Protecting persons, not positions

by Bekah Boyer

My name is Bekah Boyer. What I have to say below is my own opinion and has nothing to do with any institutions or people with whom I may be affiliated. I apologize for any triggers in this article, but I need a forum to speak.

I was never a great debater; my butt was constantly whupped by those who worked harder than I did. Coincidently, that selfsame butt was apparently more interesting to some people in the community than my identity. I was harassed, insulted, and demeaned by members of my own team and others. Sometimes statements were as trivial as “go make me a sandwich.” Most of the time though, actions escalated to demands for oral sex in exchange for a card that the boys were already sharing. Troubled, alone, and not knowing what to do, I spun into a depression.  I wasn’t a lone wolf; I just had no one in whom to confide. Thankfully, an adult in the community noticed that I wasn’t doing well.  She kept me from quitting debate or doing anything drastically permanent because of a fleeting feeling.

I got help. The kicker is I had to tell an adult first.

As adults in the community, we have a responsibility as educators and as chaperones, ethically and legally, to support kids. The question is: does this mean I have to vote on a micropolitical position?

No. It does not.

I had the pleasure of judging two very talented debaters in the Harvard bid round last year, one of whom read a personal narrative in the AC. The ballot story indicated that I must vote for the debater who read the narrative so she could advance and “spread the message.”

I sat. I voted her down for a simple reason: she lost on the flow. The other debater had decisively won a conceded, weighed argument against the nature of her performance while she was busy discussing what had happened to her.

After the round, I approached her. I came out to her as a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse. I thanked her for sharing her story, asked her if she needed access to resources for survivors, and begged her to warn those watching next time. I proceeded to have my panic attack in private, and subsequently went to prep out one of the debaters for whom I was responsible, who was about to hit her in the next round.

Does my decision render me a foe to the solidarity of the movement? Absolutely not: I am a vehement advocate for survivors’ rights, both as president of the feminist organization on my campus, as a survivor (I was assaulted in college, but that’s another story), and as a personal advocate for “safe spaces.”

Space is a critical contributor to agency: a phenomenological approach would dictate that I evaluate lived experience, and as such, I must pay attention to where that lived experience has occurred. A debate round is not a forum for crucifixion. If you are a survivor your story is important, especially to professionals. I have seen many men and women, cisgendered and transgendered, walk through the doors of the women’s center on my campus, seeking help. I am not trying to say that everyone must decide to prosecute; that is a personal decision for those affected. When someone’s autonomy is so vilely infringed, it is vitally important that all possible avenues are open to them.

If you decide that reading your story in a debate round is crucial to your healing process, it is important to remember three things:

  1. This is not the time for specificity. I may be a judge, but without training and/or a degree, I am powerless. Reading a narrative of an unprosecuted crime is very different from reading a narrative about living life in prison, for example.  Most lived experiences, when witnessed, do not immediately implicate the viewer as a court of law. In being specific, you have made your opponent, judge, and audience witnesses: If they do not assist when called upon if legal events do transpire, they could potentially be held legally complicit or in contempt of the court. If you truly want to punish the accused, there are better avenues to do so.
  2. Please disclose the nature of the case to the judge and to your opponent and to the audience before the case is read. With one in four adolescent women and one in ten adolescent men affected by sexual violence, you can’t make assumptions about who is in the room. I was only able to handle the round at Harvard because I had my medicine with me.
  3. Instead of asking for a ballot, which could make some doubt your sincerity, donate your speech time to the cause. Silence, when speech is expected, is often more powerful than anything else. Moreover, should you choose to ask for the ballot, clearly articulate why the opponent ought to lose the round or why you must be voted up.

If you hit one of these nuanced narratives what should you do? First, do not pivot your attack around a victim-blaming mentality. It is not your job to cast aspersions on either of the characters mentioned. (This issue is entirely avoided if the person running the case avoids specificity.) We may indict authors, researchers, and philosophers but they are speaking to a universal experience. Narratives are all about perspectives, which cannot be “wrong” since they are not objective facts. What you should do is question the technicality within the case: articulate problems with the internal warrants of the ballot story. If they do not read a ballot story, the best thing to do is merely to point that out, thank them for sharing their story, and move on to your case.

Though I support and understand the educational value of micropolitical cases, I strongly urge people not to run micropolitical positions that speak of an unprosecuted crime – especially in front of me. I will write to the guidance counselors and principals of your schools and I suggest that other adults do the same. We have too much groupthink in debate: we cannot let someone who is suffering fall to the wayside merely because of a bystander effect. As adults we must take responsibility and notify the authorities. Though an event may have occurred in debate, we must keep in mind that we are not a sovereign nation; there is a “debate world” and a “real world” and the two are linked.  So though a round may not be the ideal forum for this issue, it is an issue that the debate community must address – but how?

  1. Coaches can work closely with their school’s guidance counselors. Debaters are smart kids; smart kids are generally more vulnerable. We have to remember that these young adults look up to adults more than even a narcissistic coach would expect. Treat your debaters as human beings, not as trophy cases. They have real life problems and unless you are trained to handle that, you need to work with someone who has the training.
  2. Tournaments hosted at schools can, at minimum, have cards detailing local resources for confidential and legal reporting of assault and harassment available in the registration packet. At best, they can encourage their guidance counselor or a representative of an assisting organization to be available at the tournament so that immediate action can be taken.
  3. In addition to having a licensed counselor on staff, camps can create anonymous exit surveys for attendees to report instances in which they were threatened or felt unsafe. Again, local and national resources should be attached to these.
  4. Judges, after hearing a case, should figure out if another adult knows what has happened.  They can then take steps to ensure that the right people know what to do. There is no confidentiality clause in debate. Most rounds are explicitly open to the public. Protect yourself and the kids you have judged by reporting.

