A COMPILED LIST OF ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SUMMIT DEBATE

Disclaimer and Introduction by Zara Chapple.

The statements published here do not represent every individual member of Beyond Resolved, nor their opinions and thoughts, or the entire consensus of our Executive Board; it is (officially) the thoughts of two groups of individuals that posted their opinions on a different platform (Reddit.com). However, as an organization committed to promoting equality and fair treatment in debate, we felt it was our obligation to at least give allegations a platform to be read. 

Some NDF staffers who are also part of BR do not support this release, but respect the majority decision by the executive board.

For context, this blog posts contains two testimonies that were shared two months ago on the r/debate subreddit, but was promptly taken down by moderators. Beyond Resolved members have been in contact with the authors of the second and first post, and after seeking advice from multiple lawyers, as well as conducting our own research, we have come to the conclusion that it is best for us and the community to give the allegations a space to be heard so they can be addressed. We do not necessarily back up every single claim made in this statement, but we believe the debate community needs a safe platform to discuss these issues without fear of censorship.

This is in no way a complete discussion of the problems with the institution discussed, or with debate camps at large. We hope this can be a stepping stone for larger community discussions. If former staff / students at other organizations come forward with credible allegations, we will happily support you to the best of our abilities. 

We understand that because BR runs our own camp, this could be construed as us just slandering the camp for profit. However, BR’s sessions barely overlap with this camps flagship program and we primarily target a different market (ie those who can’t afford a multiple thousand dollar camp without scholarships). BR’s commitment to equality and fair treatment of all individuals in debate comes before our camp’s earnings. We’ve used this post as a guideline for what we can do better with our camp, but that isn’t to say we’re necessarily the best choice. Additionally, while these allegations are being brought forth on this camp, people have  similar issues with other leading debate camps. Please do your own research on what camp and institution you want to attend this summer, if any– and do not use this as the deciding factor as this post is meant to be an encouragement of addressing problematic instances that occur at these institutions.  

The organization which we are referring to here is the Summit Debate— specifically their Public Forum flagship program National Debate Forum (NDF). Beyond that, we have chosen to censor certain names of NDF staff involved  for legal purposes.

Lastly, this is in no way a post meant to shame/cancel members of the community and people that choose to affiliate with the National Debate Forum. Many people don’t have other means of employment, or scholarships / the ability to attend other camps. In fact, some people associated with Beyond Resolved will also be working under the National Debate Forum — and we give those instructors our support.

Content warning: mentions of sexual abuse and assault.

Post made by u/123094871209587 (Linked to full original post with comments)

Below is a nowhere near exhaustive list of problems with the National Debate Forum, a summer institution that teaches Public Forum Debate, that has thoroughly disgusted me over the years. I chose to come forward because I think it’s time for NDF to be held accountable for the ways they choose to run their institution. Their camp is quite literally a breeding ground for the future of debate, and when NDF continues to actively participate in toxic norms, and are able to without repercussion because of the influx of debaters that go there every year to “Reach the Summit”, we normalize having an unsafe environment for staff members and students.

These are only the examples that I know for sure have occurred, and because I have no way of corroborating other rumors/ stories/ problematic instances that implicate the administration, I have omitted them from the list. I do think an immensely popular camp that teaches hundreds of students should be held responsible for the way they run their institution, and discourse is a great way to accomplish this. Thus, if you do have a story that you are willing to disclose about the institution, I encourage it and hope we can keep the discussion going on how to better the norms within these camps.

  • Administration has given out drinking tickets at the staff party to staffers they are aware are under the age of 21.
  • Administration has made sexual comments to younger staffers on numerous accounts (I will not be going more in depth to protect the identities of those involved but multiple staffers can corroborate).
  • Administration has avoided addressing concerns of sexual harassment, even after the issues were brought up with them. (Same as above).
  • Administration vastly underpays their female presenting staff members to the point where some lose money to work at the camp.
  • Administration does not require background checks or other required courses (child abuse, bias training, etc,) that many other camps do, which puts the safety of the students into question.
  • Administration uses “inclusivity” as a reason to advertise their camp . Inclusivity should not be something to capitalize off of, it should be a norm.

Why am I posting this?

A: Transparency. Debaters can only make the most educated decision on where they want to learn from or work at if there is an active discussion about what is going on at these summer institutions. NDF has been sustained for a very long time by the success that they help bring to its debaters and thus conversations about how they choose to operate things have often been dismissed by the community. This post is supposed to start that conversation.

