Want to know how girl debaters feel about participating in the world of competitive scholastic debate? Just ask them!
New York City --- Saturday, September 16, 2017 was the launch of the New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL) inaugural Girls Debate League workshop series. The first workshop, hosted at New York University Steinhardt School, focused on Debate & Identity. The participants were a collective of New York City elementary through high school aged girls, who came together because of their differences, embracing their age, race, ethnicity, and gender for the sake of debate. This workshop represented the forming of a community in which they could openly and safely discuss what drives them in debate rounds.
The first half of the workshop allowed the girls to uncover how they identify themselves. With the facilitators prompting them with the question, “who are you?” The girls answered loud and clear –“I am a cat person!” “I am one of nine children in my family and sometimes I feel lost,” “I am bisexual,” “I am an artist,” “I love to read and write,” and “I am a debater!” are just a few of the responses that the young debaters bravely shared to a room of relative strangers.
The second half delved deeper into identity and the connection to debate. To better understand the current position of women in debate, facilitators explained the history of debate, which has been dominated by male participants. Nevertheless, women throughout history have participated in protests, movements, government, and other platforms to express their voices and opinions. The girls in the workshop are making their own history and their talents are evident.
To understand the experience of girls in debate we simply need to listen. The girls who participated in this workshop shed light on how they internalize their identity in debate. Some girls commented that when they debate they are most aware of their “voice,” “whiteness”, “blackness”, and “femininity.” Others felt and confronted that their class and/or financial status garners them privilege in debate tournaments. They expressed that their “sexuality”, “Asian-ness”, “personality” and other aspects of their identity are often misunderstood.
Facilitators equipped the girls with tools to create a strong argument that included claim, warrant, and evidence. And when it came time to debate the topic of the day – Women have achieved equity in competitive debate – the girls were ready! The workshop ended with girls feeling “a sense of female empowerment,” as one participant puts it. Another expressed, “sitting and collaborating with other girl debaters who understood my experience as a debater was really refreshing.”
As the number of girls participating in debate increases it is imperative to create a safe environment to celebrate their successes, as well as tackle the obstacles they face. This inaugural workshop is the first of many more and as one of our girl debaters said, “let’s keep us women together!”
The Girls Debate League understands that gender inequality continues to exist and thrives at different levels of society. We strive to utilize debate as a vehicle to actively acknowledge injustices and create a safe space for individuals who identify as female to challenge the status quo.
This workshop was possible thanks to a grant from Citizens Committee for New York City.