[Ndca-l] Student Abuse in Debate

Jim Menick jim.menick
Mon Feb 24 11:24:25 EST 2014

(I'm cross-posting this to coachean.blogspot.com and referencing it on the
NDCA Facebook page. This is my own material, and does not represent the
opinion of anyone but me.)

My evaluation of conflict and strikes practices has led me to a problem
that is real, and that we are not handling well. Every high school debate
tournament is by definition an academic event conducted for the educational
benefit of secondary school students. Tournaments comprise hordes of
adolescent high school students, dozens of judges--many of them
independent--not much older than high school students, assorted parents and
chaperones who are not a part of the community on a regular basis, and a
handful of adults acting either as coaches or tournament staff. For the
most part, this group works together well, but there are exceptions, and
some of these are unacceptable.

>From my private discussions, and my own observations (these texts are
edited by me):

*A judge used curse words on a ballot to one of our second-year debaters
this year, ballots which were publicly scanned. This judge publicly bashed
my student at the tournament where she wrote this hideous ballot. The head
coach of this judge's program never followed up on my request for an
apology from the judge to the student and that judge has never apologized,
despite direct contact from me. This was beyond "alleged" behavior and was
more than just "nasty" but outright unprofessional and publicly humiliating
to a student... *

*A judge directed inappropriate sexual remarks to not one, but two, of my
freshman female novice teams. I reported him to the coach who brought him
and was assured he would never be hired again, but he has been, both by
that coach and a number of others. Honestly, no students, or at least no
female students, should be judged by this person...*

*[Minority students] **are being told, by judges, racism has no impact,
racism doesn't matter, slavery was bad, but worth it. I'm tired of having
my students racially assaulted. I don't want people around my students who
helped create this hostile atmosphere. My students have just as much right
to play as anyone else...*

These are egregious examples of behaviors to which our adolescent students
should not be exposed at a debate tournament. Add to this issues such as:
judges who are apparently stoned on drugs, judges who pay no attention to a
round whatsoever, judges who demand that students partake of actions in
rounds that are not debate-related (e.g.,  extra points for juggling or
telling jokes), judges who fall asleep, etc.

*If there are people who are so unacceptable that they need to be struck
for cause or conflicted from whole schools because we think they are bad
for children, shouldn't we really be doing more than making sure they don't
judge our own kids? Is talking to the person who brought them really
enough? Perhaps we should be doing more than conflicting or striking them.
If a judge is not fit to be around anyone's students, that person be
excluded from judging anyone, at least once the judge has been spoken to
and told what the community expects of its judges, and then given a chance
to be different and better. Judges sometimes need to be educated to be good
educators, but if that fails, judges need to find a different source of
weekend job income.*

When issues arise, as often as not they are brought to the tab room. But
tab's job is tabbing the tournament, not solving problems unrelated to
setting up the events correctly, and we often can't give those problems a
fair shake because our attention is elsewhere. Besides, we're not really in
charge of the tournament, we're staff with a specific, limited
responsibility. When there are questions of ethical violations, we turn to
the tournament directors. It's their show. But often they are students
themselves, at least at many college events, or tied up solving the myriad
issues that arise during a tournament, like locked rooms and lost
concessions and the like.

Let me go further. Many of the problems we're ascribing to the judge pool,
many of whom are immature college students with no particular affiliation,
are also problems that apply to the rest of the debate community. My own
personal experience has mostly but not exclusively been with inappropriate
behavior bordering on assault of high school girls by high school boys, not
judges, immediately before and after rounds.

One big problem with handling any of this is the nature of the evidence at
hand. One must be careful about making serious accusations about anyone,
and we are not really equipped to handle any of this at debate tournaments.
We're all busy doing something else. But, if situations are as serious as
they appear to be, we can't just ignore them. If we, the people who are
running tournaments, don't do something about these problems, we are
shirking our responsibility to the students in our care.

A year or two ago, on my The View from Tab podcast, we were discussing some
similar issues, and agreed that one way to begin to handle them was to
appoint an ombudsman at every tournament, a trusted, neutral individual (or
two) who would be the person students, coaches, judges or anyone with an
issue not debate-related but personal/physical could go to get a hearing
and, if necessary, help. This did not assume that the ombudsman could solve
every problem, but the problems could be evaluated. Let's say that a judge
makes inappropriate sexual overtures in a round. If the accusation is
brought to the ombudsman, that person will interview the judge and the
students who were in the room. Perhaps the judge simply needs a little
education; this will do the job. It will also put the judge on alert not to
do this again, that there are repercussions. I have no idea how we
officially handle the problem of that judge showing up again next week
somewhere else and doing the same thing again, but judges do tend to show
up again and again as do schools and coaches, at all the same tournaments,
and we'd probably have the same little pool of ombudsmen. I doubt if it
would take long to spot and handle repeat offenders with serious issues.
I'm not saying that an ombudsman system is perfect, but I guarantee that
having no system is intolerable. Child abuse, be it racial, sexual,
bullying or any other variety, can't be something we don't care about.

So, I say that we simply insist that every invitational has an ombudsman or
two for handling non-debate issues. That we make it very public who those
people are, and very private when they are handling any issues. That we
publish in our invitations who the ombudsmen will be, and how to reach
them. That we empower the ombudsmen to go to coaches and tell them never to
hire this person again, and that we listen and do it.

The alternative to this, or some other solution (I doubt if this solution
is the only one possible, and it certainly may not be the best, but it is a
start), is the continuation of abuses that we are supposed to be
preventing. Let's start with the first tournament of the 2014-15 season,
and go from there. If you're attending a tournament and there is no
ombudsman publicized, demand of the TD that this is unacceptable. If you're
running a tournament, find people you know are trusted by the community as
a whole. They can still judge lightly or run a table or whatever at the
tournament, but I wouldn't put them in tab, and I wouldn't just say that
tab or the TD will also act as ombudsman, because running a tournament is
already too much to do over the weekend, much less adding this to the mix.

If we don't do this, or something, we only have ourselves to blame for the
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