Hacking Traditional College Debate's White-Privilege Problem
Tournament participants from all backgrounds say they have found some of these debate strategies offensive. Even so, the new style has received mainstream acceptance, sympathy, and awards.
Joe Leeson Schatz, Director of Speech and Debate at Binghamton University, is encouraged by the changes in debate style and community. “Finally, there’s a recognition in the academic space that the way argument has taken place in the past privileges certain types of people over others,” he said. “Arguments don’t necessarily have to be backed up by professors or written papers. They can come from lived experience.”
But other teams who have prepared for a traditional policy debate are frustrated when they encounter a meta-debate, or an alternative stylistic approach in competition. These teams say that the pedagogical goals of policy debate are not being met—and are even being undermined. Aaron Hardy, who coaches debate at Northwestern University, is concerned about where the field is headed. “We end up … with a large percentage of debates being devoted to arguing about the rules, rather than anything substantive,” he wrote on a CEDA message board last fall.
"“Various procedures—regardless of whether we're talking about debate formats or law—have the ability to hide the subjective experiences that shape these seemingly ‘objective’ and ‘rational’ rules,” said UC Hastings Law School professor Osagie Obasogie, who teaches critical race theory.
“This is the power of racial subordination: making the viewpoint of the dominant group seem like the only true reality.”"
one of the unstated reasons for trying to set up policy-only debates is that once-dominant debate teams from colleges like Harvard and Northwestern are no longer winning the national competitions. “It is now much easier for smaller programs to be successful,” he said. “You don’t have to be from a high budget program; all you need to win is just a couple of smart students.” Schatz believes that the changes in college debate are widening the playing field and attracting more students from all backgrounds.
Actually, it's good that smaller programs can be successful.
It means that more people will have access to good programs.