Guest column: Women’s victories do not erase systemic debate sexism

It’s devastating to realize I am no longer a debater, but it’s more devastating to understand why. I never wanted to write an op-ed or talk publicly about my experiences in debate, but the unfortunate truth is we are obligated to defend our right to fair treatment. I don’t know how to put into words what a painful and life-changing choice it is to leave something I had been so passionate about, but I know that nothing short of daily micro-aggressions, discrimination, harassment, perpetually feeling unsafe and in some cases sexual violence could get me to the desperate point I reached this semester. Nothing else could get me to risk retaliation from the team, retaliation I and others have already faced, in order to tell my story in public.

Both Kevin Kuswa’s letter and a recent op-ed about debate made several factually inaccurate claims about debate culture that have tokenized me as a woman in debate, implying that because I’ve had success, there can’t possibly be a problem. There has been a consistent theme of tossing around women’s wins as a sign that there’s no discrimination and that sexism is solved. Two pieces published in The Pioneer reference the Sacramento State tournament in which Emma Newmark and I, the only woman-woman partnership on the squad, advanced into finals following a discussion with the other two Whitman debaters present. I have never been so ashamed as when I watched people betray me by placing my success on a tokenized pedestal.

Emma and I became partners following her decision to quit the Parliamentary Team after a tournament in which she was not only ignored by her teammates but by her coach. Throughout our time as partners, we were the only team members who were expected to qualify our worth to the team. We made different arguments that were “useless” to everyone else, and while these same arguments have been previously cited as evidence of the team’s willingness to embrace inclusive debate, they were in no way accepted.

This season we were never traveled with the entire team, were consistently told we were not good enough regardless of the fact that we’ve competed for the duration of our time at Whitman, and were the only people who had to explicitly ask for drills and assignments. To put it into perspective, this is the equivalent of having to ask your professor to assign you homework and tests while they simultaneously fail you for everything you don’t turn in. Unlike the other debaters, neither Emma nor I had our own workspace in the Whitman prep rooms, while everyone else had their own desk and dual-monitor computer set-up. Kevin Kuswa has directly cited the “inclusivity” of this environment in his recently published letter, but none of these practices seem particularly inclusive to me.

Never once in my career as a debater have I felt equal to other members of the team. First they said I was new, then that I didn’t have a good enough record, and then that I just wasn’t committed enough. I don’t know why I stayed through tournaments where I was barely spoken to, had a judge from another school stick his hand up my shirt, and never felt like I had any preparation, but I did because I didn’t want to wash out. The worst part is that it’s hard to put my finger on why I’m so miserable in debate. I constantly wondered if I just couldn’t hack it. Every time I did come forward and say something, I was treated as an entitled brat or dismissed completely.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, feelings and experiences surrounding the suspension of the team, but no one is entitled to speak for mine. Neither this college nor anyone else should condone the discrimination I have experienced on this team and in the debate world, and it’s sad to watch a community so concerned about sexism defend Whitman Debate. I loved certain aspects of debate, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t learned from it, but the biggest lesson I learned was how pervasive discrimination can be.

Sexism is alive and well. It’s not as overt as it’s been in the past, which makes it even more difficult to prove. I’m tired of having to prove that I have been discriminated against and made to feel horrible, but I’d rather be labeled a bitch than a liar.

-Lauren Hauck