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A couple of people were sharing this on Facebook, and I figured that this should be shared here. Thoughts?

 

From: Linda Listrom [mailto:lindalistrom@urbandebate.org] 
Sent: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 6:39 PM
To: Adam Powell; Amy Cram Helwich; Ashley Belanger; Brent Ferrand; Cameron Ward; CameronSecord@urbandebate.org; Coleen Reyes; Dwight Fryer; Edie Cante
r; Cook, Gabe; James Roland; Jessica Clark; John Lawson; jonesbb@comcast.net; Joni Chmiel; Mary H. Karr; mhermon@baudl.org; Pam
Block Brier; shawnbriscoe@urbandebate.org; Steve Stein
Subject: National Tournament Weekend
During our conference call today we had a discussion about some of the problems that we had at our national tournament last year. One of the Executive Directors asked me to summarize my remarks in writing, which is the purpose of this email. Please feel free to share this email with your staff.
Last year, we had some problems at the national tournament, particularly during the elimination rounds: (1) During cross examination, an African-American male debater shouted at a Caucasian female debater, “Sit your white ass down, bitch!” (2) There was a lot of profanity, particularly the use of the f-word. (3) In the final round, two African American female debaters ran an affirmative case in which they argued that urban debate should be abolished, because it “exploits” young women of color and forces them to be role models against their will. After the tournament, I received complaints from parents, coaches, and league staff. Some members of my board were so upset that they suggested banning certain schools and/or leagues from the 2015 tournament. In the aftermath of the tournament, I spent a lot of time thinking about these, and other related, issues. Here is where I come out:
On the one hand, I agree that in debate the best argument wins and that, for this reason, debaters should be allowed to make the arguments that they want to make. When some people suggest to me that we should “ban Kritiks” or “ban race cases,” I am not sympathetic. I also don’t believe that urban debate necessarily has to mirror what debate looked like in the 1970’s or the early 1980’s. Debate, like all other things in life, should evolve and grow. Urban debate, in particular, should reflect the ideas and values of our debaters.
On the other hand, this does not mean, as some have suggested, that in a debate round “anything goes.” In a civil society, all of us are expected to avoid behavior that reasonably hurts or offends others. This seems especially true in the urban debate community. All of you have taught me about the importance of this community. In fact, we have made changes in the national tournament in order to better reflect this community – e.g. changes to the judging pool, the use of alumni ambassadors, and the 3 local tournaments requirement. We now consider the national tournament to be an extension of the urban debate community which you have so carefully built. The national tournament is not the Tournament of Champions or the College National Debate Tournament. It is a weekend where we gather together with other members of the community and celebrate urban debate through debate competition.
In a community, all of us are expected to take reasonable steps to avoid offending or hurting other members of the community. I use the phrase “reasonable steps” quite intentionally. This does not mean that any time someone objects to a debater’s conduct in a debate round, the debater has done something wrong. It means that a debater should not engage in conduct that many in the urban debate community find offensive or hurtful. I hope that we can all agree that the conduct referenced above crosses that line. (1) Racial slurs, whether made by a white debater to an African American debater, or vice versa, are never appropriate in this community. (2) While we may use profanity liberally in our everyday lives, we need to bear in mind that the debaters at our national tournament are high school students who are participating in an educational activity. In this setting, profanity is inappropriate. Frankly, it also lowers the quality of the debate. When did the f-word become a substitute for an argument? (3) I understand that our debaters – many of whom are students of color – are interested in racial justice and I support them when they raise these issues in debate. But, it is not appropriate to argue at an urban debate tournament that urban debate is racist or exploitive. This kind of argument is insulting to all of us, who have dedicated ourselves to urban students and urban debate. It is also insulting to the sponsors who are paying for the debaters’ plane tickets and hotel room. By listing these things, I don’t mean to suggest that this is the only possible behavior which is inappropriate or unreasonable. Frankly, I suspect that our debaters know when they have crossed the line. If they don’t, you and your coaches certainly do.
So, what am I asking you to do? I am asking each league to have a conversation with the debaters and coaches who will be attending the national tournament. Make sure that they understand that this tournament is an extension of their urban debate community. They should treat the students that they will be competing against and the coaches who will be judging as they would members of their local urban debate community. Talk with them about what this means. I am confident that all you will find the right words to use to get the message across. But, we need to have this conversation and I am counting on you to have it. It would be sad and counterproductive if the lesson urban debaters learned from debate is that it is acceptable to say anything -- no matter how offensive it is -- to anyone at any time. If they believe that, we have let them down.
As I mentioned at the outset, after last year’s tournament, some of my board members demanded that I vigorously enforce our code of conduct and eject violators from the tournament, or ban them from future national tournaments. I don’t want to do that. First of all, I did not take this job in order to become the Urban Debate Police. I have better things to do. More importantly, once we resort to enforcing rules, we have lost. We have failed to create a community, and, instead, we are relying on tactics which will only make the situation worse. The only real solution is to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place.
But, if we have a repeat of last year (and I am confident that we will not), I won’t have any choice. My board will insist on banning debaters, schools, and possibly leagues from future tournaments.
Thank you for everything you do for urban students and urban debate. And I look forward to seeing all of you in California in a few weeks.
Best regards,
Linda
Linda L. Listrom
Executive Director
National Association for Urban Debate Leagues
200 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 1040
Chicago, IL 60604
lindalistrom@urbandebate.org

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I'm not sure what I think completely-- but I definitely think that this represents a problematic appeal to respectability politics that we've seen in the debate community recently. Particularly the stuff about how one is not allowed to criticize the structures one lives in is ridiculous (in terms of critiquing NAUDL).

