Spotlight Series: Speech and Debate Stories
Written by: Pari Vardhineedi
Edited by: Sanah Bhardwaj
Injustice and discrimination appear within numerous environments and various human populations, severely affecting an individual’s sense of self-worth and their identity. The three A’s serve as steps to follow in eliminating these issues and in creating an inclusive environment. The three A’s: awareness, advocacy, and assistance, allow for progress in societal change. Within the speech and debate community itself, numerous cases of discrimination and violence occur, requiring recognition and change. Speech and Debate Stories, an organization focused on creating an empowering, safe environment for those who experience harassment within the speech and debate community, strive to eradicate discrimination and violence, and they do so through the three A’s. This information is provided courtesy of Katie Hughes, Design Lead for Speech and Debate Stories.
Speech and Debate Stories, created by Nina Potischman, aspires to help all speakers and debaters feel comfortable in openly discussing inequities within the forensics environment. The catalyst for the creation of Speech and Debate stories was an incident where a coach harassed a student, were accused of doing so by said student, but got off scot-free and were rehired the following year. The incident received attention because it shed light on how said situations were endemic issues; individuals relied on information from whisper networks to spread information. Obviously, whisper networks are not tangible grounds for professional removal, subsequently slowing the progress of justice for speakers and debaters who have experienced traumatic moments in the community and devaluing their experiences. To address this glaring problem, Nina Potischman created Speech and Debate Stories and started their Instagram account in hopes of enacting immediate, substantial change.
To thoroughly establish Speech and Debate Stories as an organization, Nina Potischman and the other leaders worked alongside the Women’s Debate Institute, who helped them draft demands to institutions to initiate change. As Speech and Debate Stories continued to propel their agenda, they received much notoriety (and continue to do so) as their organization’s main platforms lie on social media like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. They continue to advocate for the silenced voices who have experienced harassment and continuously strive to fulfill their overall mission.
Speech and Debate Stories’ overall mission consists of two prime goals: structural change and creating a safe haven. In terms of enacting structural change, Speech and Debate Stories wanted to create a platform for holding people accountable in the forensics community. They wanted the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA), or any speech & debate institution, to create an independent reporting system for sexual assault. Speech and Debate Stories partnered with Speaking Up Safely to create petitions and urge the NSDA to create this reporting system and update their current code of conduct. This goal gained progress as the NSDA, on record, and District Chairs stated their commitment to enacting change. Their second objective was to create a safe space where survivors felt comfortable sharing their experiences with their hurtful stories within the speech and debate community. Speech and Debate Stories wants these survivors to know that they are here as an outlet if they need someone to talk to. On their Instagram page, Speech and Debate Stories posts these survivors’ experiences (with consent) as a way to raise awareness of these incidents. Also, they repost other organizations’ resources as solace to possibly struggling speakers and debaters.
As an individual who stopped coaching because she felt unsafe in the speech and debate community, Katie apologizes to those who have experienced and/or left speech and debate due to harassment. She explained that these incidents are absolutely horrible, and conversations about any students being uncomfortable should have happened before they felt so unsafe, they had to leave. She hopes that Speech and Debate Stories can make forensics experiences better for coming generations. In the future, Katie, alongside her team of amazing individuals, hopes to see the forensics community amplify diverse voices, foster a higher level of safety/openness, and eradicate harassment altogether.
A message to debaters and non-debaters: there are issues that are inherent to speech and debate, but the sexism, racism, and misogyny are reflected from the outside world. No one should ignore a speech and debate disparity story because they either aren’t in this community or have never experienced any harassment. It takes everyone’s support to enact change, whether they’re committed to speech and debate or not. So, how can you volunteer or simply help achieve change with the speech and debate community? If you’re a coach, you can foster a better relationship with your debaters so they feel comfortable in this community. For students in speech and debate, the burden should never be on you to handle this by yourself, and you should not go through it by yourself; look out for one another as students and don’t let yourself or others bottle these emotions and experiences up. In addition, address problematic actions and/or conversations, sign and redistribute petitions, and converse with NSDA or district chair members. To non-debaters, these issues occur outside of the speech and debate community, so address them there. Raising awareness, within or outside of the speech and debate community, is the first step in creating change.
Speech and Debate Stories created a supportive, uplifting platform for speakers and debaters to advocate for and share their experiences with discrimination and violence within the forensics community. They truly rallied the speech and debate community together and amplified the voices of those affected by the disparities within this community, and Speech and Debate Stories will continue to do so for years to come.
Visit Speech and Debate Stories’s Instagram to learn further about their organization’s mission and to read the stories from those affected within the forensics community. Their Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/speechanddebatestories/?hl=en.