Newly Passed Proposal by the NDCA Board

On July 30th, 2016, the NDCA Board passed the following motion 7-0.

It was proposed by Aaron Timmons and seconded by Shane Stafford.

"I think we need:
A) More broad based instructional materials on how to advance (and engage) "critical" debates.

B) We need specific materials on the China topic that address identity/critical issues that should be placed in the starter packet."

Newly Passed Proposal by the NDCA Board

On July 30th, 2016, the NDCA Board passed the following motion 7-0.

It was proposed by Greg Achten and seconded by Mike Shackelford.

" I'd also like to resubmit my motion that we accept the following bids:

2018 Marist
2019 GBS
2020 Indiana
2021 UCF"

This motion refers to bids to host the NDCA Tournament.

Newly Passed Proposal by the NDCA Board

On March 24th, 2016, the NDCA Board passed the following motion 6-1.

It was proposed by Christina Tallungan and seconded by Adam Torson.

"Also, I agree we should raise fees because we have added the voice policy packet and the convention for members. Also, survey indicates that most people would support an increase. 

I make a motion that we increase annual fees to $50 and increase lifetime membership to $500 (equivalent of 10 years of annual membership) starting in 2016-17."

Newly Passed Proposal by the NDCA Board

The following motion was proposed by AT and seconded by Shunta. On March 12th, it passed 6-0.

"I move that based on a previous vote on expenditures we keep the session on Coaching Student Mindset, and take 48 hours to suggest programs that we think support the mission of the conference (perhaps we should agree on what that is). We should solicit direct community input based on those who might attend (as opposed to just rely on a survey). Once we have suggestions we can all individually rank them and have a relatively final list. To make this clearer, keep the program we have agreed to spend money on and others are off the table for a bit to get the perspective of ALL Board members and the community (especially those considering attending). The 48 hour time period to suggest, and then 24 hours to rank might allow that input. By Thursday we have a list that works it seems."

The following amendment/clarification by Christina:

"I propose only the Board rank the panels for time sake at this point. 
I propose that we should remove the Mindset session from the ranking and presume it is already in the schedule. 
I propose the Board take the top 8 ranked panels (or more if we can split room or find other space) and staff them with Greg as coordinator. Any panels that are not chosen may still be addressed through other means, e.g., a video and activities that are posted on the NDCA website. The top sessions will be determined by all Board members rankings (1 being the most important and the last number being the least important) and, after adding scores together, the lowest numerical scores will be given priority as session slots."

If the vote passes, we will commence the 48 hour period for gathering information and then conduct the poll on the potential conference sessions.

Newly Passed Proposal by the NDCA Board

On March 2nd, the NDCA Board passed the following motion 6-2.

The following motion was proposed by Dana and seconded by Greg:

"Finally I think it is valuable from a collegiality standpoint to have a hosted reception on Saturday afternoon. That would mean the NDCA would spend some money (less than $1K I imagine) on some catering and maybe a cash or hosted bar depending on the number of attendees."

Let's allocate up to $1000 for this purpose.

Subsequently the Board agreed by acclamation that no NDCA funds would be expended to purchase alcohol.

Newly Passed Proposals by the NDCA Board

On January 12th, 2016, the NDCA Board passed the following motion.

"All LD and PF entries on the waiting list for the NDCA National Championship tournament should be moved into the tournament. If the entry cap of 100 is reached further entries will be accepted only if they meet the requisite points qualification standard and enter before March 15."

Newly Passed Proposals by the NDCA Board

On January 6th, 2016, the NDCA Board voted 9-0 to authorize funds ($2,400) for the creation of topic specific Novice Policy Curriculum. Jenny Alme describes it as follows:


Bill Batterman, David Heidt and Jason Russell will divide up the following evidence projects (probably 1/3 each):

*3 affs with matching case negs and a T violation that is tailored to the aff (the thought is that one of the affs will have a K-ish advantage)--$450 each set

*2-3 DAs + aff AT

*1 K

*1 CP

--All of it will be novice friendly with explanation pages, glossaries as needed, frontlines on the aff and neg that clearly match parts of the packet etc. 


Other free stuff that will be included:

*A slow demo debate video with a sample Excel flow (Carrollton will produce one, Harker may do another)

*Short videos talking about parts of the packet (I will do or maybe some of the packet authors will)

*An updated and expanded set of novice PowerPoints (Jenny)

*Updates syllabus and exercises for various units, sample syllabus (Jenny)

*Various handouts (Jenny)

Newly Passed Proposals by the NDCA Board

The following proposals have been passed by the NDCA board.  The vote count for each proposal is located after the proposal listing.

Proposal -- NDCA Tournament Schedule Change

The Vote was unanimous.

Intent of the proposal is to move awards next year to after Round 6 instead of after the doubles.  The reason for the change is the desire for all events to attend the same awards ceremony.

I move that the NDCA National Championships procedures in all events be amended so that the Day 3 section reads


Day 1


5 pm                Onsite electronic registration opens

8 pm                Mutual preference sheets due no later than 8 pm. Sheets may be required up to 24 hours earlier if the tournament director believes the sheets have been available a sufficient amount of time for teams to complete them.


Day 2


7:30 am                Round 1 pairings released

8:00 am                Round 1

10:00 am         Round 2 pairings released

11:00 am          Round 2

1 pm                Lunch

2:30 pm           Round 3

5:30 pm           Round 4


Day 3


8 am                Round 5 pairings released

9 am                Round 5

11 am              Lunch

Noon               Round 6

3 pm                Awards

4 pm                Elimination round 1

7 pm                Elimination round 2


Day 4


7:00 am           Strike cards available (if used)

7:15 am           Strike cards due

7:30 am           Pairings for the first elimination round of Day 4

8:00 am           Elimination round 3

11:00 am         Elimination round 4 (if necessary)

2 pm                Elimination round 5 (if necessary)


5 pm                Elimination round 6 (if necessary)


Proposal – Stipend creation for CFO; Increase for tournament director

Vote was unanimous by the attending quorum.  Board members in attendance included Shane Stafford, Greg Achten, Jim Menick, Mike Shackelford, Dana Randall, Aaron Timmons and Josh Clark.