 

I think that there is definitely a discussion to be had about how language can re-entrench power structures but also an overcensoring of that language becomes essentially respectability politics.

 

Sorry if this isn't the most cogent reply-- I'm off my allergy meds right now.

 

Here's what Amber said about it: "This letter from Linda Listrom is absolutely insane revese racist nonsense. And performs the very kind of silencing of thought and over-reliance on discipline that plagues education today. Nevermind that she condescends to say that the f word means two African-American women failed to make arguments, but the truly shocking part of this email is the requirement that students not criticize NAUDL because it sponsors their attendance. The notion that you would put your insecurities about how much you matter and your feelings of insult above the ability of students to critique the very institutions and structures they find themselves in is just absurd. More importantly, it's anti-educational. What civics 101 class would teach students to embrace blind patriotism without considering the responsibility to voice criticism as well? What teacher would want their students to not consider the investments and norms which constitute their worlds? The requirement to not "bad talk" NAUDL is tantamount to saying "if you don't like America why don't you just leave then." What's really shocking is how this email was written, sent out, and accepted with very little conversation or push back, and everyone seemed to fail to realize that this silencing move is emblematic of the very critique that has been made against UDLs."

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Well the NAUDL is at USC this year and I live in Los Angeles so I'll see for myself but as of right now I agree with what Miro posted above 

 

This sounds a lot like that Tournament that the more wealthy colleges tried to organize that would stick strictly to policy debate and would not invite "critical teams" like Oklahoma and Towson 

 

But Ms. Listrom does draw a distinction between the NAUDL and the ToC and the NDT - as opposed to those tournaments, the NAUDL is sponsored massively by outside forces and reading stuff like "Capitalism is racist shit yo" in the round in front of some of the sponsors is really bad because those people give the NAUDL money expecting a pedagogical activity, but instead they're given a round full of kids shouting at each other over stuff like Identity and Capitalism - Now, I will agree entirely that a discussion on race and capitalism is much more productive than a discussion on political simulations, but in the case of the NAUDL I'm not really sure what side to lean on...I think that Ms. Listrom is basically saying that those kids are a bunch of ingrates, but keep in mind that most of the teams that actually DO make it really far into the break rounds of the NAUDL are actually those very teams that compete at the ToC and then go onto compete at the NDT, for instance last year at the NAUDL I do believe it was Whitney Young DS that won the tournament, fast forward a couple weeks ahead and we see them in break rounds of the ToC. 

 

But y'all also have to understand that most UDL's are very ethnically and racially diverse and serve to bring debate to those students who can't afford to spend thousands of dollars traveling the country, attending camp, or having multiple coaches; and when some kids come along saying that we should abolish the UDL because it's "exclusionary" to some minorities, well c'mon now how do you expect them to react? Absolute hospitality is impossible, but UDL's try their best to create environments where people can feel safe. For instance, our league directer, Cameron Ward, is all about that "creating safe environments" and he succeeds greatly - he gives some of the best speeches that really brings the debate community closer 

 

I mean, these UDL debaters get their ENTIRE trips paid and even have a luxury dinner before the tournament, with numerous special guests, to inaugurate the tournament; as opposed to the ToC or the NDT where you have to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to attend and compete. This means that for the ToC and the NDT you can go on ahead and talk about whatever you want because you paid to be there and if you do something that gets you banned from those tournaments then so be it, thats your problem; but if you're from a UDL and you're there out of someone else's pockets then you should do your best to not be an ass and say nasty comments like the one Ms. Listrom cited above - I mean c'mon, why do we still call women "bitches", are we not better than that? Have we learned nothing about systems of oppression in debate? 

 

I think that a lot of the UDL debaters, that aren't really UDL as they compete in the National Circuit, are really taking this tournament for granted; whereas those other teams that don't break and really do care about the opportunity of even competing at the NAUDL are left to deal with the repercussions of a few schools who think it's okay to reply to racism with violence - nice community we have here. 

Edited by Theparanoiacmachine
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Ahem: "In a civil society"

 

Not gonna even touch this one

lmao I thought Wilderson exactly when I read that line 

 

I wouldn't be surprised if some team read this email as evidence on an anti-blackness K lmao 

Edited by Theparanoiacmachine
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I am not up to date with anti-blackness lit nor am I an experienced UDL db8er but I tend to think that an E-mail like this becomes evidene for why "Debate bad" is true and moreover why debaters should put their cards where their mouth is (Guess that phrase doesn't work quite as well when I try to debateify it) and actually refuse to compete. 

 

You want to say that UDL's are exclusionary and ultimately problematic? This is the proof, the only choice is action. How can you reform it from the inside when this E-mail makes it evident that the reaction from the community will be to simply bar debaters from competing. I look at this as outright hostility to the beliefs that are being held by these debaters. Additionally, the thought that debaters can be policed about their own discourse within the round by something other than the other team and judge just makes my blood boil. 