The next step is to encourage your coaches, judges, schools, and opponents to follow these measures or any others that may come up in the dialogue surrounding this issue. We need to heal as a community as well.

If you, or someone you know, is a victim of sexual or gender-based violence, please tell someone who can help you. You are not alone.  Here are some resources at your disposal:

I am happy to answer any questions about this article. You can reach me at ; please indicate that this is what you are writing about in the subject line.

  • Maisie Baldwin

    Because this is relevant and beautiful.

  • Rebar Niemi

    Stangg and the Fishing Polish

  • In reading the commentary so far on this article, I’d like to try to “reframe” the discussion in what I think was probably the true point of the article.
    A lot of you are addressing very well the most productive and sensitive ways in which to deal with experiences like these in the debate community, especially when they have become such a problem that those experiences are being used as competitive positions.
    But the crux of the article is the bottom, the point that there is a “debate world” and a “real world” and they do intersect, at times more often than the debate community admits and at times less often than they probably should.
    This is definitely one of the latter instances, and the way this discussion has continued is only exacerbating that.
    On the Columbia post Jess pointed out that regardless of your opinion on the position she ran or the way she ran it (my own opinion is fairly clear on that thread), the community is clearly talking about this publicly and so to some degree her position did its job.
    However, a position like that should not make the community discuss how it deals with positions like that.
    A position like that should force the community to be aware of the problems within itself that give rise to such experiences, but also throw in the community’s face the intersection between itself and the real world.
    These positions were experiences first, positions within the debate community second.
    The title of the article, “Protecting persons, not positions” is a great acknowledgment of that.
    I greatly appreciate Bekah writing on how the community can address these positions within rounds, and Chad et al’s same analysis.
    What really needs to be discussed is the bottom half of Bekah’s article. That debaters are high school students, judges are volunteers with professions, or hired coaches and professional educators with very real duties to the children (as loathe as we are to call competitors that) in their care.
    There may be discussions like that going on elsewhere that I haven’t seen. Discussions that ignore in-round treatment of these positions and focus on getting the kids in these situations in contact with professionals, making real world professionals that specialize in these issues in to the debate community. Discussions that instead of reworking the internals of the debate community, make its boundaries to the real world far more porous.

    • Hey Tony! I agree with you that thinking of the judge’s role in terms of responsibility to the competitors is important. The reason I don’t think it’s discussed is that there is a pretty broad consensus on the range of appropriate behaviors, and little anyone can do to add to the subject.

      For me, the rule is simple. If a debater says or does something that concerns me, I tell their coach. Their coach knows them, and is more likely to know if the student (1) is lying/storytelling or telling the literal truth as they understand it; (2) has received, wants, and/or would profit from help; and (3) has resources available through the school or parents. Knowing none of these things, my intervention may do more harm than good, and our community should take care of its own. Plus, the coach has a greater responsibility to the student than I do, and by acting on my own I deprive the coach of the opportunity to discharge that greater responsibility.

      If it were one of my college debaters, I would ask them how I could help. If they didn’t know, I’d help by listening, then refer them to appropriate campus resources. There are experts in this sort of thing, with years of education and training in handling students’ issues, and I am not and have no desire to become one of them.

      What do you think should be done? What would you do? How should I have acted if you or one of your teammates had read a personal narrative of childhood abuse in front of me?

  • Bekah: This was a very interesting read, and thank you for posting about it. Since my involvement in the high school debate community is rare these days, it’s good to see that current debaters and coaches are doing interesting work in narratives and how to respond to them. I’m commenting not on the experiences, or the interesting philosophical issues raised by Rebar and Christian, but rather the fairly narrow issues of the relationship of this sort of narrative to debate and the way these narratives should be evaluated in that context.

    Anyone running/answering a narrative strategy: I’ve worked with high school and college debaters and teams who enjoy running narrative or project strategies, either as a long-term strat or just for a round. As a judge, I was friendly to these strats earlier than most, so I’ve seen more than my share. Here’s the advice I have from my experience, for what it’s worth.

    1. Debate is a competitive event, in which your opponent’s goal is first and foremost to win the round, which means making you lose. You don’t get to alter their goals by choosing an emotionally and strategically powerful AC strat. If you don’t want to have to defend every single word of the narrative, from the ballot story to whether it actually happened to whether the events you describe are good/bad, don’t run it. Ever. Whatever you think is a good justification isn’t. Go proclaim your story in the cafeteria, or write it up and distribute it to everyone you meet in round before running a straight-up value/criterion framework. There is nothing accomplished by the specific act of reading it in the particular debate round you are about to enter that can possibly be worth the trauma people who run these without being able to handle responsive strats experience. Don’t take that on yourself. Don’t inflict it on your opponent and judge.

    2. It’s important to distinguish which of two ballot stories are being told. The first kind of ballot story is (a) that the narrative generates a good (or more of a good) only if the judge votes for it, and (b) that the judge should prefer obtaining that good to other ways to use the ballot. The second kind of story is (a) the narrative generates a good independent of the judge voting for it, and (b) the judge should reward the debater for generating that good. There is no such thing as a “vote for me because I read this” story; that’s how losing debaters characterize the case they lost to.

    With the first story, recognize that they have to show that (1) they do effect some change in the world, (2) that the degree of this change is conditioned on the ballot, and (3) that the judge should care about this change more than whatever they will lose by voting for the narrative. When put like that, the responses become obvious.

    You can think of (1) as harms and solvency of the narrative, and run offense and defense on it just as on other cases. It may be that their narrative being told as it is will be ineffective (defense) or counterproductive (offense) to their goals or some other think independently valuable. Imagine a really successful debater telling a rape narrative. You may be able to argue, for example, that the community already recognizes rape as a horrible and traumatic experience, but top debaters claiming they’ve suffered from it when they’ve demonstrably thrived afterwards in many ways reduces the commonly-perceived impact. If their goal is to raise awareness about rape and make people see it for the horrible event it is and act to prevent it, this kind of argument functions as offense. It may be that their “goal” is already mostly or entirely realized (defense).

