Frequently Asked Questions
You may wish to refer back to this section for context as you review specific Articles and Resources but there are general premises that will help to frame your larger understanding embedded here as well.
What is A.B.A.P.?
A.B.A.P. stands for the Association of Black Argumentation Professionals founded by a group of predominantly young Black policy debate coaches but has grown into a resource for marginalized populations across the speech and debate world. As a 501c3, A.B.A.P. seeks to:
· Promote and facilitate the education and professional development of all Speech and Debate coaches, with a particular focus on Black coaches;
· Establish a coalition of Black coaches, administrators and other professionals directly and indirectly involved in the Speech and Debate process;
· Create a forum for the exchange of ideas and strategies to improve opportunities for Black coaches and students;
· Identify and develop Black professionals who will assume leadership positions in Speech and Debate programs destined to influence education policy concerning the Black Speech and Debate participants.
Why a Policy Debate Bill of Rights?
It is an oversight that an activity involving students for over five decades has never produced a Bill of Rights as part of its roadmap for their protection. The move to online debate provides a rare moment when reflection is required so there could not be a better time.
At the AB.A.P. summer Town Hall for coaches, directors, and students from the high school and college debate world, we became aware of considerable community anxiety around the prospect of online debating this Fall. The pandemic cost lives, jobs, scholarships and stability for countless members of the debate community and Americans at large compounding by the stress of racial injustice. While many were devoting time to what these debates would look like, which vendors to use and what tech would work best, we saw few efforts to offset the lack of community, the concerns of poor & shared internet access and the inevitable effect zoom fatigue could have on competition. There was little talk of protections beyond the honor system.
A.B.A.P. assembled a dedicated Task Force to conduct research on central questions and develop a set of rights and expectations that were reflective of the needs and concerns expressed by students, judges and directors along with the potential pitfalls and unintended consequences that would be front of mind for others with a higher comfort level and faith in the technology and its tournament applications.
The goal is to provide rights and expectations that would allow us to create a better debate community with clearly articulated standards of care so that those who need guidelines for behavior or guidance for basic human decency have a reference point going forward. We hope you can endorse this effort and partner in this step forward.
What is a Bill of Rights?
Let’s start with what it’s not. IT’S NOT A PLAN TEXT. If we use the US version as an example, the idea was the Bill of Rights laid out values we aspire to as an addendum to the Constitution which operationalized and codified how to bring those aspirations to life in a particular context.
Debate doesn’t have an appropriate metaphor, but if you’re stuck, think of the Digital Debate Bill of Rights as a topic area paper. It identifies ideas so you can assess if you wish to endorse discussing the substance but an exact resolution and a plan text come later. The goal is NOT to point to “lines in the card” and weaponize it against tournament directors who have endorsed these aspirations. [Yes, directors that are also caught in a policy mindset you may “pull this line from the card” to respond if they “pull a different line from the card” ignoring the above instructions].
The A.B.A. P. Policy Debate Digital Bill of Rights identifies a set of rights and expectations that college policy debate should acknowledge for its participants. The methods that tournament directors, program directors and organizations use to operationalize them will depend on budgets, tech constraints and institutional requirements.
Some Sections Seem Less Specific. Is that Intentional?
Rights are not laws. They won’t always be specific nor absolute. State laws and campus codes will govern. This document advances a set of principles to fill a void and provide baseline guidance for individuals and programs to adapt them to fit their circumstances. It’s not intended to describe or anticipate issues of process or law only the values we should aspire to as a community.
What is a “Safe” Debating Environment?
A debater should not feel like their personhood is in jeopardy or that participation will lead to them being subjected to verbal, physical or online harassment or subjected to conduct that violates the code of conduct of the host institution.
“Safe” should not be misinterpreted or weaponized as a shield against efforts to call out and contest homophobic, sexist, racist or other insensitive statements, actions & microaggressions. We debate to become better educated and that includes learning about how we should treat one another.
Why is the Onus on the “Victim” to Document Incidents?
The Task Force’s research confirmed that documenting incidents is recommended by attorneys, courts, harassment officers, nonprofits addressing abuse and Title IX experts as an excellent form of substantiation and means to retain specific facts and add credibility especially in cases with only “victim” and perpetrator.
Additionally, the US system carries a heavy presumption of innocence so in almost every situation the “victim” also is considered the accuser which carries an affirmative burden.
Since it is unlikely that the perpetrator kept a log of their bad behavior, unless there is security camera footage, the “victim’s” event log is a crucial form of self-protection not a shift of onus. It also creates a distinction between choosing to isolate someone because of a personal vendetta or to achieve competitive advantage from the incidents of real harm we hope to inoculate against by advancing this set of rights and expectations.
Who is A.B.A.P. seeking endorsements from and what does it mean to endorse this?