 

I don't know how I feel about UDL's since I've never been in one and have not had the related experiences, but if it is truly as bad as the debaters who make these arguments say it is... I think a general strike against them would be the best action. 

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Shanara Reid-Brinkley's thoughts on the UDLs might very well be confirmed by this email:

 

I understood that the UDL was a segregated space, and you don’t produce greatness through segregation. Separate is not everequal.

Edited by Raybadursh
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That email really just shows the problem that is white liberalism. They "embrace" race debate because it feeds into this white feel good complex. The NAUDL ppl feel accomplished cause they fostered an important discussion on race. But when the debaters start taking shots at the NAUDL then debaters need to back down. My biggest problem is that they are forcing a politic of respectability upon Poc debaters. The debaters words are only valuable if they speak through the lens of the "white supremacy". So the race debate can only happen on the NAUDL's terms. Criticizing NAUDL isn't allowed because it's down right "Offensive". This is not what a healthy debate space constitutes. This is just another space that is rooted in antiblackness and they are limiting one of if not THE most important space for young people to resist white supremacy because their corporate sponsors would be upset if they knew what was going on. This is an obvious example of when the paycheck is more important than the student.

Debate is about the students not the coaches and administrators stupid ego. 

 

Solution: We need a Woman of Color who is directly associated with the debaters to lead the NAUDL. 

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tbh I think I'm most interested in point 1 of this email because the rest of it seems obviously wrong.

 

I think that there is a fine line between trying to avoid respectability politics and letting in-round actions that may (in some sense) re-entrench dominant power structures slide. I think the primary problem is that we focus on these instances when it happens to white debaters when shit like this happens to POC all the time. However, I still think this "fine line" is an important consideration. What do y'all think?

 

The above stuff about allergy meds still applies

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That email really just shows the problem that is white liberalism. They "embrace" race debate because it feeds into this white feel good complex. The NAUDL ppl feel accomplished cause they fostered an important discussion on race. But when the debaters start taking shots at the NAUDL then debaters need to back down. 

^^This so much.  I come from a very liberal community, and one of the big problems with it, in my opinion, is that liberalism in many ways only reinforces white privilege because we can feel so good about ourselves because we're so wonderfully progressive, and there's a bunch of really interesting (not really the right word, but w/e) and tricky problems associated with that.  The most relevant one in this email is what Ananth just pointed out; the more progressive you think you are, the more offended you are when someone calls you out for your privilege.  I think in many ways it parallels an afro-pessimist critique of reformism: white civil society can point to little good things they've done to distract from broader changes that need to be made.  It's great that Ms. Linstrom thinks it's absurd to ban K's, but you don't get to make that conditional as soon as it's your ass under the fire.

 

Now, that being said, there are certain realities that others have alluded to better than I could, so I won't try.  One of the biggest issues with that critique of reformism above is that this argument is itself quite privileged.  Obviously broad, ideological, emancipatory goals are great in theory, but some change is better than none.  Having the opportunity to debate at all truly is an amazing gift, and I'm not sure that things would be better if everyone stood up on principle and the sponsors of the UDL stopped giving them money to debate. It's a hard truth to hear, but nevertheless I think it is a truth that needs to be heard.

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Now, that being said, there are certain realities that others have alluded to better than I could, so I won't try.  One of the biggest issues with that critique of reformism above is that this argument is itself quite privileged.  Obviously broad, ideological, emancipatory goals are great in theory, but some change is better than none.  Having the opportunity to debate at all truly is an amazing gift, and I'm not sure that things would be better if everyone stood up on principle and the sponsors of the UDL stopped giving them money to debate. It's a hard truth to hear, but nevertheless I think it is a truth that needs to be heard.

 

I think that a Woman of color should lead it b/c they will represent the needs of the community better. I mean it is still conditional on who it is. 

I do think the uproar from the community may be able to change something 

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I think that a Woman of color should lead it b/c they will represent the needs of the community better. I mean it is still conditional on who it is. 

I do think the uproar from the community may be able to change something 

Why is that going to help though? From what I understand, the NAUDL is kind of stuck because they risk alienating a lot of their sponsors if the argumentation gets too radical.  I'm just curious why having someone of a different race in charge would do something to change that basic fact.

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Why is that going to help though? From what I understand, the NAUDL is kind of stuck because they risk alienating a lot of their sponsors if the argumentation gets too radical.  I'm just curious why having someone of a different race in charge would do something to change that basic fact.

Its a legit concern

I think its mainly because Wocs are more likely to understand the needs of many of the debaters who are of color. I dont know if that will 100% solve its still based on who it is. 

 

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Shanara Reid-Brinkley's thoughts on the UDLs might very well be confirmed by this email:

 

I understood that the UDL was a segregated space, and you don’t produce greatness through segregation. Separate is not everequal.

 

As someone who coaches in a UDL, she's 100% wrong.  You know what would happen if we didn't create separate spaces for underprivileged schools to compete in?  Less underprivileged debaters competing and learning debate. 