Intent of the proposal is to compensate the non-elected board members for their many hours of service over the tournament and NDCA non-profit finances.

The proposal for the creation of a stipend for CFO and and increase in the Tournament Director's stipend.  Both will be $1500 and retroactive to this year.

Two proposals that change our year end awards so that the NDCA tournament can count toward the total points necessitated for the awards

Each passed 8-1, with dissent from Melanie Johnson.

Proposal -- Include the NDCA Tournament in Dukes and Bailey Calculations

Amend the NDCA National Championships Policy Debate tournament procedures by adding this sentence to the "Tournament Qualification" section: The NDCA National Championships tournament will count toward winning the Baker and will be the last tournament points at which points can be earned.  The added sentence would go immediately after this sentence :    The team with the highest point total using this qualification system that attends the NDCA Championships will be awarded The David P. Baker Award for Season Long Excellence.  The amendment will take effect for the 2016 Baker Award. 

Proposal -- Include the NDCA Tournament in Baker Calculations

I move that the NDCA National Championships Lincoln-Douglas Debate tournament procedures be amended by adding this paragraph to the "Tournament Qualification" section:   The debater with the highest point total using this qualification system plus points earned at the NDCA National Championships will be awarded the Dukes and Bailey Cup. The NDCA National Championships will be treated as a maximum points earning tournament. The winner of the Dukes and Bailey Cup must compete in the NDCA National Championships  The above paragraph should follow this sentence:  A debater may accrue points competing in the varsity/open division of any tournament occurring prior to the application deadline and that has at least twice as many entries as preliminary rounds.   This change will take effect for the 2016 NDCA National Championships.  

Proposal -- Suspend Voting rules over awards to allow nominees to sign up

Passed 7-2 with dissent from Greg Achten and Jim Menick

Intent the proposal was to allow award nominees the ability to become NDCA members, if they were not already.

The motion passed to "suspend our rules and allow nominees to join the organization for the purposes of this specific round of awards. I further propose we use expedited voting with the hopes of having a decision by this evening so we can release the ballot."


Newly Passed Proposals by the NDCA Board -- Tournament Entries

The following proposals were passed by the NDCA board on Thursday 1/22/15.

Proposal (LD and PF Qualification suspension) was passed 8-0 by the NDCAA with Glenda Ferguson abstaining.

For the 2015 NDCA National Championships the tournament entry procedures for Public Forum and LD debate should be waived and all entries should be immediately admitted into the tournament until there are 80 entries. If 80 entries is reached after March 15 the tournament director should continue to admit entries on a first come first served basis until the entry limit of 100 is reached. If 80 entries is reached prior to March 15 the tournament director should suspend entries and send a notice to the ndca-l that there are only 20 spots remaining in the tournament. One week after the notice is sent to the ndca-l the tournament director should begin releasing teams off the waiting list using the qualification procedures in the tournament procedures document.

Proposal (Policy Qualifications Change) was passed 8-1 by the NDCA with Glenda Ferguson voting no.

For the 2015 NDCA National Championships the tournament entry procedures for policy debate should be amended as follows:If there are less than 80 entries as of March 1 the tournament director should admit teams on the waiting list on a first entered, first released basis up to 4 teams per school. If the entry limit of 100 is still not reached then the tournament director should admit teams from the waiting list on a first entered, first released basis.

Protecting All of the Children in the Auditorium – Part 2 – by Jonathan Alston, Anthony Berryhill, and Aaron Timmons

Editor’s note: You can find and sign thePledge for Online Civility” HERE. To see who has signed the pledge you check this previous post.




We believe that online discussions regarding differences in debate practices are good for the community. We welcome robust and vigorous disagreement. We have purposely avoided naming specific people in order to keep our essays focused on the larger community-wide issues.


In contrast to our specific approach, many online discussion boards have allowed people – without accurate information or fact checking to attack specific children and coaches. The research presented in our original article outlines the psychology behind those responses. Respectful academic disagreement is a norm we believe our debate community must immediately adopt.


Some may assert that our original article targets particular individuals and schools despite the careful way we worded and edited our Part 1 essay. However, such a claim ignores recent history. Our essays are in response to a history of public harassment that has continued in various forms online, and manifested in the public protest at the Tournament of Champions (TOC 2014), whose discourse continued into the beginning of this debate season. The online posters and in-person protestors, through online public humiliation and their actions during Round 7, have forced our involvement in a discussion that has directly and individually implicated our students and us.


The distinction between this discourse and ours is that we never forced anyone to be a part of our discussion. After the person in one of our narratives from Part I won the Bronx High School of Science tournament, she was talked about horribly online and inappropriately forced into being part of an online discussion that should have never taken place. We called out no one for in-round behavior or decisions or anything that is a regular part of our competition. The public protest before Round 7 was a very public act intended to initiate a very public discussion. Vocalizing why we believe that the protest was pedagogically irresponsible and, in our opinion (as well as others who have confided in us), potentially racist, isnt an act of online bullying. Rather, it is criticizing the actual discussion of which we were forced to be a part. Despite the very nature of their discussion, we have been careful to not mention names in our essay and to have private conversations with our public critics. We sought to understand before we responded, and we kept our most pointed and tough critiques private.