Our goal is widespread endorsement by participating NDT/CEDA debate programs and their governing bodies [CEDA. The NDT and the ADA] as well as interested affiliates. A.B.A.P. is focused solely on institutional endorsements by debate teams. To endorse requires a one-line email stating that The debate team of ___________________ endorses the A.B.A.P. Policy Debate Digital Bill of Rights to email@example.com. If you are hosting a college tournament, endorsement should mean that your invitation will reflect how and in what ways you will be able to operationalize these principles at your event. If your school is participating in NDT/CEDA tournaments this season, endorsement means being proactive in communicating with coaches, debaters, hired judges and others about your university code of conduct and online protocols that support a positive experience for all. That may require engaging existing campus expertise like your Title IX compliance officer or your equity and inclusion office for support.
How will the Digital Bill of Rights be Enforced?
Rights are protected. Laws are enforced. The distinction is critical. The Policy Debate Digital Bill of Rights codifies participants’ rights and expectations. Institutions that choose to adopt it may then apply laws and codes to enforce it. In many cases, that may simply require debate directors, coaches and students to avail themselves of resources and codes already in place at their universities.
Universities and school systems across the country are struggling with resolving the tensions between the calls for greater racial justice and the protections of open expression policies in the shadows of a pandemic even as you read this document. Our framing of the Debate Digital Bill of Rights does not minimize that challenge.
Some will take a punitive, zero tolerance approach. Many will pursue a restorative justice model that seeks to help the offender understand that they harmed members of campus with their words and seek reconciliation. Others will view it as a sign of potential larger issues within their institution and use it as an opportunity to address problematic behavior by organizing a forum about the incident, providing counseling services or setting up a direct conversation between the parties involved. Only time will tell, if there is a singular right answer for the myriad of different institutions that compete in debate.
What we do know is doing nothing is unacceptable. We hope that the Debate Digital Bill of Rights will facilitate an environment where that option becomes impossible.
The debate programs from the following institutions have formally endorsed the aspirations of the Digital Debate Bill of Rights:
University of Georgia
California-State University Fullerton
New School University
University of Louisville Malcolm X Debate Program
Wake Forest University
California-State University Long Beach
New York University
University of Iowa
University of Houston
University of Rochester
University of Minnesota
Women’s Debate Institute
California-State University Northridge
University of Kansas
West Virginia University
University of Miami
University of Texas-San Antonio
University of Southern California
Weber State University
University of Texas-Dallas
Events of the last several months have opened up wounds that never healed alongside new spaces for action that require attention and directed purpose so that communities we care about do not revert to an untenable status quo.
Participation in a debate tournament intended as a training ground for future leaders, activists and informed global citizens should not require a choice by any individual between fulfilling their competitive and educational objectives and being subjected to verbal, physical or online harassment in violation of university codes of conducts and principled behavior.
Students have a right to expect parties in authority over online tournaments to be proactive, rather than reactive, in creating a safe and instructive educational environment that provides protections against various forms of abuse.
Furthermore, all in attendance who believe in the value of this competitive activity, the importance of educational engagement, the sanctity of the marketplace of ideas and the merit of crafting scholarship have an affirmative obligation to work together for the betterment of the debate community.
In accordance with these fundamental notions and the ideals articulated in the governing documents of the Cross Examination Debate Association and the NDT Code of Conduct, we affirm that the following rights and expectations should be understood as unassailable within the operations of the online debate community, its members and its events.
PARTICIPANTS EXPECTATIONS AND RIGHTS
The opening two articles articulate a set of principles grounded in long-standing codes of conduct and research into developing practices. While some of the rights articulated may seem to apply mostly to students and others may apply more easily to students, the underlying hope is that they would be afforded to all participating in the debate community.
ARTICLE I: PARTICIPANT EXPECTATIONS
While a perfect solution to the imperfections of online competitions doesn’t exist and may be limited by finances, university policies, tournament director preferences or other considerations, we recognize that, as members of the debate community, individuals participating in educational, competitive debate activities have a reasonable expectation of:
· Access to Knowledge. Facilitation of use of scholarly tools, including access to libraries, social media, computer systems, servers, software, databases, phones, the Internet, and other forms of technology.
· Freedom from Abuse. Protection from abuse and intrusion by others sharing these resources including but not limited to cyber-bullying, unauthorized recordings, discriminatory practices, and/or harassing conduct based on an individual’s race, physical ability, cognitive ability, sexual preferences, gender identity, or other protected classes.
· Confidence in the Deliberate Review Process. The ability to report documented, concerning behaviors without fear of retribution. Once reported, individuals can reasonably expect fair review of the allegations by unaffiliated parties. It doesn’t require a favorable verdict just meaningful deliberation. Neither position, power nor competitive interests should serve as a basis for exemption as it has in the past.
· Right to Privacy. Degrees of privacy which may vary depending on whether you are a university employee, matriculated student or unaffiliated.
· Promotion of Wellness. Include the socio-economic realities and the psycho-social needs of a student in the calculus when appraising tournament conditions and choosing which events the program supports with its time and its dollars.
ARTICLE II: RIGHTS AFFORDED PARTICIPANTS
We recognize that each member of the debate community should be afforded:
· Freedom from Observer Interference. The right to request removal of observers engaged in conduct detrimental to the proceedings [distracting, disturbing, lewd or unethical behavior]. Observer videos should be turned off unless a participant requests identification.