 

The Chicago UDL has a 4-tiered system.  RCC, LCC, A, AA, from most to least competitive.  RCC includes schools like Whitney Young.  Some tournaments involve multiple tiers, and some only a single tier, with the last tournament involving all of them.  In addition to the reality that there aren't enough tournament locations which could host them all, it's the lower league coaches (and frequently students) who are most vocal about maintaining the separation between the tiers, because having real chances to make break rounds and win hardware is something that motivates students to stick with debate.  We had a coaches list e-mail exchange at one point this year where there was, among other things, some coaches complaining about the need to do research.  For example:

 

 

 

Debate makes reading and comprehension competitive that's the best thing about it, but when u make the debate not about reading or critical thinking skills, which also don't happen over night, and make it about researching and trying to find the loop hole that wins the debate that's just sinister.

 

I'm not endorsing that viewpoint, but it's an expression of frustration at how disadvantaged the most underprivileged schools are.

 

Anyway, that last tournament, the city championship, has pretty similar outcomes from year to year.  The top 20 speakers in varsity will be 75%+ RCC, with LCC making up the rest.  The top speaker for each league is also announced, and the reality is that's the only way AA and A debaters get recognized for their speaking ability.  JV (re: novice) isn't much better, although the disparity is not quite so bad.  (It's still bad - RCC especially benefit from attending many non-UDL tournaments, and so even their novice debaters have a lot more experience, plus stronger varsity team members to assist them).  Teams making break rounds tend to be even more heavily biased towards RCC in varsity, and non-RCC teams tend to drop in Octofinals.  (I confess to not pouring over the JV results as carefully, so I'll refrain from drawing conclusions there).  

 

Now, I've never heard it suggested that radical K affirmative or negative positions should be discouraged in the Chicago UDL (although I don't think I've seen a criticism of UDLs themselves), but most of the schools running these types of arguments are RCC and LCC schools.  All of this supposedly liberatory anti-topical affirmative argumentation actively discriminates against the actual underprivileged debaters in practice.  It's hugely ironic (and not in a good way) to see teams arguing cases about systemic oppression based on race, gender, or culture when the team they're debating against experiences even greater systemic oppression, and that systemic oppression is such that it impairs their ability to effectively argue the round.  Debate would be better, more educational, and more fair for the truly underprivileged if it was more limited.

 

(And, for what it's worth, every time I've given my students a choice between a K aff, a policy aff with K advantages, or a pure policy aff - they always choose pure policy.  Always.  The idea that underprivileged kids are disadvantaged by running 'normal policy cases' seems to be false on-face.  They certainly don't feel that way.)

 

And it's all well and good to say that we need to do more to reach out to these underprivileged debaters, but (1) resources are limited.  I probably do more work than a lot of coaches, because I find the provided core files to be irredeemably awful, and so I cut a lot of evidence for my students.  That's work most coaches don't do, and rely on the core files for their debaters.  (2) Getting underprivileged students to commit in a deep and serious way is hard.  The fact that we get them to do debate at all is amazing for them, but there's a lot of pushback on simply asking them to do some research or even to committing to attending 6 tournaments.  Many of them have problems with reading comprehension even at the level of reading a newspaper, because the education system has failed them that badly.  

 

We want these students debating.  Throwing them into the deep end against schools like Whitney Young from their first tournament on would fail miserably.  With all respect to Ms. Reid-Brinkley, she doesn't have the first clue what she's talking about.  It's not the segregation of the debate space that makes it unequal, it's the differential failure of the education system.

Edited by Squirrelloid
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As someone who coaches in a UDL, she's 100% wrong.  You know what would happen if we didn't create separate spaces for underprivileged schools to compete in?  Less underprivileged debaters competing and learning debate. 

 

The Chicago UDL has a 4-tiered system.  RCC, LCC, A, AA, from most to least competitive.  RCC includes schools like Whitney Young.  Some tournaments involve multiple tiers, and some only a single tier, with the last tournament involving all of them.  In addition to the reality that there aren't enough tournament locations which could host them all, it's the lower league coaches (and frequently students) who are most vocal about maintaining the separation between the tiers, because having real chances to make break rounds and win hardware is something that motivates students to stick with debate.  We had a coaches list e-mail exchange at one point this year where there was, among other things, some coaches complaining about the need to do research.  For example:

 

 

 

 

I'm not endorsing that viewpoint, but it's an expression of frustration at how disadvantaged the most underprivileged schools are.

 

Anyway, that last tournament, the city championship, has pretty similar outcomes from year to year.  The top 20 speakers in varsity will be 75%+ RCC, with LCC making up the rest.  The top speaker for each league is also announced, and the reality is that's the only way AA and A debaters get recognized for their speaking ability.  JV (re: novice) isn't much better, although the disparity is not quite so bad.  (It's still bad - RCC especially benefit from attending many non-UDL tournaments, and so even their novice debaters have a lot more experience, plus stronger varsity team members to assist them).  Teams making break rounds tend to be even more heavily biased towards RCC in varsity, and non-RCC teams tend to drop in Octofinals.  (I confess to not pouring over the JV results as carefully, so I'll refrain from drawing conclusions there).  