    You can think of (2) as solvency in terms of the judge’s ballot. Would the judge’s ballot advance the narrative, or are there reasons the narrative will be more powerful if the person running it lost (maybe personal sacrifice to spread the word increases the likelihood the message is heeded)? Every debater plays defense here, the good ones play offense.

    Think of (3) as the part that lets you generate disads. So maybe the narrative accomplishes a good and the judge’s ballot advanced that good. What harm was caused by the reading of the narrative to things unrelated to the narrative? Was the education enhanced from topical discussion decreased by a non-topical narrative? Was the fairness of the round decreased? Was the opportunity cost of running their narrative running your narrative (the counter-narrative as counterplan)? How should the judge weigh the relative impacts? More to the point, should the judge prioritize her role as an activist, educator, or referee?

    The second story differs primarily in that the judge is acting to reward debaters for behaving in certain ways or incentivize debaters to behave in certain ways. I’ll leave the breakdown and responses as an exercise. 😉

    • Rebar Niemi

      Chad rocks.

    • Erik Baker

      Tell that to Abraham Lincoln, America’s greatest president.

  • the exact problem with ld debate is the idea that certain arguments can’t be run. it’s like we’re in this world of debate where we’re trying to find what is true, a search for the right way to evaluate ethics or whatever, but at some weird brightline it’s like, ok we can’t talk about this anymore there’s obviously a straightforward answer to this and we already know what it is. the idea that some cases shouldn’t be run to me is literally insane; it seems counterintuitive to the whole nature of debate. why isn’t the round a good forum for the issue? policy debaters for years have been running narrative cases, about racism, sexism, classism, etc. to say these shouldn’t be run is to take a massive section of not only literature but a method of politics itself and be like, “this is nice, but trust us somehow we know off the top of our head this isn’t a real form of engagement that should be relevant to us”. there are ways to respond to these arguments on the flow. it’s not like once someone reads a narrative you’re not allowed to respond. like, to say the things you’re saying, you have to assume static natures of so many things, the very things we are questioning as the whole point of debate. that there’s a correct way to evaluate a round, run a specific argument, and correct methods for things concerning life in general, a specific way to approach gendered violence, a specific way of looking at gender in the first place. i know this last part is making me look more and more like that dumb k debater who only comes to a tournament or two every year, but seriously this is the most persistent problem with ld debate, like everyone agrees when we go into a debate round we go into this bubble that is insulated from the outside world and we know everything we talk about has no real practical applications it’s just a game for the ballot (and although debate is just a game, that doesn’t change that we’re having real discussions concerning politics). to assume that the “debate world” and the “real world” are different is to say that everything we’re doing is utterly pointless in terms of education. why is telling your story in a debate round any different than telling it anywhere else? i know responding to this post is gonna make me look like the bad guy, but i’ve been thinking about this about ld for a long time and feel like now is as good a time as any. this isn’t very organized i realize; just kinda throwing this down as i go. i know it seems like you’re on the moral side of things; that’s seriously the exact problem. the reason i come into a tournament with a random k i prepped a half hour before round one and (no offense) just walk straight to semis or finals is because ld is so inhospitable and in a sense hostile to ideas of debate or politics (and just to clear something up when i say politics i don’t mean like the usfg, i just mean the way we engage the world) that are foreign to what has already been established, and the debaters have no idea how to even think in terms of anything other than a case with 20 definitions, a value, criterion, and well-articulated contentions. the solution isn’t just to get rid of these types of engagement just because they make us feel uncomfortable. like i understand you went through your own whole thing, and you dealt with it in your own way. at a base what i’m trying to say is who are you to decide how other people deal with similar problems. if someone decide debate is the outlet that truly helps them best with whatever trauma they’ve gone through, how can you possibly stand up and say, “no, trust me, i know what’s best for you, and you’re doing it wrong.”

    • I’m sorry — to which argument or to whom are you responding? This doesn’t seem relevant to the concerns I raised. I am in favor of kritiks and narratives as well as plan-based and categorical debate…. I also think that sometimes sharing your story is important (I obviously just did). I’m just cautioning people about the real world implications of reading un-finished, personal narratives in round.

      • I took this to be a response to the multiple comments on the Columbia post that did outright say narratives should not be allowed. I think the reference to kritiks was intended an example of how LDers are hostile to arguments that break the fourth wall in debate rounds. I think that’s an accurate appraisal of the mindset of many LDers, and it’s definitely relevant to the use of narratives in debate rounds. You’re right that he hasn’t criticized your position, but I don’t think he’s trying to. He’s just providing an outsider’s perspective on LD norms.

        • ^this guy put it a lot better than i did. i thought we were having a different conversation i.e. from the comments. while i do disagree with parts of the post i’m not saying straight out that the person who posted this thread is wrong in what they’ve said. like she corrected me below, she says that while she doesn’t necessarily recommend it if you want to run a narrative fine. i’m talking about ld norms in general and figured, like i said above, this was as good of place as any to just spill my beef.

          by the way, good job, making fun of my sentence structure that i use in a random comment and calling me “retarded” totally doesn’t prove my point about hostility towards critiques of ld’s standard structure or norms. i would like to think most people consider me a pretty nice guy; even if i’m not that doesn’t make my ideas any less valid. i don’t get why the personal attacks are relevant or necessary.