B: To create public pressure on camp. Internal reform in this institution has been slow, but it is clear that there is a need for it. The purpose of my post is not to hate on students that decide to work here or attend the camp, because often times staffers need the money or experience for future work, or campers need somewhere to be in the summer. Rather, we should be proactive as a community, and make everyone aware of the problems and push for solutions.

I am writing this anonymously to avoid backlash from the community/ administration. Please do not try to figure out who I am, and if you do please keep it to yourself for my protection. I was very hesitant about writing this post in fear of legal consequences from NDF, but I believe there is a lot more at stake within the community than my individual worries.

Post made by u/ndf_burner (Linked to full original post with comments)

This is an anonymous burner account created only for the purpose of writing this post, because we fear retaliation if our names are revealed.

We are four former staffers of the National Debate Forum, and multi-time attendees of NDF as campers. Both as campers and as instructors we’ve witnessed appalling things committed by senior administration members, and this post serves to detail some of the things we saw. Because of these events, none of the four of us have any intention of working at NDF again despite having made many friends at the camp and through the activity.

**Sexual harassment and the hostile work environment:**

First among many troubling things at NDF is the frequency of sexual harassment, committed by members of the administration primarily against young, male victims. To protect the identities of the victims, we will not reveal their names or the details of their specific cases, but we have no qualms about revealing the identities of the people who have been committing harassment for years without punishment. Person Z has committed multiple instances of unwanted groping. He also routinely makes sexually suggestive remarks and advances to male junior staffers.

What is even more troubling is the way Person X and Person W handle accusations. When staffers approach them with complaints about Person Z, Person X and Person W force the victims to speak directly to Person Z. They then tell the accusers to never speak of it to anyone else, threatening to tarnish their reputations if they make public accusations. They do not investigate Person Z’s actions or file any reports on their behavior, only issuing blanket denials that there was any wrongdoing.

Person X has also claimed that there is a “anonymous electronic reporting service” in place at her camps. As staffers, none of us have ever heard anything about such a service, none of the students we have spoken to had any access to it, and NDF did not advertise the service either to staffers or to students. Even if we do take her claim at face value, such a service has no real value if the administration fails to tell anyone it even exists.

Person X highlights that NDF will begin to provide each staffer with “access to an independent Human Resources Associate.” This begins to raise some initial questions: why was a representative hired so late and what does this HR representative actually do? On the first question, although we acknowledge that NDF has taken positive steps hiring an HR staffer, it continues to appall us that NDF chooses only now to initiate this process, despite almost a decade of misconduct allegations. On the second question, while NDF claims that this representative will investigate “claims of sexual harassment, safety in the workplace and inclusiveness” their ultimate responsibility is still only to “confidentially advise in the [investigation] process.” Without the ability to dictate punitive actions on involved parties, a new HR member just seems like another red herring for NDF administration to continue to dominate the discussion surrounding past and future allegations.

The administration insists that we report incidents to them first and foremost, but we no longer have any trust in them to follow through with their promises. There is a culture of fear created by the administration of NDF. Staffers are pressured against speaking out about issues they witness.

**Wage inequality and suspicious contracts:**

Person X claims to offer “fair wages” “to match the current industry wage levels”, but ignores that her camp is both not paying staffers equally and paying many staffers below minimum wage. NDF gives you a contract with a total salary amount for however many weeks you choose to work, but if you divide the total salary by the number of hours staffers actually work, a lot of staffers are making below Massachusetts minimum wage of $12 an hour. Staffers worked roughly 115 scheduled hours (not including substantial other time forced working OUTSIDE of the time outlined in the schedule) across the 13 days they work at NDF Boston. This means everyone should be making at least $1,380 – but only two of the four of us made that much, and there are staffers who were paid even less than us. And even if this pay matches current industry wage levels, that is not the same thing as offering fair pay. Do not let Person X conflate the two.

NDF also dramatically inflates the wages of some staffers in comparison to others (some staffers literally make double what others do), which is all based on how much “clout” they believe each staffer carries. They offer compensation for travel costs to some staffers but refuse it to others, a practice also seemingly driven solely by “clout” and how much administration officials like you. NDF also promises bonuses based on referrals, but fudge the numbers and don’t pay out what staffers were promised based on the number of referrals they made.

Multiple staffers (especially “fellows”, who for the most part do administrative work like dorm duty and delivering papers), are especially underpaid and do not receive travel compensation. Their names are not even reported or shown publicly on the website, as NDF does not consider them instructors.

