Following the overwhelming support from our initial article, “Choosing Comfort: Creating Community over Competition,” we have been eager to follow up with the ways we’ve implemented our suggestions. Our article has prompted other women and gender minorities to share their stories and advice in our blog, and for that, we are eternally grateful. We hope that Women in Debate’s Blog continues to be an uplifting platform for our voices.
Debate is a course at Lexington with a novice and a varsity class. I currently serve as one of three teaching assistants (shoutout to Austin and Ava!) for the novice class, and thus am not very involved with the varsity team this year. Most of my experiences below have been with the novices, but I hope my reflections can also apply to teams with a more combined novice-varsity format.
At Lake Highland, I serve as one of two co-captains on the team. While I have spent most of my time teaching the novices about technical debate and introducing them to circuit-level norms, I am fortunate to be able to see most of my novice and varsity teammates at practices weekly.
Reflections on Necessary Discussions
One of the major suggestions we had was to hold discussions on the ways in which misogyny influences debate and the ways in which we can combat that influence. We believe that open discussion is critical to combatting silence or stigma around these issues and can bring necessary awareness to problems such as bro culture, hyper competitiveness, grind mentality, mental health, burn out, sexual misconduct, disordered eating, etc.
I held this discussion with the novices after they had finished all their competitions for the season. I introduced it as more of a broad discussion on what next year will bring, and also tried to treat the discussion more so as a reminder to the novices of their responsibility to positively contribute to the debate community, especially coming from a very privileged debate program, rather than an extensive list of the toxic elements of debate. We discussed the importance of kindness, debunked the good debater = good person myth, sleeping and eating habits at camp and competitions, respecting judges, supporting one another as teammates, and inclusivity. My style of mentoring and teaching has always been like an older sibling, and I kept consistent with that approach in this discussion. I felt like this made the conversation more genuine rather than a lecture. I won’t be there next year to hold them accountable or be there for them, but I hope that this conversation was productive, and that my words will stay with them even when I can’t.
While serving as captain, like Robin, I have emphasized serving as an older sibling over a role model extensively. I have experienced the harm that putting varsity teammates on a pedestal can cause, and for that reason I am glad that I have been able to converse with the novices openly about the problems in the activity, and ways that they can be prevented and overcome. While several of the younger girls have asked me if I have qualified to the TOC, or plan on coaching after my debate career, I have taught them that everyone’s goals look different. I have explained that while talk about the TOC is common on the team, many qualified debaters still do not qualify, however this does not make them any lesser. By also sharing some of my experiences as the only girl on the team in my year, the novices have learned what behaviors are and are not acceptable. This open relationship has left me confident that the novices will be equipped to combat any future toxicity they encounter, while simultaneously respecting and supporting one another.
Reflections on Mentorships
The other teaching assistants and I assigned mentorships to all the novices in the fall, pairing each novice with 3 varsity debaters. We tried to vary the mentor pairings to include a diverse range of backgrounds and debate styles. Gender was definitely one of the harder parts to diversify, purely because there weren’t enough gender minorities at the varsity level on our team. I’m not sure how well the mentorships actually worked since a lot of the novices, as freshmen, were really intimidated to talk to upperclassmen varsity debaters, and by the nature of Lexington having separate classes for novice and varsity debaters, they weren’t able to interact much with their mentors. I think a strong check-in mechanism partway through the year, and encouraging mentors to reach out to mentees would help rectify this.
Similarly, I individually paired all of the novices and underclassmen, to a more experienced varsity mentor. I also found the gender disparity striking, as while Lake Highland has many female debaters, nearly all of them are middle schoolers or underclassmen. Due to the disparity, I was the mentor for most of the girls on the team, but many of the guys were also willing to take on the mentorships. Like Robin, I am not sure how successful the mentorships were, and would definitely recommend a strong check-in partway through the school year. Regardless, I have noticed that a few of the female underclassmen have shown interest in becoming a mentor, which shows promise of how beneficial mentorships can be to team building.
Reflections on Team Bonding
I love my novices and overall, I think they’re all pretty close with each other, with me, and with the other TAs. It also warms my heart to see that over half the novices are non-cis men. It’s a huge improvement from my grade, in which I’m one of two female LD debaters. However, there is somewhat of a gender divide in terms of friendships in the novices, i.e. the girls are all friends with the other girls and the boys are all friends with the other boys, but not many friendships cross that gender boundary. I have mixed feelings on this - on one hand, I understand and I feel as if it’s almost inevitable, but on the other hand, I don’t want the team to be divided or to split off into “cliques” by such an arbitrary line. We’ve tried to implement some team bonding to help ease this, for example Secret Santa, playing Pictionary, Wordle, or just chatting about anything: from the best sites to stream anime to Bridgerton.
Working with the novices has undeniably been the most rewarding part of my debate career. As a novice, I only had one other female teammate, who later left. I found the gender-divide to be devastating and isolating. Since I experienced exclusion first hand, I wanted to take extra steps to bring the team closer, especially as debate has been online. This year we hosted a Thanksgiving Potluck, Winter White Elephant, and a girls’ dinner. By playing party games, such as Super Fight, we have also managed to bring the entire team together to debate about arbitrary topics, such as whether a sea of sharks or a skyscraper of bees would be a more effective weapon in battle. Ultimately, nothing has warmed my heart more than witnessing my gendered team foster a genuine camaraderie.
Our experiences as the eldest female debaters on our male-dominated teams may not be representative of the typical debate experience, but have given us the unique insight and ability to correct systemic inclusivity and toxicity. We have been warmed by the messages and comments that we have received, both from debaters and coaches, excited to utilize our initial proposal. While we have noticed great improvement on our individual teams, this has only been possible after extensive effort. It won’t be an easy path either for future women and future advocates, but it’s one that we’ve felt was well worth it. As we are graduating and ending our debate careers this year, we hope that our articles have contributed to a movement that other women and gender minorities may strive to follow. For us, in the past it’s always felt like the perpetrator vs the person, but moving forward, we’ve realized it should be so much more than that. It’s not us against them, but the whole team, the whole community, debaters, judges, and coaches, against the larger issue of misogyny in our activity.
Signing off with love <3
Lexington RP and LHP MS