 

Now, I've never heard it suggested that radical K affirmative or negative positions should be discouraged in the Chicago UDL (although I don't think I've seen a criticism of UDLs themselves), but most of the schools running these types of arguments are RCC and LCC schools.  All of this supposedly liberatory anti-topical affirmative argumentation actively discriminates against the actual underprivileged debaters in practice.  It's hugely ironic (and not in a good way) to see teams arguing cases about systemic oppression based on race, gender, or culture when the team they're debating against experiences even greater systemic oppression, and that systemic oppression is such that it impairs their ability to effectively argue the round.  Debate would be better, more educational, and more fair for the truly underprivileged if it was more limited.

 

(And, for what it's worth, every time I've given my students a choice between a K aff, a policy aff with K advantages, or a pure policy aff - they always choose pure policy.  Always.  The idea that underprivileged kids are disadvantaged by running 'normal policy cases' seems to be false on-face.  They certainly don't feel that way.)

 

And it's all well and good to say that we need to do more to reach out to these underprivileged debaters, but (1) resources are limited.  I probably do more work than a lot of coaches, because I find the provided core files to be irredeemably awful, and so I cut a lot of evidence for my students.  That's work most coaches don't do, and rely on the core files for their debaters.  (2) Getting underprivileged students to commit in a deep and serious way is hard.  The fact that we get them to do debate at all is amazing for them, but there's a lot of pushback on simply asking them to do some research or even to committing to attending 6 tournaments.  Many of them have problems with reading comprehension even at the level of reading a newspaper, because the education system has failed them that badly.  

 

We want these students debating.  Throwing them into the deep end against schools like Whitney Young from their first tournament on would fail miserably.  With all respect to Ms. Reid-Brinkley, she doesn't have the first clue what she's talking about.  It's not the segregation of the debate space that makes it unequal, it's the differential failure of the education system.

Hopefully a college education allows me to be able to piece my thoughts together in such a beautiful way as you have done 

 

There's a massive difference between a novice team at Notre Dame High School (National Team) and a novice team at South Gate High School (UDL Team) for instance 

 

My massive commitment to debate necessitated a fundamental trade-off with other activities, for example, as I dropped out of numerous clubs and organizations to simply "read-up" on the literature (and that was at JV level mind you, learning a Cap K) and the theory behind debate (i.e. the buzzwords like Link, DA, Linear DA, Severance, etc.) and even then my success was only marginal - I spent my past three, entire, summers watching debate vides online and watching all of the recorded SDI lectures on youtube in order to be a good debater, not only for myself, but for my squad who needs the help or the motivation even to remain in the activity (because who wants to stay in something that they're always losing in?) - I try to help out my league but they're composed mostly of snakes so I can't really communicate with them well, I even took a damn Greyhound Bus for 9 hours to get to Berkeley JUST TO WATCH my friends compete at the Invitational and stayed up for three days (no sleep - coffee does miracles) to help them with last minute preparations for the tournament, but even then they went 2-4 (Some judges were questionable, other rounds were clearly lost, like when they went up against Head Royce CT, for instance); in fact, no school in my league has ever done above a 2-4 in Invitationals in the varsity division (I competed ONCE in the JV division and broke to quarters, dropped in semis - but I simply do not have the funds nor the partner commitment to even compete anymore). A lot of people told me that they truly believed I could've broken at an invitational (as those years of studying weren't for nothing), but we'll never know as I have NOT had a partner for longer than 1 tournament in my ENTIRE debate career, nor have I ever had the opportunity (because of lack of funds) to even COMPETE in tournaments that are not part of my UDL 

 

I still have people tell me that they think I can probably make it to the NDT (still in High School, but I'm a senior) but tbh I've become so disinterested in debate because it's so much attuned to the privileged (i.e. the really good, top, colleges like Northwestern or Harvard) that I've pretty much convinced myself not to pursue a debate career in college

 

I really wish debate wasn't so messed up for UDL's tbh 

Edited by Theparanoiacmachine
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As someone who coaches in a UDL, she's 100% wrong.  You know what would happen if we didn't create separate spaces for underprivileged schools to compete in?  Less underprivileged debaters competing and learning debate. 

 

The Chicago UDL has a 4-tiered system.  RCC, LCC, A, AA, from most to least competitive.  RCC includes schools like Whitney Young.  Some tournaments involve multiple tiers, and some only a single tier, with the last tournament involving all of them.  In addition to the reality that there aren't enough tournament locations which could host them all, it's the lower league coaches (and frequently students) who are most vocal about maintaining the separation between the tiers, because having real chances to make break rounds and win hardware is something that motivates students to stick with debate.  We had a coaches list e-mail exchange at one point this year where there was, among other things, some coaches complaining about the need to do research.  For example:

 

 

 

 

 

I'm not endorsing that viewpoint, but it's an expression of frustration at how disadvantaged the most underprivileged schools are.

 

Anyway, that last tournament, the city championship, has pretty similar outcomes from year to year.  The top 20 speakers in varsity will be 75%+ RCC, with LCC making up the rest.  The top speaker for each league is also announced, and the reality is that's the only way AA and A debaters get recognized for their speaking ability.  JV (re: novice) isn't much better, although the disparity is not quite so bad.  (It's still bad - RCC especially benefit from attending many non-UDL tournaments, and so even their novice debaters have a lot more experience, plus stronger varsity team members to assist them).  Teams making break rounds tend to be even more heavily biased towards RCC in varsity, and non-RCC teams tend to drop in Octofinals.  (I confess to not pouring over the JV results as carefully, so I'll refrain from drawing conclusions there).  