In an attempt to prevent staffers from discovering the significant wage discrepancy, NDF puts clauses into some staffers’ contracts prohibiting the discussion of the terms of their contract. This qualifies as “pay secrecy,” which is quite literally [illegal] (https://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/301989789/pay-secrecy-policies-at-work-often-illegal-and-misunderstood).

Furthermore, the way staffers are paid is sketchy at best. Staffers are classified as “contractors” rather than full employees, which would be fine if NDF were following labor laws for contractors. Unfortunately, they are not. Contractors are [required to complete an IRS Form W-9] (https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/082714/purpose-w9-form.asp). However, the only document we ever signed were our contracts, which included no information regarding a W9. Hiring staffers as part-time contractors is a loophole out of employee protection laws. To confirm our claims, we’ve asked labor lawyers to read our contracts and they concluded that multiple provisions are unenforceable.

All of these conditions fuel our belief that NDF is taking advantage of the fact that people fresh out of high school aren’t fully informed on labor laws and personal finance. The administration is exploiting employees, some of whom are not even legal adults yet, for their own financial gain.

**Commodifying “inclusivity”:**

Person X talks about promoting inclusivity as a member of the community and as the owner of the camp, but in reality is doing little more than exploiting kids’ desire for a fairer circuit for financial gain. This past year, NDF hired and then routinely underpaid female-presenting staffers just for the purpose of being able to say they have a female-presenting staffer in every lab. She claims she conducted background checks on staffers personally in the past, which conveniently cannot be confirmed by anyone who is not exposed to NDF’s corrupt practices. Furthermore, this does not even account for NDF’s complete failure to train their staffers (many of whom are fresh out of high school) on how to act responsibly when teaching kids as young as 12 and 13.

The way that NDF handled their inclusivity activity last year was frankly absurd. Topics of discussion (small schools, sexism, etc.) were split up into their own groups and hosted simultaneously. This creates a number of problems:

  1. Obviously sexist men are not going to opt into a discussion on sexism. Problematic individuals are allowed to simply avoid issues that they do not want to discuss.
  2. Anyone who wants to discuss LGBTQ+ issues are basically forced to out themselves.
  3. This completely ignores how different forms of discrimination interact and build upon one another.
  4. The way it is structured prevents interested parties from attending multiple discussions.

Multiple people approached administration members to complain about how the inclusivity activity was structured. However, from what we can tell, little action, if any, was done to alleviate their concerns.

Rather than trying to meaningfully build on student action for equality, NDF attempts to take credit for programs like BR as a means to increase the number of people attending the camp. While BR and Not Debatable were founded outside of NDF and without ties to NDF, NDF’s social media claims “we are committed to continuing these amazing initiatives and beginning new ones” as though they somehow deserve credit for the amazing work BR and Not Debatable have done.

Additionally, for all NDF claims to champion inclusivity, senior administrative members are the ones perpetuating an unsafe learning environment. In the past, Person Y has told a student that they suck, were carried their entire career, and don’t deserve any of their successes, all in front of the rest of that student’s lab. He then repeated those claims to other campers outside of that student’s lab. This is all while he teaches a seminar course in which he praises himself for an hour for being a “good judge” and “wonderful coach.”

**Conclusion:**

NDF has done meaningful things in the past, like hosting an all-female-presenting demo round and publishing their lectures online free of charge. We understand that they have made steps in the right direction. However, the intention of this post is to make clear some of the structural faults the camp has and for community members to pressure the administration into making changes that have come far too slowly or not at all.

Attempts from staffers (many of whom are our friends) to reform this camp internally have failed because the senior administration refuses to make changes. This post in no way condemns the teachers and staffers themselves, most of whom are truly dedicated to passing on knowledge and helping debaters grow.

Without external pressure, NDF will not change. NDF administration members continue to take in enormous profits by running the camp, and therefore have no real motivation to change. This is also not an NDF exclusive problem, but an industry-wide problem. Multiple other camps have senior staff who have done similar things and conducted similar coverups. Thus, we would urge debaters and staffers of other camps to not use this as an opportunity to advertise, because even if you do not know it, you could be promoting a different camp that has the same structural problems.

Even in our anonymity, by writing this post we are putting ourselves at risk of legal backlash and reputational harm. The administration members at NDF are some of the most powerful and influential coaches on the debate circuit, and are also the same people who run some of the largest national circuit tournaments. Like the post that came before us, we ask that you do not try to uncover our identities.

If you would like to share your own experience with NDF or a similar camp, please email contact.beyondresolved@gmail.com or fill out this anonymous form. We will ask for a contact method, only so we can reach out to you before sharing. 

 

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