A Letter to the Debate Community from the Debate Girls of 2014

In light of the recent events in the debate community, we, the members of the Facebook
group “Debate Girls 2014” would like to share our story. We began the group a few months ago
to encourage bonding within the junior class of girls. We have become close friends through
facebook chats, Google+ video hangouts, and talking about debate as well as life in general.

Many of us come from teams with few or no other female members, and some of us are
even lone wolves and wanted to become better friends with others who shared our experiences
as women in debate. The group has been a massive success, currently with 30 members from 10
states. However, we feel our group could be useful as a forum for other junior girls to share their stories and experiences, as well as meet new friends as we have done.

We strongly believe in a discussion space where girls can feel comfortable without the potential for confrontation. While we appreciate the support of males, we feel there are certain issues that are unique to the female experience that require a more feminine atmosphere. If you have an objection to the statements we are making, we encourage constructive discussion in the comments, however we request that people refrain from starting flame wars in these comments as we are trying to create a respectful, safe environment as opposed to a potentially hostile one.

We would like to encourage all other junior debate girls to join our community,
regardless of what school you attend, your participation on the national circuit, and level
of competitive success. We want to be another space for all girls to feel safe, welcome, and
accepted.

Sincerely,
Sarah Barr Engel, Mia Berman, Charlie Blatt, Dana Councilman, Amanda Drummond, Julie
Engel, Kate Garrett, Shelby Heitner, Shania Hunt, Annie Kors, Claire Kueffner, Shruti Kumar,
Charlotte Lawrence, Jessica Levy, Sabina Manzini, Chloe Naguib, Emily Portuguese, Leah
Shapiro, and Shayne Walton

  • There’s also a facebook page called Debate Girls 2015, I am pretty sure you can just join but if you need an invite, feel free to message me on facebook and I will definitely add you!(:

  • anon19429

    I believe these groups will only help to an extent. I suggest students who are moved by this issue should go to their administration. They can ask for mandatory meetings for all students at high schools on how to deal with this issue. Professional help will be better because it will help build the self-respect and strength many need to protect themselves. A survey here and there, a facebook post about someone’s experience, a case asking for the ballot to spread the message, can only simply spread the issue, not solve the issue.

  • Very Concerned Citizen

    I think one thing we should be wary letting these discussions die out as the next big “flamewar” over who knows what occurs. Regardless of whether micropolitics have a place in debate, I think we can all agree sexual harassment is bad. I think we should consider steps we can take to reduce the problems that have been brought up. The Debate Girls Facebook groups are an excellent start. I also have noticed that many round robins have been making a sincere effort to invite more and more female competitors. In addition, I think camps, adults, and students should consider the following:

    I think ALL camps should review their procedures for preventing and dealing with sexual harassment. Regardless of whether Jessica’s specific stories are true, I think it would be asinine to assume that sexual harassment has never occurred at a debate camp. I think the administrators of all camps (VBI, NSD, NDF, TDC, CDI, UNT, IDE, UTNIF, and others I’m forgetting) should outline on their websites policies that will be enforced to keep students safe. Obviously, students should be allowed to have some freedom while at camp, but we should ensure some restrictions are in place.

    I think camps, to the greatest extent possible, should try to maintain co-ed pairs of lab leaders. If we tried to distribute the amount of female lab leaders equally across labs, more girls would have role models they know well and trust, and could go to when they need someone to talk to.

    While some people may disagree about this, I think the NFL should include more topic options relating to concerns that are often “brushed under the rug,” like last year’s domestic violence topic. In the conversations I’ve had with other people in the debate community about this recent position, I’ve noticed that many people were aware of the psychological and emotional difficulties of being a sexual harassment victim. I think debating the domestic violence topic during Jan-Feb had a role in that. While I think foreign and domestic policy topics also have a significant educational benefit, I think we should try to maintain a balance between government topics and topics about personal concerns individuals face. I think the first step to reducing harms like sexual harassment in our community is to use topics to educate everyone.

    None of these are meant to be demands or criticisms of current practices, and my short list is definitely incomplete (and this is a good place to add more suggestions!). And just to be clear, this post is not to be meant as an endorsement or criticism of any specific camp or debater––it’s just supposed to help initiate structural changes in the community that are probably for the better.

  • Lone.Wolf

    inb4 Debate Guys of 2014.

    • Rebar Niemi

      you clearly are from the time after “The Boys Club”

  • This is beautiful. I wish I had this kind of support when I was a debater. Although, I cannot say that I would have had the moxy to invite myself. Do you all send out invitations to join the group? That might persuade the more shy ones who also need a network like this. Another recommendation — if you do encounter a situation that you all cannot handle, it is possible to call one of the hotlines or local resource centers with a friend around (either virtually or in person), if you don’t want to do it by yourself.