      • the whole point of this post, unless i’m totally misreading it, is saying that in a round isn’t the right forum to talk about how you were abused… i’m saying that’s wrong. what is an unfinished narrative

        • Ah. Well, a few things:
          1) I tried to be very explicit that while I don’t think it’s the best idea (Granted, I would not do it. I don’t want my therapeutic activity to be subject to a binary win/loss), if “you decide it is crucial to your healing process,” (aka, if you WANT to run it), I have some suggestions for how to do it (at least in front of me). Naturally, I think I’m correct and that these processes should become a norm in the debate to avoid harm.
          2) An “unfinished narrative” is a catchphrase of sorts for *personal* (as in it happened to the debater who is running it) narratives detailing an unreported crime.
          The point of the article is that adults in the community, especially, have an obligation to the young competitors in the activity, particularly those for whom they are responsible. This obligation is the reason I always disclose my RFDs (even when “not allowed”) and answer questions about it — this is just taking returning to the origin of that selfsame, simple obligation (which is often taken for granted) and putting more real world implications into it.

    • “the reason i come into a tournament with a random k i prepped a half hour before round one and (no offense) just walk straight to semis or finals is because ld is so inhospitable and in a sense hostile to ideas of debate or politics (and just to clear something up when i say politics i don’t mean like the usfg, i just mean the way we engage the world) that are foreign to what has already been established, and the debaters have no idea how to even think in terms of anything other than a case with 20 definitions, a value, criterion, and well-articulated contentions.”

      Your post must have been written during the height Bush administration because that sentence was absolutely tortured.

    • anonperson123

      Dude who are you even responding to. How can you say that LD is inhospitable towards critical arguments when you yourself said that you have had success making them. Lastly, nobody cares that you got to semis or finals or whatever at a tournament in fucking Iowa.

      • truth bringer

        The “tournament in fucking Iowa” you speak of is actually Valley, which is considerably more prestigious than your average tournament. While I can’t stand Jon either and think his post is retarded, at least dont mislead people.

        • anonperson123

          At an Octas bid Jon debated one person who is qualified at this point in the season on his way to semis. Generally, it is quite an excellent tournament, but in this particular instance, it was not a great run. Regardless, success at one tournament has no impact on the more general falsity of his comment which I’m glad you agree with.

      • 1) it’s responding to the idea that people should go to professionals or wherever else instead of a debate round and shouldn’t read “unfinished” narratives.
        2) because i actually run them right; it’s still an uphill battle convincing a judge what you’re doing is legit
        3) there’s no need to get so worked up and start swearing. i wasn’t bragging or anything i’m saying that shouldn’t happen

        • Jon, perhaps I should specifically spell this out… It’s about getting professionals involved IN ADDITION to; I never tried to imply that I would absolutely not want to hear a story. I love hearing narratives… I just need a personal trigger warning, particularly when it’s related to sexual assault, and, after talking to numerous people, it seems like almost all of them would appreciate one as well. I just know from experience that healing, from THIS kind of situation, is much easier when a trained therapist is involved. I am willing to concede that that is MY experience and may not be applicable to everyone. The “unfinished narrative” I am talking about is because of people who tell their coach these things and say, “wow, you should run that and win,” rather than inquiring about if they’ve sought help, etc. (Obviously this statement is an exaggeration, but frankly, I grow weary responding to you. If you think that my educational philosophy is terrible for your “strat” by all means, strike me. If you are so unlucky as to have me judge you, I believe I’ve just told you everything I need to hear to vote for you on the flow should you choose to run this.)

        • anonperson123

          I think I agree with you in the sense that people shouldn’t be prohibited from making any arguments they want during speech time, but the problem I have with your post is that you are upset with judges who are not receptive towards these arguments.

          First, I think that they are receptive as evident by your success and the fact that a narrative was in finals of Columbia this weekend. There are many more examples of successful micro-political debaters in LD in years past.

          Second, I think judges should be more interventionist against narratives as a reason to win the round. You say this view makes it seem like the judge has the power to know when an argument is important or not, but it makes particular sense to me for the judge to use their gut in determining whether narratives are appropriate for a round. The reason is because debate as a forum for first person narratives has a few problems.

          1. Even with a trigger warning-what should the other debater or judge do if they are not ready to confront issues that the narrative brings up? As a debater-either you have to concede the round or you are forced to tell somebody else that you are not comfortable with the narrative for personal reasons that you may not want to reveal. As a judge-either you say that you are ready to listen to something that could be traumatic or you have to say that you are not forcing you to confront internal issues against your will.

          2. Narratives are an engagement with the real world in a different way than role playing the federal government or individuals in an abstract moral situation. The latter is more appropriate for debate rounds because if someone loses that their aff causes extinction it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. If someone loses that their personal narrative is not worthy of reproduction that is bad, It entrenches the problem of the hierarchy of debate because who are not skilled enough to win Columbia finals or get to semis at Valley will lose rounds for flow based reasons that deny that their experience is authentic. The paradigmatic exclusion of these arguments is good because it refuses to tie their legitimacy to the flow game.

          Again, people should be able to say whatever they want during their speech time, but judges should paridigmatically exclude the evaluation of narratives to avoid these two problems. If a debater wishes to use the forum of debate for their narrative it shouldn’t be tied to the flow game because the narratives truth value rises above that.

          I also want to apologize for taking cheap shots at you and swearing. They’re irrelevant to the discussion of narratives in debate.

          • Every disad you have isolated about why it is bad to read narratives in debate rounds is resolved by having people make arguments about it. Your distinction between “real world” arguments and the “flow game” is illusory and artificial. You can always make an argument about why you should win or your opponent should lose. If you run a narrative and you can’t defend your methodology or why you are entitled to the ballot, then you should lose. If you can do so, you should win. Judges are perfectly capable of evaluating whether people win or lose arguments in other contexts, and they’re capable of evaluating whether people win or lose rounds on micropolitical arguments (see, e.g., every policy debate tournament). I really don’t understand why this is so difficult for people to grasp.