· Right to Affirmative Consent. We acknowledge that some see recording as a valuable educational and development aid as well as a means to provide full context to protect a participant’s privacy. However, given that there are also implicit dangers, participants should have the right to record their own performances but no one else’s without affirmative consent that may be given or withheld freely.
· Right to Safety. Participate in a safe debating environment with campus-specific action plans so if an incident occurs, the program’s director or person present in authority knows who to report the incident to and how to pursue relief.
· Right to Due Process. We have all had our actions, intentions and statements misinterpreted. Allegations should first be communicated to an uninvolved authority within your program, grounded in the applicable campus codes, state, local and/or federal laws and then presented to governing bodies (e.g. Conduct offices, Faculty Review Boards, Ombudsman offices, law enforcement, tournament officials, professional review bodies within CEDA, NDT, and AFA Provosts or Deans). We must be wary of weaponizing our responses in ways that jeopardize, most importantly, those who follow later but also, those that may be found innocent in the eyes of the law and deserve to live their lives.
· Right to Know. The right to know of any intention to abridge these expectations and rights whether caused by university policy, host schools’ open expression policies, tournament preferences or organizational codes, prior to the agreement of directors, coaches, and students to participate.
RIGHTS ACTIVATION SUPPORT STRUCTURES
To transform rights from mere statements to an everyday reality requires responsive institutions invested in their participants equipped with an understanding of both the supports that are needed from them and the barriers created intentionally and unintentionally by current norms and practices. The following articles identify and affirm the need for change and the desire for responsiveness to go beyond the bare minimum in activation of the rights articulated above creating an accountable, respectful, and safe environment for all involved.
ARTICLE III: CUSTODIAL EXPECTATIONS OF OUR PROGRAMS
We have the right to expect our own coaches, judges, and directors to:
· Be willing to make representations to the tournament, as the person in charge of our team delegation, that each of our attendees will comport themselves in a manner consistent with governing codes of conduct by statement and/or waivers.
· Act in a manner towards students and each other consistent with our university’s code of conduct & acceptable use policies, and adhering to relevant laws.
· Be proactive in deterring predatory behavior within our own digital squad practices and activities.
· Acknowledge the additional labor and stress resulting from debating online coupled with the surrounding issues of the pandemic and racial injustice.
· Communicate with team members about campus wellness and mental health resources available.
· Prioritize debater safety and psyche while creating distinctions that preserve scouting. Director-to-director communication is the most viable means to address past problematic interactions prior to the tournaments without involving the tournament host. Directors should ascertain if anyone in their party has concerning, documented behaviors [a personal log up to a formal complaint] regarding individuals expected to be in attendance. The director doesn’t need details except if they question veracity. Then that director should contact the director of the squad in question and respectfully request that the individual(s) in question do not observe that student [indicating by default others may]. Only if reasonable accommodations for information-sharing cannot be reached should overtaxed tournament hosts become involved.
· Be cognizant of the need to promote equity by taking affirmative steps to educate everyone that participants will face challenges in navigating an online debate ecosystem especially without the traditional availability of supportive in-person contact.
ARTICLE IV: EXPECTATIONS FOR TOURNAMENT HOSTS
With due consideration for the caveats listed in the preamble, we encourage tournament hosts as, they are able, to:
· Take affirmative steps to support healthier eating, sleeping and other behaviors at tournaments in online environments in the absence of travel.
· Consider experimenting with flex time instead of prep time so participants can address home-based interruptions, movement, self-care needs, hydration, and tech issues beyond standard in-round debate prep.
· Announce reminders for participants to take wellness breaks and perform tech checks between rounds essential to extended online competition.
· Experiment with incorporating alternative programming that creates spaces/opportunities to compensate for the lack of in-person contact without overextending the tournament day.
· Resist the impulse to maintain the same schedule when considering number of rounds, length of day, time between rounds and meal breaks.
· Increase judge awareness of differentiated student spaces [e.g. living rooms vs. classrooms, public spaces where mask-wearing may be required during debates] and family circumstances [e.g. shared laptop/cellphone use, varying internet access]. Bias is impossible to remove but reminders can aid in minimizing the effects on decisions and speaker points.
ARTICLE V: EXPECTATIONS OF NOTICE
Since knowledge is power and transparency builds trust, we affirm the timely inclusion of explanations in tournament invitations, as they are able, of information regarding:
· Representations by the videoconferencing vendor[s] and/or university IT professionals responsible about the security of audio recordings. If they cannot or chose not to do so, the host can acknowledge that instead.
· Tracking round attendance plans and sharing that data using methods similar to current and planned offerings by Classroom Cloud, Zoom, Google Meet and other vendors to inform participant’ decisions to grant consent.
· Tournament’s acceptable use policy for recording retention for legal and/or educational reasons including duration, distribution, & automatic round recordings.
· Proactive measures implemented by host schools for protection against harassment/discriminatory practices, cyber-bullying, and unauthorized recordings.
This set of principles is a starting point not an endpoint. Doing nothing, as of now, is unacceptable.
Task Force Members
Brianna Aaron, James Roland [ABAP Board Representative], LaTonya Starks, Will Baker [Chair]
Authorized for circulation by
Benjamin Hagwood 1 ,Chair of the Association of Black Argumentation Professionals