During many of these offline discussions we have found that the most intense disagreements softened. Although we may never see eye to eye with our critics, the vitriol and hyperbolic language decreased. Many have sincerely concluded that some of their initial online behavior was inaccurate, in-artful, and required action from deleting their posts to publishing partial or complete retractions of earlier statements. This is why we believe that that the most heated conflicts we have in our community should be handled in private and offline. We believe heated offline dialogue is an approach far better suited to an educational environment whose first priority is to protect all the children in the auditorium.


Extending the framework: The disease of cyberbullying within Lincoln-Douglas Debate


We have received a range of responses to our article that reminds us of a song from the movie and hit stage play, Dreamgirls.


The assumptions behind many comments seem to be grounded in the notions of:

“What about what I need…
What about what’s best for me…
What about how I feel? What about me, what about me?”


Our response is in the same song…

“It’s more than you, it is more than me…
No matter what we are, we are a family…
This dream is for all of us, this one can be real, and you can’t stop us now because of how you feel…” (Ellipsis added)


In Part I, we described the cyberbullying in the Lincoln Douglas debate community. We further showed how this bullying extended into the “real world” during the hostile protest at the TOC 2014 which created an environment that compromised the safety of students competing in the tournament. While some may disagree with our characterization of the protest, the many offline discussions we had established that the protest had negative – albeit unintended – side effects that endangered and threatened children.


While we have received tremendous support for the article, some took issue with the points we raised and demanded clarification. We would like to follow up accordingly. But first, we would like to highlight three overarching considerations.


First, this is not a game. The problems that we identify happened to real people—children, in fact, who whatever their faults, did not deserve to be publicly harassed and bullied online. Despite our differences, we all share the experience of being touched by debate. It matters to each of us passionately and we want debate to improve the lives of our students like it improved our own. But for some students—real students who cared about debate more than anything else in their lives– debate became a place of vilification instead of a home. Some debaters and coaches became a mob of people who told these students they were nothing but objects deserving hate and scorn whose identities, scholarship, performances and overall presence were not welcome.


This sadness often starts online. As we explained in Part I, the internet has a de-individuation effect that brings out the worst in people, turning many people into cyberbullies. Danielle Citron in, The Offensive Internet: Speech, Privacy and Reputation explains that:

Social science research on group behavior suggests that the Internet will intensify the destructiveness of gender and race – based harassment. It identifies several factors exacerbating the dangerousness of groups. Groups with homogenous views tend to become more extreme when they deliberate. Their members gain confidence in their preconceived ideas as discussions tend to feature many arguments supporting them and few tilting the other way. Hearing agreement from others bolsters group members’ confidence, entrenching and radicalizing their views (Citron).


Second, heated public protest — specifically in a speech and debate event — is destructive. The actions of the protesters in Round 7 of the TOC 2014 threatened and endangered children in our collective auditorium. With a deep and sincere respect for the internal struggles of one of our public critics, that is “a circle that can’t be squared.”


Third – There is no morally neutral stance for debate educators or organizations regarding the issue of protecting the emotional and physical safety of all students in the speech and debate arena. Citron defines what neutrality justifies:

Cyber mobs also see victims as digital images that can be eviscerated without regret. Moreover, site operators who refuse to dismantle destructive posts, reinforce, and effectively encourage, negative behavior. Their refusal can stem from a libertarian “You Own your Own Words” philosophy or irresponsibility bred from the belief that they enjoy broad statutory immunity from liability for the postings of others. In turn, negative posts that remain online constitute calls to action that generate others in a snowball effect. In cyberspace, the accelerants of dangerous group behavior are pervasive, deepening the problem of today’s abusive cyber mobs.


Our essay was a direct challenge to the recent practice of using public forums to voice concerns about specific students, coaches or programs.


We will now highlight what we believe have been the most common concerns of Part I.


Concern 1: Previous Public Online Forums and the TOC Round 7 Protest Fought Against Injustice in the Debate Community. Why Arent You Concerned About Our Children?


Our Response: The flaw is that you are only concerned with your children. Check your differential empathy. Other children should not be collateral damage. There are other ways to seek redress that do not create a hostile environment for children.


In Part I we argued (through the examples we cited) that the willingness to support alleged victims of injustices in debate has not extended to students from marginalized backgrounds even when these students/coaches should have been – in principle – given strong and unwavering support.


As additional evidence, consider the following questions regarding the LD debate community and racism:

While there have been online protests against sexism and classism, why haven’t there been similar online protests and petitions against racism?

Why hasn’t the community taken an unequivocal stance against the day-to-day, tournament-to-tournament and camp institute racial attacks and micro insults that students of color consistently have to endure?

Why has it been OK for coaches to train their students to defend the non-existence of racism, or that racism doesn’t impact to the standard, or that racism doesn’t link into the meta-ethic?


Again, we ask those who believe in political movements within debate: Where have been the public denouncements of these abominations that occur in our collective auditoriums?


Given this context, we contend that the debate community must honestly evaluate its true feelings regarding which people are viewed as worthy of public support and attention.


Let us reconsider some of the recent public incidents in LD debate. If any of the authors in this essay were to attempt a sit-out against racism at the TOC, or appeal to tournament tabulation committee regarding injustices we feel have victimized our students, would the community also come to our aid? Put more directly, if the authors of this essay were to make a formal administrative protest (defined as a written protest given to the tab room describing the incident and the alleged violation) in round two of a tournament, have it denied, and then approach the tab room again after the final preliminary round had been paired and released for reconsideration, wouldn’t the community stage a sit-out against us for “abusing our power?”


These are not merely rhetorical questions. When we have gone to the TOC committee or tournament tabulation rooms to correct injustices that we feel have inappropriately hurt our students, our actions have never been interpreted as a political act or a justified way of “defending our students.” Instead, we (and our students) have been condemned as deserving public floggings through Facebook posts, anonymous online petitions, threatening e-mails, etc.


