we should give serious consideration to.  When
we engage in rhetoric that calls someone a racist, or calls someone a
thief, or calls someone a cheater, etc. we are liable for our choices. 
Whether on this forum, very public and archived, or in a debate, there
is liability attached.  As a judge, endorsing or saying in a post round
critique that someone is one of the above, attaches liability.  In this
case, for example, someone recruiting one of these debaters to their 4
year institution was present for the post round discussion.  What if the
charges made or upheld by the critics, who assign their name to a
ballot, effect the decision of that recruiter?  Does that liability
become one that can be charged?  Many in the legal field feel yes. 
Something to consider as we throw around accusations about real people. 
This is also something to consider as we write the rules about what will
and not be allowed in debates.  We also have a moral duty however to
enact.  That is to be sure that everyone has the right to participate
freely and fairly.  I assume this goes without saying and that the vast
majority of you in the community see things this way and have no
interest in being embattled in a controversy that ends in the incitement
to harassment.  I applaud you for that and encourage you to steer clear
of those on the opposite side.

FINALLY-- My name was invoked in one of the emails and some demands were
made.  I will address those the best I can while preserving the rights
of all involved, such as the right to not be harassed.   Demand 1--the
name of the student and why did they think it appropriate?  I?m sure
your backchannel discussions (despite your demand this be in the public)
can inform you who was involved.  I will reference Federal Law above
about divulging student information.  As to why they thought this a
debate strategy, you can ask them as long as you do so in a courteous
and educationally sound manner.  Do it as intimidation or in a harassing
manner, don?t expect cooperation.  Demand 2--what does Chief have to
say?  That should be clear by now.  You also claim I accused Megan of
cheating.  Again I wont name names to protect those who should not be
harassed	 and I wont name the name of the KSU coach in question. 
What I can tell you, is that 3 independent sources (2 not affiliated
with me or my school) indicated that coaching about specific arguments
went on in the hallway, then again in the room where judges could not
see it.  I wasn?t there so I cannot say and as such I wont publicly
chastise anyone.  Advice others would be prudent to take.  If you want
to dump sewage on us then accuse us of cheating, do so if we cheat. 
Finally I will address the question regarding an apology.  All of the
students in this debate talked about it in depth afterwards.  They
continue to have that discussion and I believe have great respect for
each other.  I judged that KSU team 2 rounds later.  The squad made
jokes about the situation during the round.  Does this make you feel

Ultimately I think that some people on here hope there was no apology. 
I think it makes it better for YOU if people who engage in offensive
acts never apologize.  I think you want them to not be sorry.  It makes
it easier to chastise and harass them.  That is a sad statement, but
true.  The Soap Opera is never as good unless the line between villain
and victim can be clearly drawn.  Finally, and make this crystal clear. 
No argument or strategy engaged in had anything to do with the fact one
team said race was important as an issue.  To claim otherwise or to
spread that belief to incite punishment or harassment is a lie and does
damage to real examples of those kind of acts.  The vitriol spewed in
the last few days has blurred the line between villain and victim.  You
have only yourself to blame.

Diante and I have shared numerous discussions, emails, etc. Diante knows
where my heart and mind is.  This community has a lot of work to do.  I
prepare to engage in that work with you.  I will conclude with this.  If
you have read this far, I thank you.  I truly hope as an organization we
can engage in dialogue about what we should allow in debates and not.  I
hope it can be free from intimidation or harassment of any of our
students.  I hope that if my 4 year old grows up to debate, she finds an
environment free of all harassment, free of all intimidation, and filled
with adults who cherish their privilege and responsibility and can
temper it in a way that makes them role models to be looked up to.  In
the end, if she turns out to be the kind, caring, loving person I know
she will be, then she will make me just as proud as the other 2 people I
began this story about.  I hope my daughter will be the kind of people
they turned out to be.  Despite the hatred put forth by some, they are 2
of the most kind, caring, and genuine people you will ever meet.   They
deserve healing and not hate.  They are part of my extended family, and
they are why I do what I do.  

Darren Elliott

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