 

Now, I've never heard it suggested that radical K affirmative or negative positions should be discouraged in the Chicago UDL (although I don't think I've seen a criticism of UDLs themselves), but most of the schools running these types of arguments are RCC and LCC schools.  All of this supposedly liberatory anti-topical affirmative argumentation actively discriminates against the actual underprivileged debaters in practice.  It's hugely ironic (and not in a good way) to see teams arguing cases about systemic oppression based on race, gender, or culture when the team they're debating against experiences even greater systemic oppression, and that systemic oppression is such that it impairs their ability to effectively argue the round.  Debate would be better, more educational, and more fair for the truly underprivileged if it was more limited.

 

(And, for what it's worth, every time I've given my students a choice between a K aff, a policy aff with K advantages, or a pure policy aff - they always choose pure policy.  Always.  The idea that underprivileged kids are disadvantaged by running 'normal policy cases' seems to be false on-face.  They certainly don't feel that way.)

 

And it's all well and good to say that we need to do more to reach out to these underprivileged debaters, but (1) resources are limited.  I probably do more work than a lot of coaches, because I find the provided core files to be irredeemably awful, and so I cut a lot of evidence for my students.  That's work most coaches don't do, and rely on the core files for their debaters.  (2) Getting underprivileged students to commit in a deep and serious way is hard.  The fact that we get them to do debate at all is amazing for them, but there's a lot of pushback on simply asking them to do some research or even to committing to attending 6 tournaments.  Many of them have problems with reading comprehension even at the level of reading a newspaper, because the education system has failed them that badly.  

 

We want these students debating.  Throwing them into the deep end against schools like Whitney Young from their first tournament on would fail miserably.  With all respect to Ms. Reid-Brinkley, she doesn't have the first clue what she's talking about.  It's not the segregation of the debate space that makes it unequal, it's the differential failure of the education system.

Deserves a double up vote. That was incredibly well said.
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I don't debate in an UDL, but one of my best friends has shared her thoughts on them extensively. 

UDLs are spaces to learn about things that are otherwise not considered important in her community, like racism and patriarchy, and to make change happen, or at least try to make a point that those things do matter. 

Even if it means shaking the foundation of a tournament in order to facilitate meaningful discourse the cause is a good one. The fact that those arguments make people uncomfortable means that it works. It means that people will have to analyze their position in relation to others and realize that the world is not as simple as it seems, and that it does and does not privilege certain groups of people.

The solution is to keep shaking the foundation of the academy. It means being disruptive. It means drawing attention to yourself in order to affect a change that matters. It means speaking up, especially in places that don't want you to. 

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 With all respect to Ms. Reid-Brinkley, she doesn't have the first clue what she's talking about.  It's not the segregation of the debate space that makes it unequal, it's the differential failure of the education system.

 

Are you seriously going to make the argument that SRB doesn't understand the UDL format/model/system/complex?

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Are you seriously going to make the argument that SRB doesn't understand the UDL format/model/system/complex?

 

Based on the quote, yes.  The goal of UDLs isn't to create TOC-winning teams (although I believe they have, and that's always a nice bonus), the goal is to get students debating, especially underprivileged students.  (And I do know of at least one sub-RCC chicago school which sent at least one team to the TOC not that many years ago.  So greatness can be born even from a 'segregated' league.)

 

Most debaters will never win a major national tournament.  Heck, most debaters will never break at a major national tournament.  That's not where the value of doing debate comes from anyway.  Recognition for excellence is nice, but the primary goal is to just get students doing it.

Edited by Squirrelloid

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Based on the quote, yes.  The goal of UDLs isn't to create TOC-winning teams (although I believe they have, and that's always a nice bonus), the goal is to get students debating, especially underprivileged students.  (And I do know of at least one sub-RCC chicago school which sent at least one team to the TOC not that many years ago.  So greatness can be born even from a 'segregated' league.)

 

Most debaters will never win a major national tournament.  Heck, most debaters will never break at a major national tournament.  That's not where the value of doing debate comes from anyway.  Recognition for excellence is nice, but the primary goal is to just get students doing it.

What team was able to do that? 

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Based on the quote, yes.  The goal of UDLs isn't to create TOC-winning teams (although I believe they have, and that's always a nice bonus), the goal is to get students debating, especially underprivileged students.  (And I do know of at least one sub-RCC chicago school which sent at least one team to the TOC not that many years ago.  So greatness can be born even from a 'segregated' league.)

 

Most debaters will never win a major national tournament.  Heck, most debaters will never break at a major national tournament.  That's not where the value of doing debate comes from anyway.  Recognition for excellence is nice, but the primary goal is to just get students doing it.

 

I don't think you get to decide the single pedagogical praxis of what UDLs are intended to do. Furthermore, UDNC is a National Championship - it is to be a tournament to determine the best UDL team in the country - explain to me why the best UDL teams should not be encouraged to be competitive with the most elite programs? Explain why they shouldn't try to win the TOC? I've never as a coach felt satisfied that my kids could read at a better reading level than when they first started competing. That's a pretty ironic consideration when the CDL has been incredibly successful in competition at UDNC and TOC. You have cornered your position to be that competitive excellence and mass outreach are some how in conflict. 