The inconsistency is not surprising to us.


What we are asking the reader to do is engage in a reflective moment to critique “activists’” choice to only include in their politics those who are already in their actual, or metaphorical camps.


To be clear, we have been very careful not to give a definitive explanation for the basis of the differential empathy we have seen in the Lincoln-Douglas community. However, anyone who interprets our essay as a simplistic “everyone is racist” rant is being intellectually dishonest and is encouraged to reread our essays carefully.


But even if we were to assume that people in the debate community used public protest to protect all students in the auditorium, they ought to adopt a different approach.


Some have defended the use of public forums on the basis that public protest in general is a good method and has been effective when traditional methods of promoting change have failed (i.e. with references to the Civil Rights Movement). However, even under the most optimistic examples, rhetorical and actual violence have often ensued in response. In addition, our argument is specific to the unique environment of high school debate and the duty of care we have as educators to those students who seek debate as a safe space. Given that recent public protests and flame wars have created environments that have caused many judges/coaches to fear retaliation and given that some students have felt that their physical safety has been at risk at tournaments taking place in the midst of such public opposition, we hold that the obligation to act responsibly requires that coaches and students adopt a different method.


It is important to note that since we published our original essay some concerned readers have reached out to us privately. We have also proactively initiated dialogue. We welcome robust and vigorous disagreement, but believe that such disagreement must be expressed in an appropriate time, place and manner. For this reason, we have purposely avoided naming specific individuals in order to focus on the larger community-wide issues. We have focused on understanding the opposition before we responded, and have kept our toughest critiques of specific individuals private—to be fair to them and to preserve their dignity. We have privately engaged those who most publicly disagreed with us.


In contrast to our careful approach, many online discussion boards have allowed people – who have not done their due diligence through fact checking – to attack and force the exile of specific children and coaches based on inaccurate and false information. Subsequently, the authors of this essay and our students have been individually implicated on a consistent basis even when it has been inappropriate and irrelevant to do so.


The debate is about whether this model of public protest is acceptable for speech and debate tournaments sanctioned by high schools. We argue that high school LD is the wrong forum. While we support the right of individuals to voice concerns about perceived wrongs, more acceptable and safer options exist which ought to be adopted, such as private adult conversations.


We understand that for many younger coaches – many of whom are not professionally trained teachers – posting explicit, personal debate controversies online may be more comfortable, but this behavior is absolutely irresponsible. Private conversations may be “awkward” for young assistant coaches to initiate towards professional teachers, but our duty of care, our obligation to students, vastly outweighs this awkwardness.


Concern 2: Its not my problem/I have nothing to do with it. I had nothing to do with any negative parts of the protest, so I am not responsible.


Our Response: We all must be responsible for the unintended consequences of our public action. Anything else is moral cowardice.


People who have chosen to initiate public protests and online flame wars have moral and pedagogical culpability for the indirect (even if unintended) consequences of their actions.


Some have argued that the examples of physical harassment, (possible) racial harassment and psychological trauma from the TOC protests have “nothing to do with them” and that if these incidents did occur (noting that all accounts have been verified by students and adults), they have no responsibility.


This stance makes no logical or ethical sense. When we as coaches have publicly taken our own political stances, we have been consistently held responsible for the intended AND unintended consequences of our speech. That is why we have held that these public protests and public fights against specific coaches and students are bad. There are too many unintended consequences.


There is no neutral ground. Educators who refuse to comment or “get involved” do not escape condemnation as their silence and acquiescence directly empowers those who bully. Just as “I have nothing to do with it” is never an acceptable excuse for a teacher who witnesses an incident of bullying in a high school, it is not acceptable for debate coaches to say it either. The messages that we received from colleagues about the protest and DURING the protest speak volumes. While we appreciated those messages, and the myriad emails, Facebook messages and calls, the adage of, “it is easy to be an advocate, when it is easy to be an advocate” has never been more true. Fear of retaliation, the risk of social disapproval, and competitive success has too often superseded coaches’ responsibility to do what is right.


We repeat from our initial article:

“If a teacher witnessed someone terrorizing a child in another classroom, he would be morally and legally obligated to act. If he tried to excuse his silence by saying that he is only responsible for those in his own classroom, he would appropriately lose his job and face legal sanction. We are ethically, and legally, responsible to take care of all the students in our collective auditorium.”


Some people have responded that we should instead be focused solely on the “model citizens” who have expressed their views responsibly in the public arena.


Let’s assume for a moment that’s true. It does not absolve online/in-person protesters from their choice to galvanize individuals who they know (or should reasonably foresee) will use and have used the opportunity to attack students of color, women, quare individuals, etc.


From Example 1 in the initial article (emphasis added):

“Despite the fact that I was being told I wasn’t deserving and despite the fact I was sent inappropriate messages about my participation from judges in the TOC pool, coaches on other teams, summer camp instructors and competitors’ weeks before the TOC, no one cared.”


If protesters do not want to be grouped in the same category as those who physically, racially, sexually, harassed innocent students of previous public protests/flame wars, they ought to avoid methods which risk such actions.


Many educators have behaved responsibly online and in-person (i.e. at the TOC 2014 protests). Some disallowed their own students from participating as a precondition for staying in debate. However, many adult educators participated in or tolerated the most despicable acts that have publicly harmed students (especially students of color) over the past three years. We cannot blame students for their actions when there are adults around who ought to know better.


“It wasn’t me” is never an acceptable response for an educator who witnesses or participates in the inappropriate online and in-person practices we describe.


Concern 3: I cant be held responsible for actions I dont believe happened and/or did not personally witness.


Our Response: These actions occurred. Take responsibility.


We feel responses such as [this] “is the veriest nonsense (emphasis added)… Chilling as the story is, it didn’t happen,” or “They are liars!” are not only common when students of color (and other marginalized backgrounds) voice concerns about being victimized by public protests/flame wars but are also the embodiment of what’s wrong with this community.