    • We’ve sent out a lot of invitations, though we hope people feel comfortable requesting access as well! We’ve actually added close to ten members tonight since we’ve made this post, all of whom have just requested to join.

  • As a coach of three of the girls in this group, I just wanted to chime in quickly in its support. I can only speak second-hand, but from everything I’ve heard from my students, it seems as though the group has been and continues to be an enormous success. I was initially skeptical that much would come of it, but for quite a while now it’s served as a very active forum for a fairly tight-knit group of students to socialize, share stories, coordinate practice rounds, and I’m sure more as well. A couple of my students played a role in the creation of the group, and I’m very proud of them for their part in one of the most concretely successful steps towards doing anything at all about gender issues in debate, amid all the hot air spent on the subject every year.

    Obviously, a Facebook group isn’t going to End Sexism For All Time, nor is it an approved substitute for psychotherapy. Maybe there’s also value to having a broader group for females of all ages in debate, so it’s a good thing Facebook groups are still free.

  • Thelonelywolf

    I’m just wondering, why is this specific to just junior girls in the debate community? I would think that girls of all ages would need support

    • I know of the existence of a similar group for senior girls as well, and we encourage younger girls to make their own.

      • why?

      • I think he was asking why there was a division between grades in the first place.

      • Debate Girls 2013 page is accessible at https://www.facebook.com/groups/240541459410027/

        The intention of our group is to provide a supportive and friendly environment but we don’t claim to replace trained professionals. However, sometimes it’s just comforting to know that people are there for you.

        We encourage any and all senior girls to join! These pages probably don’t have to be separate, but it’s nice bond with girls who are the same age, graduation year, etc. It’s just a fun thing we do for comradery, please don’t think that if you aren’t a senior we won’t be your friend.

    • I agree with this – I think this is a really great idea, but I think that this could (and should) be expanded to girls of all ages, including people who are older/female adults in the community, who could provide some sort of mentorship for the current debaters. Younger debaters could look up to upperclassmen for support and advice. That being said, Catherine Tarsney and Sammi Cannold created a women in debate network over the summer that can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/lddebatewomen/. Any female affiliated with LD Debate can join; it’s died down recently but I think it’s definitely worth preserving.

      • Annie raises a really good point: we have created a group just for junior girls (and as @facebook-1495560528:disqus mentioned, we encourage and would be willing to help freshmen and sophomores start groups of their own), which is not limited to just juniors to be “exclusive” in any way. The smaller group allows for a personal and intimate environment where people feel comfortable sharing things that they wouldn’t necessarily with all of the girls in the community. But Annie’s link IS that all-inclusive forum that allows for the larger-scale female community which we all agree is beneficial.

      • As Annie mentions, the Google Group hasn’t really been active recently. If there would be interest in having a general/all-age Facebook group instead, that’s something we can definitely make happen. If anyone wants to be involved in getting that started, wants to talk about ideas, etc. feel free to message me on Facebook or email me at cjtarsney@gmail.com.

        Also, in general, I think what you girls have done is really awesome. It seems like a great support network; I definitely agree with the point made by Bekah and others that it’s important to reach out for outside help with anything you can’t deal with alone, but I think that just having a group of sympathetic ears makes a big difference, especially for girls without many female teammates, coaches, etc.

      • Hi, this is Jessica Xu. I just made a new post on the women in debate network site linked in Annie’s post. I don’t know if google notifies you about new posts, so I am letting you guys know here just in case. I implore all the girls in the network to read it and engage in a discussion there.

  • It is honestly good to see members of the debate community becoming friendly and staying involved (especially females), but with all due respect, do you as a group have the capacity to handle and help solve “stories” that are within the realm of sexism and sexual abuse? If you think you do, be careful because you are (and myself included) a group of teenagers not equipped to handle the psychological side-effects that might arise. If you don’t think you have the ability to handle these awful stories then what more is this group other then just a group of debaters who are friendly with each other?

    • Grant, I think the point is not that we’re able to deal with all of the things ourselves but rather that girls know that they have a place where they can open up about those types of issues and know that they are not alone.

      • Right, I agree that openness is generally a good thing but I assume (and hopefully I am right) that nobody in your group has dealt with serious issues of sexism, so asking “…for other junior girls to share their stories and experiences” might be asking for a situation that high school students can’t handle. We don’t really disagree about much, haha.

        • Grant, two things. First, this really depends on what your definition of serious issues of sexism is. While I personally cannot speak to issues of sexual abuse, I can speak to some degree of sexism. Second, while we do not pretend to be able to know how to fully comprehend certain things, we do feel that if people want a safe space to vent about anything, we can provide it. I understand that we don’t really disagree, I’m just clarifying our purpose.

          • Glad we are on the same page, did not mean to cause any sort of conflict.

          • Quickly! Message Grant on Facebook before he gets away!