 

If you read the article, Dr. SRB's dissertation, her blog, or her other stuff that she publishes I think you'd be hard pressed to claim that ANYONE (let alone you) know more about UDLs than her. Considering Linda's email has created some consternation with the structure of NAUDL, here's another example of how the UDL structure has unintentionally created de facto segregation: http://newarkteacher.blogspot.com/2015/04/why-newark-science-left-national.html 

 

"Most debaters won't win a major national tournament"? I sure hope not, that's what makes those victories so special. Crowning a champion doesn't some how negate the countless teams that don't get a bid/win a tournament/etc but have personally achieved educative progress and academic fluency. 

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Looks like he deleted his post, below is the original commentary:

 

Why Newark Science Left the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL): The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
 
The following was a letter written to Linda Listrom, the Executive Director of the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues on March 13. To date there has been no response. Well meaning white missionaries can do insidiously harmful and racist things. I believe that the movement of urban debate is important. Hopefully this is something we can learn from:
 
Dear Linda LIstrom: 
 
My name is Jonathan Alston. I am the director of debate at Science Park High School in Newark, NJ. I have coached there for 22 years with considerable success locally, regionally, and nationally.  I find recent attempts by the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) to control and distort high school academic debate for Black and Brown children insulting, anti-intellectual, and condescendingly racist. Your organization, which considers itself important to Black and Brown debaters all over the United States, is doing the debate equivalent of telling our championship debater, SunHee Simon, that she debates too white. Your organization is telling her and the rest of the Newark Debate Academy (NDA) that her consistent and unrelenting national and international excellence disqualifies her from participation and recognition as an Urban Debate League (UDL) debater. The NDA educates the same population you claim to want to target. It seems that the difference between our organizations is that we understand that students can be financially poor, from underserved communities, but still among the best debaters in the United States. 
 
At issue is the NAUDL's insistence on defining what tournaments SunHee and Adegoke can participate in to make them eligible for NAUDL Nationals, and the NAUDL debater of the year. SunHee is a proud product of the Newark Debate Academy and has debated for us since the 7th grade. She participates in fund raising drives, scrimmages, and she helps train our younger debaters. The excellence she has shown this year, through winning the Greenhill debate tournament in LD, being a co-Champion of the Berkeley Tournament in LD, and being — along with her debate partner Adegoke Fakorede — the only students in the history of debate to double qualify for the National High School Tournament of Champions in both policy debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate, has been extremely valuable to the NDA. We nominated her for the NAUDL Debater of the Year because we believe that she is a role model and inspiration for Urban Debaters throughout Newark, and, unlike your organization, we believe that she is an inspiration to Black and Brown debaters throughout the United States. Her visible leadership on the United States debate team has been ground-breaking. Our young, Black woman from Newark was in the top 8 in Germany, the top speaker in Minnesota, the top speaker in Los Angeles, and an important part of the first place USA Debate team's success in Slovenia.

 
In spite of having the full support of the Newark Debate Academy, SunHee Simon and Adegoke Fakorede are told that they do not qualify for NAUDL Championships and the NAUDL Debater of the Year because the National office will not consider scrimmages, fund raisers, local State and District tournaments as counting toward your new 3 tournament local NDA participation rule. Militza Diaz, the program director of the Newark Debate Academy, clearly explained to your organization that the regular season NDA tournaments are training tournaments for our less experienced debaters. The NDA encourages its more experienced debaters to push themselves and debate at larger regional, national, and even international tournaments. Should we have told SunHee that she should not have been Champion at Greenhill or Berkeley because she should be debating first and second year debaters at our local NDA tournaments? Are the scrimmages she had against more experienced UDL debaters in Newark and New York in front of Rutgers Debate Team coaches less meaningful than debating three rounds against the novice and junior varsity debaters from our local league? 
 
When Brent Farrand first started our team in 1980 he was told by local officials that they did not want us to debate against students from the suburbs because they didn't want us to get our feelings hurt. Brent smiled and told them that it was the kids from the suburbs who needed to worry. Your director of debate programs, Luke Hill, helped coach Northwestern University to a National Championship in College policy debate. We train our top debaters to beat Northwestern. And we have succeeded in doing that. Our local league tournaments train novices, junior varsity debaters, and varsity debaters who want fun, educational local experiences, but for whatever reason may not have the desire, time or energy to invest in more integrated and rigorous regional or national level debates.  Forcing students and programs to choose between regional and national competitions and local NDA tournaments is to pervert our local league from being a training ground of opportunity to a forced space of segregation. SunHee and Adegoke must be banned from your tournament because they debated too many wealthy white students this year. Their consistent national (and international) success make them no longer Urban Debate League members in good standing. Their excellence is what disqualifies them. You make "Urban Debate" mediocre. 
 
I find that well meaning white liberals who work with Black and Brown children must really think about the assumptions they have when they try to implement their vision. Though my politics is very different from his, George Bush had a point when he criticized white liberals as having the "soft bigotry of low expectations." I read an email that your office sent to Sharon Hopkins, the coach of University Prep in Detroit, last year explaining to her that the NAUDL "Debater of the Year" was not simply about debate accomplishments, but about a "personal story" of overcoming "obstacles". In other words, they had to find a story of struggle to include in the application. Because of course, being excellent in debate is not enough of a struggle for Black and Brown debaters. We have to prove our Blackness, our authenticity, through pain, struggle and hardship for "Debater of the Year" recognition. We can't just beat the wealthiest public and private high schools in the country in academic debate. I don't think that a demonstration of personal suffering would be the standard you would have for your child to prove that she or he was "Debater of the Year". 
 