It is unacceptable in any community or educational environment that an acceptable default response to an accusation of abuse or bullying be to assume on face that the alleged victim is a liar.


There have been too many recent nationally publicized incidents of student suicide, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment for an educator to be so cavalier.


To default to denial is a demonstration of a complete abdication of the duty of an educator to care about all students in the auditorium. To be fair, one author who doubted that a student was directly targeted recanted. He spoke to people offline who were involved and then publicly pulled back from his original response and expressed a thoughtfulness that was truly appreciated. However his well intentioned (and sincerely appreciated), apology does not address the heart of the issue, which is the community’s default instinct to deny. We believe that this instinct comes from naïve optimism concerning the behavior of those who act out publicly. Debaters assume that all people who protest publicly and their followers behave in a targeted and careful manner. Unfortunately, recent history suggests otherwise.


The concepts we highlighted in Part 1—groupthink, belief in an inherent morality, stereotyping of out groups, the desire to be self-appointed mind guards, de-individualization and diffusion of responsibility—all took place at the TOC 2014 public protest and other online conflicts over the past three years.


In other words, group solidarity during public conflicts has often mutated into mob mentality.


Many commentators have said, yes, we agree with a safe space for students BUT”… There should be no BUT. Maintaining a safe environment for students should be our primary concern, as no student invests their time in LD debate to be treated as collateral damage.


As a point of preemption, some may assert that exposure to literature which discusses issues of difference makes debate hostile because it makes some students or coaches uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable may be a part of addressing issues that are challenging. There is a clear distinction between being uncomfortable and being unsafe (fearing for ones physical safety).


Bogdan again, (emphasis added):

In a situation where emotions are triggered, physiological responses take place and blood recedes from thinking part of the brain, rushes to reptilian brain, triggering fight or flight and rendering new information useless and impossible. Your reaction to run away or strike back has its uses in situations of danger, but it also means we take this instinct into situations where it can increase our challenges, where there are better ways to respond. We fail to distinguish between situations that endanger us and those that make us uncomfortable and this stops our learning, understanding and growing and takes all of us away from the opportunity to create something new and better (Emphasis added).


As educators we should be teaching our students how to handle uncomfortable situations and difficult literature properly. On the other hand, we should not have to spend our time teaching students how to cope with online harassment and threats to their physical safety.


Concern 4: Come on, the authors GO OFF on people who vote against their kids!


Our Response: Improper comparison that does not excuse online or in-person bullying of minors. Best to talk personally with the coaches with whom you disagree.


Some have argued that as coaches we have had post round discussions with judges that have made some feel uncomfortable. There may be a reason to have a discussion about post-round decorum and community norms, but that isn’t a reason to say that online bullying is acceptable, or “blowing up” during Round 7 at the TOC is okay.


Further, we do believe that some bodies will seem more hostile than others. We find that for us, asking pointed questions is seen as hostile, where other bodies get far more leeway. In line with the essay, we would suggest that if anyone has a problem with a coach or how a coach behaves, talk to that coach. In one case someone criticized one of the authors online in relation to the essay, and — after a conversation with the author — deleted his negative comments. Sometimes perceptions can be wrong. But that really is a topic for a different discussion. We do not think that it is intellectually honest to dismiss the online and in-person bullying of minors because some have a problem with the adults delivering the message.


Concern 5: What about the oppression of women and GLBTQ debaters? Why do you only focus on race?


Our response: Our analysis and examples have already included all types of difference; reread Part 1.


Some have asserted that we have only addressed issues of racial difference at the exclusion of disability, gender and sexual orientation.


In our initial essay we were very clear that the examples we cited and the students affected served “canaries in the mine” which applied to ALL students in the auditorium.


In addition, we have personally seen many situations in circuit LD where students are targeted for their “multiple identities” (i.e. example 2) and then subsequently bullied, ostracized and terrorized. We are livid when we hear of students ridiculed because of their mental or physical disabilities. We are disgusted when we have witnessed women in the community being sexually harassed due to earlier “public protests” and flame wars. We are horrified by the names that quare/queer individuals are constantly called at camps and tournaments. These experiences motivate our strong public stance against treating these coaches and students as expendable.


Readers should avoid playing the “Oppression Olympics” when reading our article. We make no apologies for being explicitly anti-racist. But an anti-racist position works in conjunction with efforts to oppose victimization of other marginalized populations.


A time for moving forward


We recognize that to some in the community, it is uncomfortable and threatening to them to be told that behaving in the following ways will not be tolerated: calling well educated black coaches “thugs,” referring to students of color’s arguments as “nigger frameworks” or continuing to reference some LD students (and others) as “affirmative action babies.”


Again, we ask those who believe in political movements within debate: Where are the public denouncements of these abominations that occur in our collective auditoriums?


No educator who has a duty of care toward students could reasonably engage in public “sit outs” or start flame wars while deliberately ignoring the suffering of the innocents who they recklessly endanger in the process. We also contend that it is not our obligation to remain silent when we have had to take care of and rebuild children who have felt the brunt of such “activism” and the direct attacks of mobs created. Re-asserting “it wasn’t a mob!” does nothing to mitigate the actions which continue to harm innocent students.


We refer back to Richard Sodikow’s example. Would he ever endorse a protest in the debate auditorium over tab results/decisions, knowing that a student of color, a woman, a disabled person, a queer/quare individual or other child would feel that their world was ending and that they were hated by everyone? No. He would insist on handling such matters in a separate, private environment because the welfare of students outweighs short-term conflicts over debate tournament results that few will care about in a couple of years.


We would all be well served to follow the example of NSDA Hall of Fame and Legendary Bronx High School of Science coach, Richard Sodikow.