          • anonperson123

            My first argument is that some judges can’t evaluate flow based arguments if they are dealing with a traumatic experience after listening to a narrative. I also say that debaters who will be brought back to traumatic experiences from narratives also have to deal with that while preparing a response to a micro-political position.

            But for the sake of your argument I will assume we are talking about a round in which both the judge and other debater have no personal problems that relate to the narrative that is read..

            My second argument still is responsive because even if judges can evaluate the arguments they shouldn’t. Excluding narratives from rounds is good because it puts the narrative above the flow game. You say that the distinction between the flow game and the real world is illusory but that is stupid. The flow game is competitive. In debate your narrative can be deemed as something worth a loss. A professional in the real world is not going to give you a loss because you dropped the 3rd argument on the role of the ballot. Clearly judges are capable of evaluating arguments as you say, but they aren’t making truth claims like they are in a round with a narrative. If somebody loses that valuing rehab over retribution causes extinction there is zero impact. If somebody loses their narrative about sexual harassment rape, homophobia etc. then it has a real effect.

            Let me give you an example that happened in a real round with a narrative in outrounds of the toc. One debater made a micro-political argument about racism. The other debater ran moral skepticism. In debate-land moral skepticism won on a 2-1 because racism was not bad. That’s the product of tab judging in relation to narratives. Your problem is that you are viewing the narrative solely for its strategic purpose, but if the narrative does have any real value it should rise above flow based arguments like moral skep etc.

          • Your post is a repeattal, not a rebuttal.

            You just keep asserting that the “flow game” is competitive and that narratives are somehow designed to “rise above” flow based arguments. But “flow-based” doesn’t mean anything. Flowing is just a system of taking notes about the content of arguments. The more important point is that narratives, like all arguments, include an articulation of why winning that position merits the judge’s ballot. I will spot you that the connection between the content of your argument and the ballot might be more straightforward if you run an argument like moral skepticism than it would be if you ran a narrative (at least if you assume some sort of truth-functional view of the resolution as your adjudicatory baseline), but this is a distinction of degree, not of kind – the fact that the ballot story may be less straightforward with a narrative does not render it a categorically “different” sort of argument.

            Your assumption that voting against a narrative represents a referendum on whether sexism, racism, etc. are real problems is also unwarranted. It may simply reflect the fact that the other debater won that switch-side debate is good, or that narratives are not good for debate, or that voting for the narrative doesn’t solve. In any event, voting for or against an argument *never* represents one’s belief that the argument is objectively true. I believe that moral facts exist, but I still vote for skepticism sometimes. I believe that switch-side debate is probably good, but still vote for critiques and performance arguments sometimes. You don’t have to believe in things to vote for them – one can evaluate narratives just like any other debate argument.

            You assert that this is inconsistent with the idea that a narrative has “real value”, because, presumably, a judge would actually have to believe that voting for the narrative would effect real-world change to vote for it. Nonsense. A debater running a narrative will presumably make *arguments* about the role of narrative as a political and/or methodological tool, and the effect that voting for that narrative will have. Micropolitics is still politics, and there’s a legitimate debate to be had that micropolitics is less effective than macropolitics as a tactic for addressing large-scale social problems. It follows that one can advance *reasons* that micropolitics is good or bad, and the judge can assess whether these *reasons* are sufficiently well-defended to merit the ballot. One could answer a narrative by arguing that bottom-up, micropolitical tactics are not effective, just as one could answer Jalon’s argument from two years ago by arguing that identity politics were counterproductive. People can make these arguments, and judges can evaluate them. There is no need to paradigmatically exclude narratives to resolve this question, and your arguments to the contrary are founded on a series of unwarranted and false assumptions.

            Finally, the argument that judges and debaters would be emotionally traumatized by listening to a narrative (with or without a trigger) is an argument that one could make in a round about why narratives are inappropriate. One could answer this argument (“no link to this round”, “uncomfortable discussions are productive precisely because they are uncomfortable”, “the fact that people have been victimized proves my argument”, etc.). Judges could assess who won this debate. Not a reason to paradigmatically exclude narratives.

    • policy debate has addled your brain traitor

      • mcgin029

        All the same, it’s good that we have Jon Langel to set us straight.

  • Lets start by talking about Bekah’s post: I want to talk my fantastic four: this is what I
    call my novices who are all four girls. Not only are they already FANTASTIC
    debaters and they will definitely be a force to reckoned with in the coming
    years but they have already received comments about their “high pitched
    voice” (where is your testosterone ladies!?) and their “bitchy”
    behavior (since ladies cannot be rude in round–that’s for boys only). And I
    know that this points to a deeper debate to be had about implicit sexism in
    debate, which hopefully won’t happen since it of course is never resolved. But
    I think that if one of the girls on my team received treatment similar to what
    Bekah cites (I’m specifically referring to the sexual favors for cards) then I
    think there may be one less sexist boy in the activity after I broke him in
    half. And, I think that almost every person (I don’t want to say every person
    since debate has trained me from absolutes) in the activity has the same
    feeling. No one would permit such actions. No one would sit around and watch
    this happen. Or rather, hypothetically they wouldn’t. Which I think illustrates
    an important point–everyone agrees sexism is bad. It should not be tolerated.
    Just like the most non-interventionist judge wouldn’t hesitate to drop someone
    who read a case that was flagrantly homophobic to the point that the opponent
    started crying and left the room, judges and debaters don’t tolerate sexism.
    However, debate has seemed to create a bystander effect on everyone involved in
    a situation to the point that when sexual harassment happens it is very hard to
    step in and be the one who takes the action to stop it. I think that the
    majority of instances of sexual abuse or harassment that have been cited in
    this grand NSD flame war would have been prevented had someone stepped in at
    the time of the incident. Even Bekah found an adult that was able to provide
    some assistance (the post isn’t specific about if the adult intervened or not
    so I won’t suppositions) which prevented her from quitting (which is fantastic
    since I wouldn’t have cleared at St. Marks my junior year without her 6th
    round 30!). I think that we need to find common ground not try to ‘one-up’ each
    other by finding small holes in each others arguments.