UDL debaters are changing the face of American intellectualism. 2013 College National Debate Tournament (NDT) Champion and the college Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Champion Elijah Smith hails from Newark. Chris Randall, a member of the prestigious 2014 Copeland Panel for college debate is from Baltimore. 2014 CEDA Champion Corey Johnson is from Baltimore. 2014 NDT Top Speaker Rashid Campbell is from Oakland. 2014 High School Tournament of Champions semi-finalists Rayvon Dean and Brooke Kimbrough are from Detroit. Maybe if you did not use terms like "National Urban Debate Championship" and "Debater of the Year", we would better understand. Maybe if you used terms like, "The Quasi-Competitive National Conference for Underprivileged Speakers" or the "Black Struggle of the Year Recipient", your current vision would be more honest. 

 
In one of the arguments that SunHee made at the start of the year she referred to herself as an underprivileged debater. I told her to take that out. Elijah Smith helped coach her during her freshmen and sophomore year. Chris Randall and Dr. Tommy Curry, a professor of philosophy at Texas A & M, helped coach her during her junior and senior year. Our Board of Education and the City of Newark deeply support what we do. Our debaters don't do well in spite of Newark; our debaters do well because of Newark and the institutions we set up to promote local, regional, national, and even international excellence. This doesn't mean that I don't have to at times find students places to live or call social services to intervene in the home lives of my students. This doesn't mean that I don't get calls at 10pm that one of my debaters is locked out of her home and has no place to sleep. This doesn't mean that I don't come out of my pocket to pay for food because a student will not eat that evening. This doesn't mean that I haven't had students who have been involved in the criminal justice system or who faced various forms of violence. But in the Newark Debate Academy, poverty never, ever means mediocrity. We have the same population you claim to serve, we just find ways to make the ones who work the hardest, who dedicate the most time, into Champions. 
 
You told Militza that you had no interest in SunHee winning another Championship: that you are not interested in the best debaters competing. SunHee and Adegoke want to go to the NAUDL Championship because they understand that "Urban debate" must mean excellence. It isn't about just another Championship, but a Championship that is associated with Black and Brown youth and the greatness they are capable of exhibiting. Too often Black is associated with failing, violence, pain and mediocrity, and that unfortunately is the pathetic, pitiful perception of Blackness with which you are most comfortable. Or at least the image that you feel you are — as you told Militza — best able to market to your corporate funders. I believe that your vision of urban debate, and your perception of Blackness is corrosive. As long as you have this pedagogically destructive vision, you should not be allowed to influence the education of Black and Brown children. 
 
Sincerely,
 
Jonathan Alston
Director of Debate
Science Park High School
Newark, NJ
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I, personally, find a few things in the above to be objectionable but it certainly illustrates the point that the UDL structure is far from perfect and can oddly prioritizes competition in the UDL over UDL teams determining their own schedule and debating where they'd like against teams they'd like. 

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I was totally unaware that NAUDL had changed the requirement for NAUDL recognition to include participation in 3 UDL tournaments.  Not that it would be a problem for chicago-area schools, since a number of competitive regional tournaments in the area are designated as 'counts as a UDL tournament' anyway.  (And to be honest, I have pretty much no interaction directly with NAUDL.  The only time we'd ever interact with them directly is if we qualified a team for the NAUDL championship tournament).

 

But not all segregation of debaters by school resources is bad - I specifically defended the CDL's multi-tier system, which creates separate and definitely unequal competitive brackets that allows underprivileged schools to find competitive success against comparable programs without having to hit top national teams.

 

I will also note that the CDL does not limit schools to only their own conference tournaments.  You can take students to regional, national, and higher division local tournaments as you choose, and when they qualify as CDL tournaments they are counted towards performance metrics for the debaters and the school within the UDL.

 

So I totally agree that the requirement criticized by the letter you posted is wrong-headed and unfair.  That still doesn't make SRB's blanket statement right - it is quite obviously wrong in other instances.

 

And I never claimed that competitive excellence and mass outreach are incompatible or conflict directly.  But most students are never going to achieve the highest levels of excellence, and creating spaces for everyone else to debate in where they can be rewarded for the talent they do have does not stop those students who are dedicated to achieving national excellence.  That latter is a choice of the student - I can't push my debaters to care enough to put in the time and work to do that.  They have to want that.  (My two most promising varsity this past year sacrificed debate effort and performance for other activities, and if they think that was the best decision for them, it's not my place to criticize).

 

If I have students who are up to it, I will take them to a tournament like Glenbrooks.  And have.  But for my students who don't want to commit to the activity that much, I'd rather have them doing the activity against other debaters with the same level of resources and commitment.   "Segregation" lets all levels of interest and skill find a place where they can enjoy the activity and learn from it.  They would stop showing up if all they had to look forward to was getting clobbered by the likes of Whitney Young or Northside College Prep every tournament.

Edited by Squirrelloid
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