As I am submitting this blog post, I am also acutely aware of the many articles, comments, and voiced concerns about the environment of debate. As an LGBTQ+ woman from a small, underfunded team that runs on the Southern Bible Belt circuit, I too am aware of the sexism, racism, and homophobia that tends to run rampant in the debate setting. This submission is not to gloss over the very problematic and hostile debate environment that requires immediate and significant change from every member that continues to propagate this environment, but rather to express the more positive feelings I have about debate.
As I see the sun setting on my senior year, and my third year in debate, I find myself, teary-eyed, even, thinking of my time in debate ending. I, like nearly every debater I know, have some debate horror story that, although seemingly was the end of the world in the moment, now, can be laughed about. Of course, these horror stories are not related to the flaws in the debate environment but rather a series of unfortunate events that seem to accumulate around or during a debate tournament. My debate horror story was when I received my Vanderbilt ED1 rejection letter in the first round of a tournament this year. It was a less than stellar grand cross for me but now I can appreciate the poise that my partner and I had throughout the tournament, and especially that round. Although, I can recognize that not everyone may share this enthusiasm, as I reflect more than a month later, I’m happy I was surrounded by my friends who could support me best.
I believe my true love and admiration for debate comes more from the tiny victories- not even the actual victories themselves. These victories: the late hours spent with your team and partner, finding that card, the one that perfect card that you’ve been searching for forever, long bus rides, bad hotel coffee, and getting to catch up with long-distance debate friends, are what have endeared debate to me. These are the moments that I look back on most frequently and most favorably.
I think the thing the most valuable thing that debate gave to me was an understanding of the power of the spoken word. The hours of meticulous memorization and strenuous research into the wee hours of the morning that all accumulate into the perfect rebuttal that is given with clarity, and confidence. Prior to debate, I was a relatively quiet and shy individual who believed nothing I said could be of significance. Debate gave me a platform to grow not only as a researcher and speaker, but as a person. As I’ve become more confident in the content of what I was speaking, I felt my confidence in my ability to enact significant change blossom as well.
Although it may be one of the most redundant views to hold at this point, I truly believe that debate is what you make of it. Of course, I too know the subsequent anger that follows losing a round you, and even your opponents agree, you deserve to win, when your opponents run abusive or triggering cases without a warning, or when you pop the bubble with nothing more on the ballot than your partner should tie her hair up because it “makes her look prettier”. It’s easy to obsess and fixate on what you should’ve said, what you should have extended, what you should have made more clear to the judge. What I’ve grown to understand that it is
important to have these reflections, to acknowledge that the round could have gone better if you did XYZ thing, and make an effort to make the adjustments you need for subsequent rounds. What isn’t beneficial, and something I used to find myself frequently doing, is fixating on only what you should’ve done, it’s important to acknowledge that it happened and there’s nothing that can change that rounds outcome, only how it can positively impact future rounds. Debate can only really be fun if you let it be, if you immerse yourself in what you’re doing and the people you’re doing it with.
I feel as though all this reminiscing would not be a true testament to my time in debate without some acknowledgment of the people who made my debate experience truly amazing. To Peyton Redmyer, my amazing, stunning, hilarious, and ever-patient partner who is sitting next to me in the library clueless to the fact I am indeed not prepping right now, but also name dropping her in an article. There is no one else who knows how to comfort me or make me laugh quite like you do, no one else who would not only listen to my wacky ideas but help me flesh them out. I’m so sad I won’t be able to see you debate in your senior year or say “two-finger swipe” when you stand up to read our case, or listen to you explain how “beautiful” tax code is, although I disagree. Thank you for being the best partner and friend I could ever ask for. To the Panera Felons, the PFers who never fail to make me laugh after a long day of Ls, I will miss the inside jokes, the Midnight Cookies, and AMPMe bus karaoke. To Sam Chiang, my only male debate partner and one of my closest confidants, thank you for being partners with the scared, confused girl from Florida at NDF who was way out of her league, thank you for your endless patience and kindness and for the constant encouragement and support. To the Real Boatshoe Boys, thank you for creating and allowing me into a group of supportive, kind, and amazing women in debate who never cease to amaze and astonish me. Finally, thank you to Beyond Resolved, for creating a platform for womxn in debate, for validating the experiences that nearly every femxle debater I know has faced.