Or, suppose we don’t follow his example:

Imagine that it is April 2015 at the TOC. A group of 40 to 50 people (students and coaches) initiate a “sit out” protest against what they feel is an unjust, egregious, totally unfair decision that took away a debater’s win. The tab room tries to explain the rationale for the decision. Several coaches “grill” the tab room director, peppering him/her with questions, even to the point of raising their voice to a point that could be perceived as yelling. Some of this yelling has been recorded and distributed on an online video site. During the protests, a person (or persons) yells “There he is!!!” toward the white student who benefited from the ruling.

And, in this sit out, all of the participants are Black.

Will this also be perceived by the community as a just protest?

Will the level of intensity, volume and aggressiveness in the exchanges with the tournament director and tab room be interpreted the same way as the TOC 2014 protest?


If you are being truly honest with yourself, you already know the answers to these questions.


Nicholas Kristof helps to add some clarity to our position when he illustrates:

“The truth is that injustice is easy not to notice when it affects people different from ourselves; that helps explain the obliviousness of our own generation to inequity today. We need to wake up.”


Seemingly Uncontroversial Solutions


The good thing to note and emphasize about the responses to our original essay is that our suggested solutions did not seem controversial. In addition to an online petition, we suggested four specific things that coaches, online debate institutions, and National Championship tournaments must do to make the auditorium safer for all students:

Stop supporting online institutions and summer institutes that promote and encourage destructive online behavior. If online bullying occurs on a website, the national high school debate community must not support that site. If the bully-encouraging site is associated with a summer institute, the national high school debate community must not support that institute.

Demand that online discussion boards disallow negative comments about students, coaches, and programs. This is the source of online bullying. From our original essay: “Offending online debate websites must immediately institute and enforce policies that will not allow their sites to poison the debate space including, but not limited to, specifically disallowing negative comments about students, judges, and coaches on their sites. Allowing these comments at best teaches bad sportsmanship. At worst, allowing those comments is a deliberate attempt to intimidate, harass, and bully students and judges.”

Educators must loudly condemn the racist sexist attitudes that are often the basis of these attacks.

Require an Online Code of Conduct for Tournament participation:

The National Speech and Debate Association, The National Debate Coaches Association, and the National Tournament of Champions Should Develop an Online Code of Conduct and Require Adherence as a Prerequisite for Participation. In other words, coaches, judges, and students who bully online or support online bullying by publishing the harassing text should be excluded from participation in the National Championship tournaments.


Since our original essay the leadership of the National Speech and Debate Association, The National Debate Coaches Association and the Tournaments have agreed to endorse our pledge. Let us look again at our suggested solutions as we continue to move forward. Our community must no longer tolerate online bullying.


Jonathan Alston Director of Debate at Science Park High School

Anthony Berryhill Ph.D. Candidate in Political Theory at Yale University

Aaron Timmons Director of Debate at Greenhill School



Bogdan, Racles, Hating the Herd, Our Unknown Enemy: Mob Mentality, October 14, 2012.

Brown, Roger, Social Psychology: The Second Edition (New York: Free Press, 1986

Citron (Danielle Keats). The Offensive Internet: Speech, Privacy, and Reputation, Civil Rights in Our Information Age, Edited by – Saul Levmore and Martha C. Nussbaum ¸ 2010

Janis, Irving L.  (Scholar in Residence at UC Berkeley). Victims of Groupthink. New York: Houghton Mifflin. (1972)

Kristoff, Nicholas, When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 3, New York Times, October 11, 2014,

Obtained with permission from here.

Protecting All of the Children in the Auditorium by Jonathan Alston, Anthony Berryhill, and Aaron Timmons

Editor’s Note: In light of the arguments made in this article, we are open to suggestions about concrete changes to our commenting policy. Please send suggestions to or write them in a comment. To read and sign the authors’ pledge for online civility in the debate community, please click here.

The Need to Create Online Community Norms in Contemporary Lincoln-Douglas Debate

“Close the doors!” Richard Sodikow would bellow across the auditorium at the top of his lungs. His voice rang through the enormous room and his order was immediately followed. The doors would be closed and the hundreds of high school students who attended the prestigious fall debate tournament at the Bronx High School of Science would be locked in, together. The fire alarm would sound, but we would not leave. We did not have to. We were already protected. The alarm was for the people outside of Richard’s purview. The children around him—high school students who came from across the United States to compete in academic debate—did not have to worry. The race, class, or gender of the debaters did not matter. We were all inside, together. Protected by the adult who took responsibility for our care.

That type of care, that type of concern for all children is missing from contemporary Lincoln-Douglas debate. Our community stands idly by while certain children, coaches, judges and programs are blatantly bullied online by institutions the debate community actively supports. While the research on the bystander effect is over 50 years old, the internet and social media has exacerbated the extent, and the impact, of inaction on online mediums. Professor Vincent Hendricks explains the 21st century bystander effect when he elucidated:

The bystander effect occurs because people observe each other before assisting. And the more people observing each other the stronger the signal that help is neither required nor appropriate. Once you take such public signals to social media in terms of, say, aggregated likes, you may just reinforce bystander behavior even more.

In the case of cyberbullying, by innocently “liking” you may be part of movement to establish a strong public signal about what the correct collective response is. You register your “like” with no obligation to actually intervene and non-intervention may just become the norm. (Hendricks)

High school debate, a uniquely educational and academic activity fostering the promotion of civil discourse, ought to reflect the basic principle that children — of all races, classes, genders, sexual orientations — are sacrosanct, and that their participation should be encouraged. The circuit Lincoln-Douglas virtual community, however, has proven that despite our focus on philosophy and morality in debate rounds, we are willing to watch some children be slaughtered online.