    Now on to the current comment thread on this post—It is silly. All three coaches/judges who are commenting back with their snide comments will all agree that sexism is
    bad. That sexual harassment is bad. I have a ton of respect for all three of
    these guys, Christian judged me three times over two days at Sunvite, Dave
    McGinnis was really a one on my prefs at St. Marks and Rebar has humored me
    since the days I was that ‘guy with the weird school name’. But with all due respect,
    come on. I understand there may be parts of Bekah’s post you disagree with but
    how are those points at all relevant to the bigger picture. Also, there is no
    reason to call someone out about their judging preferences to attempt to debunk
    their substantive response. Nor is there a reason to be rude to a debate
    colleague on a debate forum for the entire community to view. This is like when
    I read six theory shells against a self-defense aff at Harvard last year. We
    all knew it wasn’t abusive, but I still found small parts that I didn’t like
    and ran with them. I understand that we won’t get along (I mean we all do
    debate) but that doesn’t mean we cannot talk about how to move forward from our
    shared belief (sexism is bad) to how to rectify that (structural recourses
    against these events)

    Then on theMicropol discussion that is happening elsewhere—get over it. Jessica read what she read, it happened, it won ballots and it spawned discussion. NO MATTER IF
    YOU THINK WHAT SHE DID WAS RIGHT OR NOT—it worked. Here we are as a community talking about these issues. That is all that matters. I support Jessica’s
    actions regardless of how I feel about the actual case since this gave us the opportunity
    to finally work out some community issues.

    These are just my opinions. I’m sure some people will find “problems” with what I said
    (the majority of which will likely be grammar) but I want you to ask yourself
    this question: What can I do to ensure that in my group of friends sexist
    behaviors, attitudes, sentiments, jokes, etc will not happen?

    If everyone follows that answer, we will never have another one of these discussion.

    • Thank you, Tillman. Just to be clear, I’m not offended by disagreement. 1/3 of my reason for writing this was so that people would know how to run micro pol in front of me and what to expect… To be clear, I am fine with narratives, it’s just that I need a warning before they are run…mostly so I know if I have to take medicine before the round so I can actually render a decision. The other 2/3s of my reasoning involved wanting to create accountability around a sensitive issue. I have been thinking about how I, as an educator, can respond to this for a long time. This is just what I have so far. I’m open to listening to other suggestions and ideas — it’s the discourse that matters!

      P.S. That was such a close round — you both needed to break, so you both deserved the double 30s (probably 2 out of the 20 or so I’ve ever given :))

      • I completely understand and for sure was not trying to talk for you. That was just my take on the other stream of comments/community reaction as a whole. I’m glad you take your role in this activity so seriously.

    • Maisie Baldwin

      ^Not so much at bid tournaments, but on my local circuit as a female debater with enough “upsets” in my day to have a close eye on me, I received a lot of the same comments about my presentation as your “Fantastic Four” are getting. It’s gone so far as to have competitors refuse to compete in a semi-finals round after beating me in quarters because the ballots were “entirely unwarranted.” While we can’t hope for people to take this sort of stand regularly, I hope that your girls know there are people who will recognize, especially with lay judges, there is a very specific gender binary. I didn’t often win the ballots of men over forty. I was “too abrasive for a girl,” needed to “back down because if the dominant person in the room is a woman, people will be made uncomfortable” and it isn’t “polite to correct an opponent who” multiple time in his NC referred to me as a man.

      Tournaments probably won’t overturn decisions (nor am I saying they should), and your girls may have to simply adjust their debate styles as best they can. (My team always joked about how my voice drops an octave when I compete.)

      • Absolutely. That’s something we’ve talked about multiple times. All four of them now try to drop their voice or keep it at their normal pitch when they spread to avoid these types of reactions.

      • Maisie is right. I also think that there is intersection between sexual discrimination and general arrogance in debate. Many male debaters specifically are (wrongly) encouraged to be total assholes so they look more “legit”. This applies not only to in-round practices but social interactions out-of-round with the male-dominated community. I specify male debaters because norms about masculinity are that to be a “real man”, one must have an ultra-assertive attitude, especially towards women in debate who are often objectified by male debaters. I think this is why those that aren’t nearly as assertive are called a “pussy” (which I have been called multiple times); this rhetoric has clear similarity to derogatory terms related to women (the masculinist binary is also evidence when those who are too assertive to some are called “dicks”; although the reaction there is negative, it’s evident that assertiveness is equated with masculinity and thus encouraged by males in the community).

        I’ve talked with Jessica at length at Columbia about the nuances of her position, not to prep it out but to educate myself. She specifically suggests that we talk about solutions to the problem at hand. As students that are supposed to be efficient communicators, whether in the National or Local circuit, it’s really important to understand the implications of language.

        • To clarify, I am the author of this post. I tried editing “evidence” to “evident” but somehow that changed the author of the post from “Adam Tomasi” to “Guest”.

          • Yeah, I fully agree. By associating dominance with success, we unfairly harm girls who can’t be the “dominant person in the room.” In terms of solutions, it seems like Maisie would deal with this issue by adapting to the situation whereas Adam would prefer changing our mindsets. I think the latter makes more sense. The former option might be necessary for lay debate where there is no real community of judges and few forums for change. But it seems very feasible on the national circuit to make this change in mindset. After having a lot of conversations with great role models in the activity, I personally want to give full support to rejecting these norms. These face-to-face discussions seem to be very effective at changing minds. For myself, I’ve worked a lot with our female novices and their future in the activity means a lot to me. We need these types of experiences to break out of the usual “bro-talk” about ass and bitches that I hear way too much of at tournaments. But yeah, I think these face-to-face encounters (for those who haven’t yet understood the weigh of these issues) are crucial to changing mindsets necessary to getting rid of gender inequalities in debate.

