of programs with a multitude of diverse goals, ultimately, all programs seek to provide additional debate instruction and training outside of the school experience.
How do we improve the experience of women in these summer settings? Bekah Boyer, a former debater and an assistant debate coach in Texas, notes: We have passed the time to merely “add women and stir” to the formula comprising the debate workshop experience. We must recognize that gender is not something which accessorizes an identity but rather constitutes a fundamental lens through which an individual experiences the world: these lived experiences both aggregate and remain unequivocally unique— nevertheless, these nuanced issues can no longer be written off as singular exceptions. Gender-based and sexual harassment within the debate community are empirically undeniable and that includes during the summer. The fact is, we cannot separate the experiences of women at debate institutes from the experiences of women in debate, both in the classroom and in competition. In the course of this article, we will have an honest discussion about the problems women experience at camp and offer ways to potentially improve the experiences of all women in these summer settings.
It is important to continue these types of conversations in the summer. As Mariah*, 16, writes: I think there should be more open discussions and more importance placed on the issue of gender equality and representation in this space. I think a lot of debaters recognize it as important, but
secondary. This space needs to be one in which we actively try to recognize female voices. Too often when I look at the listing for outrounds of big bid tournaments, I only ever see a handful of women in the mix. I’ve been called emotional, rash, bitchy, whiney, and a slew of other words by both judges and opponents. The community needs to facilitate environments that make it clear that this type of treatment is unacceptable. We should listen to one another. We should listen without doubt or skepticism or preconceived notions or expectations. We should take the time to have the difficult conversations. This has to start with staff members realizing that the way they choose to handle sexism in the debate space directly trickles down to how their debaters will instinctively learn to respond to the very same problems.
What issues do women face as they participate in summer experiences? Kara*, 17: Both years of camp experience drastically improved my knowledge and application of debate both technically and theoretically. Something I noticed was the vast lack of female representation both in leaders and also in campers attending. The experience at camp was overall a positive learning experience. However, the process of learning and practicing at camp was occasionally unnecessarily competitive, unsupportive, and (dare I say) cliquey. Nala*, 16: I attended camp and as a trans person of color (POC), I felt very discriminated against. A lot of the talk about women in debate was very hetero normative and trans exclusive. I felt like my life wasn’t being validated.
Other women report feeling like they had to be better than the boys to be seen as being as good, that they wanted more females in leadership, that they wish they’d had a female lab leader, that conversations about women in debate were common but could be better by allowing more discussion and reflection, and that the summer programs largely represented the same challenges they faced in debate during the school year. A number of them noted that programs with a national circuit culture felt more toxic than others, leaving them with greater feelings of exclusion.
What can be done to make these summer experiences better for women, and as a corollary, better for all?
Structure of the Institute To begin, let’s examine the issues that should be considered by institute directors as they prepare for summer.
Legal Concerns Liability is an important concern in all student settings. Summer programs led by individuals who have not fully explored the legal requirements may lack the proper protections for students, staff, and the institute. Instructors and staff should check with directors on what protections exist for them, and parents should make sure these questions are resolved satisfactorily before sending their children. These may include at a minimum: • Mandatory background checks performed by an external agency • Child abuse and mandatory reporting information • Harassment and sexual assault information These training requirements are not suggesting that summer experiences present unique danger; rather, they are to ensure that adults in a supervisory capacity know what to do if presented with information about an occurrence,
* Named sources participated in interviews for the purpose of sharing their thoughts in this article. Others participated in an online survey; only first names and ages are used, but names have been changed to respect privacy.
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Volume 91 Issue 4