In this note we highlight the importance of a fully inclusive debate space, warning that the community’s reluctance to create virtual norms and its refusal to speak out against often racist, always destructive online bullying endangers not only the few students and programs who are publicly sacrificed, but that this unchallenged online behavior threatens the legitimacy of our activity as a whole. One or more of the authors were directly involved in many of the incidents described in this essay.

I: The Sacrifices: Instances of Online Bullying Promoted by Popular Debate Websites

Consider the following incidents. They are, unfortunately, not hypothetical and have been written and/or verified by the student victims described.

Example 1

An appeal is made to the tournament directors to include a team in the playoffs (Tournament of Champions) based on the claims that there were improprieties in how the qualifying tournaments and results were potentially corrupt or at least, not executed according to basic guidelines of appropriateness and had impacted that student’s ability to do as well as possible. Other students, judges and even coaches suggest that: 1) the student and his coaches are wrong to question such improprieties and that 2) the coaches are abusing their power by making such an appeal.

Subsequent online discussion by other coaches, potential judges and student competitors demonstrated little concern for either the accuracy of their claims or the psychological trauma caused to the student under discussion. When one debate website took down a conversation because of potential concerns of defamation/legal concerns, other popular debate websites re-posted the entire conversation and continued the defamatory online hostility.

In addition, this sixteen-year-old student’s confidential application to the Tournament of Champions was leaked to the discussion boards for further bullying. The anonymous (unauthorized) person who leaked the application, in a shocking display of dishonesty, also edited it to remove information that was favorable to the application, such as the list of several TOC qualified people defeated by the harassed student.

The student at the center of this flame war recently wrote about his experience:

There was nothing I could ever do to gain the respect of the community no matter how many rounds I won, what judges I picked up, what methods I used in round, my technical abilities or who I beat. Whenever I won rounds my senior year, people in the community widely shared their racist belief that, ‘The only way he wins rounds is because he’s black.’

However, what always upset me even more was that I felt that I never had any support or protection from adults in the community when I was being bullied and threatened online. Coaches were more worried about online debates and the technicalities of the TOC decision than my feelings.  Despite the fact that I was being told I wasn’t deserving and despite the fact I was sent inappropriate messages about my participation from judges in the TOC pool, coaches on other teams, summer camp instructors and competitors weeks before the TOC, no one cared. To this very day I think and ask why, outside of my circle of coaches and grandfather, were other coaches too afraid or unwilling to intervene?

It is important to note that the TOC Director had, based on their professional judgment, granted exceptions to allow students to apply or compete without the requisite number of bids based on extenuating circumstances. In the past couple of years students have competed, or asked to compete, at the TOC with situations that violated the “letter of the law” (in our opinion) as it applies to participation at the TOC. We didn’t see online vitriol. In fact, there was overwhelming support for allowing them to compete from some of the same folks protesting the above situation. While surprising to some, the inconsistency is not at all surprising to us.

Example 2

A student wins the prestigious Bronx High School of Science New York City Invitational in a highly competitive final round. Some of the judges and friends of competitors go online to a popular, respected debate website to disparage the student’s multiple identities and assert that her victory was strictly due to cheating. She writes of the experience:

The day after I won my first major, I was elated. I had deactivated Facebook for the year to concentrate on schoolwork and debate, so I checked my phone instead, expecting to see messages of congratulations from my friends and former instructors. Instead, I received a barrage of questions: “Have you been on NSD Update? Have you seen what they (coaches, students AND judges) are writing about you?

With a growing sense of dread, I logged on to NSD Update. I read through post after post written by debaters and coaches- adults, people I thought I could trust and respect- accusing me of cheating to win. At first, I felt confused. Of course I hadn’t cheated- I’d worked so hard to win. Why would anyone say that about me? Then I got angry, then embarrassed, and humiliated. It felt devastating. It felt awful.

Most of all, it felt unfair. I had worked so hard over the summer and in the few months leading up to the tournament. I spent every free period at school in the debate office drilling or writing cases. At home, I researched for hours until well past midnight. When I won, I felt like all of that work had been validated. But instead of celebrating my efforts, a large part of the community wanted to call me a cheater instead.

The day after I won my first major, I should have been overwhelmed with joy. Instead, I locked myself in my room and cried.

Perhaps the worst part of becoming the target of an online flame war was that the community turned against me. I used to love the debate community. Like many other young debaters, I considered it a place of refuge, a place where I could be myself. Now that I was ‘that girl who cheated,’ I couldn’t walk down a hallway at a tournament without receiving stares ranging from curious to hostile. Every so often I’d stumble across people talking about me in hushed tones, who invariably fell silent when I approached. I was made to feel awkward and uncomfortable almost everywhere I went, and that stigma stayed with me until I graduated.

There are other stories — too many other stories which we have personally witnessed. A judge in an elimination round of the Texas Forensic Association State Tournament last year was vilified online for his decision and accused of cheating. This judge was so concerned about the students he judged being humiliated by a respected debate website that he conflicted himself from judging them at subsequent tournaments. He did not want to risk a vote for them causing further humiliation and vilification.

The current use of LD debate discussion forums as a tool to attack students and their coaches is so violent and hostile that it is perhaps most accurate to say that students who put certain camps’ stickers on their laptops and bags are unwittingly flashing “gang signs of protection.” The saying “you can ride with us or you can collide with us,” has become a devastating reality for many.

Judges and coaches are human beings. When a judge knows that a vote against a particular student could make himself, his students or her program subject to online vilification and community attack, there is a perverse incentive to make a decision that does not reflect who he or she believes did the better debating. Even if that coach or judge is strong enough to resist the urge for self-preservation, the existence of such negative incentives is enough to destroy the integrity of debates.