            On a different subject, I feel like these flame wars have been hyper-critical on the manner these issues have been brought up, and not on the institutional failures that keep the issues in place. I’ve already discussed individual, bottom-to-top change, but I think there might be some good top-to-bottom changes the community could make as well. Maybe camps should a sexual harassment help group run by non-debaters. Or maybe we should have periodical articles on nsdupdate about these issues so that a) it’s always on people’s minds and b) we don’t have the forums blow up into giant squids of anger whenever these legitimate concerns are voiced.

    • Just wanted to throw in there that LHPS has a historical number of amazing female novices, and I have made clear to them that the official Lake Highland response to judges saying that they were bitchy is “fuck you.”

      We all can and should help reduce sexism in debate small ways around us. I also agree with Tillman’s response to micropolitical complainers: suck it up, because you are going to have to answer it at some point, and, if you are not prepared, you will lose to it. I don’t want to be drawn into the tortured flame war on the other thread, but I do want to make it clear that a) you, the reader, can definitely change the community for the better in small ways and b) the discussion about the objective validity of micropolitics is asinine and pointless.

    • “This is like when I read six theory shells against a self-defense aff at Harvard last year.” This comment was so predictable

  • anon984794873890

    ryan hamilton is NAME1 in my comment on the columbia thread. i urge you to read the comment about what i’ve witnessed him do in his role as security guard. it isn’t appropriate for him to continue working with kids or staff at that camp, and i really hope he is not brought back. this matters. let’s do something to end real harassment.

  • First of all, this is a very courageous post and there’s a lot of great advice in here. Seriously, thank you for contributing this.

    Second, one legal point (and I’m not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, etc.): your claim that listening to a specific narrative would render the listeners “legally complicit” is probably not correct. It would certainly not make you criminally liable: failure to report a crime to which you were not a party virtually never subjects one to criminal liability. As for civil liability, there would have to be a pre-existing duty of some sort which would give rise to a duty to report or otherwise provide aid (and Good Samaritan laws in most jurisdictions explicitly provide that no such duty exists between strangers). You may be correct that those who are legally mandated reporters may have such a duty to report this information, although even then the scope of this duty might not include a responsibilty to inform legal authorities in the situation you describe.

    • I took this stance after a decision with several of my roommates or are in law school and with the adviser of my women’s center. I was speaking mostly about this in context of being a supervising adult. Sorry for the incoherence — even after some help in editing from some amazing people, my nervous ranting still slipped through.

    • Also, please see chapter 261 of the Texas Family Legal Code (I’m from Texas :))

      • Yes, this is an example of a “mandated reporter” statute. Section 261.101(b) contains a pretty detailed description of the persons to whom this statute applies. It applies to many adults who would have supervisory responsibilities at a debate tournament, but not necessarily all coaches (it would depend on the nature of the employment relationship). It would probably not apply to spectators or judges (unless they were also mandatory reporters), and would certainly not apply to debaters.

        • Maybe I was self-centered, but that’s my position. 🙂

          • LDoutsider

            But as Alex is showing, your ‘legal’ position is legally questionable at best, which is a different tone than the post which made it sound rather unambiguous. ‘self centeredness’ is no response to the lack of legal unambiguity you are claiming…

          • Pickin’ that nit, as it’s been said

  • “Narratives are all about perspectives, which cannot be “wrong” since they are not objective facts.”

    What the heck could this possibly mean? A narrative is a story, a story is a purported representation of events, and that representation might correspond to a set of actual events, or it might not, in which case it’s wrong…at least, as far as I can tell, unless you’re using the word “narrative” in a way utterly divorced from its ordinary use. Even if all that’s being narrated is inward experience (i.e., if every sentence in the narrative is implicitly or explicitly prefaced with “It seemed to me as if…”), which is not in general the case, that’s still a representation which could correspond or fail to correspond with the world. Even our in-the-moment descriptions of phenomenal experience appear to be demonstrably subject to non-trivial error, let alone when compounded by distortions of memory or, even more simply, deliberate falsehood.

    So, not sure what you’re saying or how it could be true. Your article makes some very reasonable points, but don’t muddle it up with naive relativism about truth, which we should be teaching debaters to avoid.

    • Good point, Christian. You really seem to have gotten to the heart of the matter.

      • Pick that nit, brother.

        • I don’t think it’s a nit. In the context of the discussion about the position that was run at Columbia, it seems to imply that it’s literally impossible for the story told by that position to be false (and perhaps also that it’s literally impossible for it to be true). That might not have been the intended implication, but I think it’s worth pushing back against.

          • Rebar Niemi

            Push back against the attempt of some people to voice their personal experiences/opinions. A real champion of the little person you are.

            Non-binary inputs are hard to handle, huh?

    • Rebar Niemi

      Narrative is being used to refer to a story, but also a style of presentation. Stories are stories whether they’re true or not. Being untrue does not end their “story-hood.” Do you know what fiction is Christian? A WHOLE GENRE OF NARRATIVES FULL OF UNTRUTHS!!!! YOU SHOULD GO GET THEM.

      More importantly, I’d argue that NAIVE OBJECTIVISM ABOUT TRUTH IS SO MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAN NAIVE RELATIVISM. At least you can grow out of naive relativism because you allow for other possibilities. Naive objectivism just means you’re the NRA or a Christian Scientist.

      Also, the notion that this is “naive” relativism is such a coded and backhanded way of talking about this. It’s not really relativism. It’s not really naive. It’s saying that people have a right to tell their stories just like you do.

      Basically you’re saying that you reserve the right to ignore/not listen to other people when you don’t believe them. That’s fine, but don’t act like you’re just trying to protect da youth from untruth.

      OED says narrative = a story/the non-dialogue part of a literary work/the art of narration. So all the defined “ordinary uses” seem to fit pretty well to me.

      Also your post seems to gingerly foreshadow the “people can’t be trusted to accurately recount their experiences/will lie to get sympathy” perspective. Yeah Christian, the world is crying wolf thank god we have you around to suss out the real from the fake and tell us who is a LIAR and who is an upstanding white male who believes in existential risk.

      • Rebar Niemi


      • Lol, alright, I’ll respond to this and then I’m going to try to disengage and try to get some work done (although I’m happy to have a longer discussion about all this sometime).

        1. Yes, claims made in the context of fiction aren’t true or false. The narrative in question was not intended as fiction.

        2. I’m not sure how to answer the charge that I’m a “naive objectivist” about truth because I’m not sure what you mean by naive objectivism, what I said that committed me to it, or why you think it’s wrong. If anything, my view of truth is pretty deflationary, but I think that we can meaningfully talk about claims as true or false (or perhaps as taking intermediate truth values), and that insofar as we can, those truth-valuations aren’t relativized to particular individuals or groups.

        3. By “naive relativism,” I suppose I mean a view according to which lots of our ordinary language purports to represent the world (e.g. by telling a story) but isn’t subject to assessment as true or false based on its correspondence to the world. That’s seat-of-the-pants, and maybe not what I mean at all, but at any rate, I do use the term prejudicially, and I think with good reason.

        4. “Narratives are all about perspectives, which cannot be ‘wrong’ since they are not objective facts.” =/= “people have a right to tell their stories”. Maybe that’s all that was intended. If so, then I misread Bekah’s post.

        5. “Basically you’re saying that you reserve the right to ignore/not listen to other people when you don’t believe them.” No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that stories which are presented as genuine accounts of real events can be (and generally are) either true or false. That’s all.

        6. “Also your post seems to gingerly foreshadow the “people can’t be trusted to accurately recount their experiences/will lie to get sympathy” perspective.” Again, no. I’m not claiming anything about the likelihood that any particular narrative is true or false. Believing that accounts of sexual harassment have a high likelihood of truth doesn’t and shouldn’t imply that they’re literally *incapable* of falsehood–especially since, if they were, they’d probably be incapable of truth also (or true in a pretty trivial way), which is not at all a desirable implication.

        I’ll leave it there, hope that makes sense.

        • Rebar Niemi

          Thanks for this response Christian, the tone of my post was probably a little risque as well.

          • Brusque, maybe. Not risque. Unless there was something in there I didn’t understand.

          • Rebar Niemi

            That was the joke.

          • Rebar Niemi


      • LDoutsider

        Praise Rebar for speaking the truth!

    • I’ve been persuaded that the tone of my post was probably pissier than it needed to be. So, apologies to Bekah for that. I do think it’s important to recognize that there are genuine facts of the matter, in discussions of sexual harassment as elsewhere, but I don’t want to distract too much from the larger discussion in making that point, and I’m otherwise in agreement with the bulk of Bekah’s article. So I’ll leave it at that and return to doing other things.

      • Thanks, Christian. I agonized over that part of the article. Ultimately, I’m just trying to dissuade slut-shaming/victim-blaming in which people imply that someone “asked for it.” I also think that we shouldn’t disbelieve the accused, if named (which I cautioned against), in their claims to innocence. The point is that is for the law and a higher power (if she exists) to decide — not a judge with a ballot.

    • Christian, I think I finally understand your issue… I’m not speaking of “true” and “false” in some debater-y/truth testing sense… I’m speaking to an issue that has been repeatedly discussed in the world of therapy — the most important thing when someone shares a personal story like these is to recognize(validate is a little too strong of a word) that their experience was trans-formative(? again, wording is complicated) for them. We should also recognize that those who are accused believe their innocence.I struggle with this first hand and have attended many academic conferences about it. Trust me, when we try to seek alternate causality (i.e. “I did something to deserve this”) for explaining the shame we feel, it is much easier to just deny that what is going on is serious. We should also recognize that those who are accused believe their innocence – Sometimes, their belief is rooted in their privilege; other times, they really, really intended no harm. Again, it’s not our job to dole out punishment; it IS our job to make sure our community is a safe space for all involved. Some of the comments below indicate that we may not be “obligated.” To that,I question whether or not the bare minimum is acceptable in cases of human dignity. That is why I’ve outlined things that everyone can do when such a position is run.

      • I appreciate the response, and I think I see what you’re saying more clearly now. That being said, there’s a crucially important distinction between saying that narratives aren’t right or wrong, and saying that it’s *counterproductive to spend time discussing whether they’re right or wrong*. The latter I think is largely true–at least, I don’t think that publicly defending or denying the truth of particular accusations in a context like an online discussion board is a good idea in any remotely typical situation (including the present one). As you say, those are questions safely left to the courts. But, crucially, we leave them to the courts *because we believe that there’s a fact of the matter*, that an accuser’s story is either right or wrong and that (in the legal context) it’s very important to find out which. I don’t think I’m appealing to any uniquely “debate-y” notion of truth here, but rather just to the very ordinary notion of truth that courts appeal to. As I now understand you, I take it you agree in the abstract that there are facts of the matter which make narratives right or wrong–that, for instance, it’s not a matter of perspective whether or not someone was assaulted (although it might be in part a matter of fixing the interpretation of a concept like “assault”). If so, then we’re in agreement.

        Re the obligations of the community, I think we agree as well, although I’d put the case in terms of wellbeing rather than dignity. Adults in debate have a responsibility to do what they think is best for students, rather than just evaluating the flow and washing their hands of everything outside the round.

  • This is a fabulous commentary. Thanks, Bekah, for this important message and service to the community.