A website responsible for the training of high school athletes would never be supported if it attacked players, referees and coaches. That many coaches feel that this state of affairs in debate is acceptable — as long as it benefits their “gang” — means that too many have lost sight of our primary duty to provide safe educational spaces for children.

II. Online Gangsters: The Dangerous Online Culture of National-Circuit Lincoln Douglas Debate and How this Online Culture Led to the Tournament of Champions’ Explosion of Entitlement 2014 (They Blew Up Round 7!)

Students feel safe in participating in harassment, judges feel safe in encouraging it, and coaches of influence feel safe in letting it happen.

Many of the people involved in this online vitriol would scream that our portrayal of them is unfair. They would say that they are the victims protecting the community from the corrupt abuse of power of long-term, entrenched coaches. In their view they are simply breaking down the barriers placed against them.

In their view, the “flame wars” they spark bring light to perceived wrongs in our community. If they don’t like the result of a decision in a final round, publically accusing the judges, coaches and students of cheating is the only way to right the perceived injustice. Pushing for “likes” to comments represents their equivalent of an online petition of support. Regardless of the lies they tell themselves, the truth remains: they do this because they feel a deep sense of entitlement which includes the “right” to debate wins, regardless of what happens in round.

To clarify, these flame wars must not be confused with official complaints to tournaments, genuine methods designed to promote reform, or scholarship which educates people about the art of debate. Instead, these online forums are used to gather a mob who can then share speculation and collectively “gear up” to initiate an online war against persons of color, women, and other marginalized populations.

If this online mob was actually genuine about caring about equality, fairness, and real competition, debaters and their coaches would focus their energy on being better at debate by reading more literature and improving their technique. But instead, they have focused their time and efforts on methods of intimidation to “defend their turf.”

As a result of such turf wars, the predominately Black, Hispanic, female or queer/quare victims of online flame wars have been placed in an impossible position. When someone posts something negative about her or him online it is the equivalent of an “online drive-by.” Their responses will not be interpreted or analyzed honestly because they are already judged as guilty before they have had the chance to respond. Even when the cascade of online accusations and threats end, other students and coaches permanently treat them with disdain and disrespect. In other words, online circuit LD debate forums have become the modern day version of “kangaroo courts,” in which even a (metaphorical) finding of innocence carries the same punishment as a conviction: victims suffer shunning, evil looks by competitors and judges and hostile treatment in-person at tournaments.

Much of what is occurring can be explained in literature rooted in social psychology on group dynamics.

One factor in spreading poison online is the ability to post comments anonymously. Arthur Schoepenhauer, over 160 years ago, created a phrase that could be applied to the “internet gangsters” of the 21st century when he stated: “Anonymity is the refuge for all literary and journalistic rascality” (Schoepenhauer). It has become a culture of “drive – by anonymity” (Lanier) where individuals can functionally create their vision of history that the reader, without context, may very well believe.

The behavior of the anonymous poster before the TOC who leaked a student’s confidential at large application is just one example of Schoepenhauer and Lanier’s point—hiding behind anonymity allowed that person to avoid any social or legal consequences for their despicable behavior.

Other factors in these online mob attacks include deindividualization and groupthink tendencies, which make fair and open discussion impossible. Deindividualization is what psychologists define as a process which alters individual behavior: “when belonging to a crowd, a person will be ‘able to indulge in forms of behavior in which, when alone, they would not indulge’” (Festinger et al). In other words, there is a diffusion of responsibility, a depersonalization that results in at best, groupthink and at worst, a “mob mentality” (Bogdan). “Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision-making” (McCallum).

Irving Janis (1972) has documented eight symptoms of groupthink; for the purpose of this article we will focus on five symptoms that we think are particularly relevant to those who engage in online attacks on debate websites. These symptoms include:

  1. Belief in inherent morality – Members believes in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  2. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
  3. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  4. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  5. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

One may wonder why groups of highly intelligent debaters would be subject to the dynamics of groupthink. Presumably people trained in logical argumentation would be capable of recognizing and correcting such biases. Unfortunately, these biases can and do overwhelm otherwise intelligent people’s ability to think, argue and interpret clearly and honestly based on facts. As a result, we see circuit LDers deliberately choosing to rely on gossip, biased suspicions, and outright lies whenever it suits them.

We are creating a generation of students who believe that hostility, unsubstantiated claims and dishonest attacks are best practices for effective communication.

Racles Bogdan, explains this process as he elucidates how emotions interact with the meaning and knowledge making process:

Trust is based in both emotion and reason, where we make meaning from how we feel and also the knowledge we hold.  When you put the two together, you make meaning, in all its fullness where emotions and reason merge. This meaning is made from two parts of your brain: the part that processes information and is logical and analytical; and the part of your brain that protects you from danger and ignites the fight or flight response (i.e. your “lizard brain”).

If one’s emotional response toward a person (or organization) is already predisposed to be negative – because of perceived threat, lack of understanding, values conflict, or their membership in a marginalized group – then one’s reasoning apparatus will align with those negative feelings.

It will never matter what new facts and arguments the stigmatized students, teams, or coaches present in their defense; they will always be condemned as suspicious, guilty, and unworthy of being treated as equal human beings.

One way to understand the genesis of these online mob attacks is as a series of sad attempts stemmed from a warped need for acceptance and validation. These attacks are desperate expressions of some students’/coaches’ worst fear: that they will lose to those queer/quare, black, brown or female bodies who they deem less worthy or deserving.

Bogdan elaborates that an environment of animosity, aggression and incivility amplifies the risks explained above, given fight-or-flight responses which make rational discourse impossible:

In a situation where emotions are triggered, physiological responses take place and blood recedes from thinking part of the brain, rushes to reptilian brain, triggering fight or flight and rendering new information useless and impossible. Your reaction to run away or strike back has its uses in situations of danger, but it also means we take this instinct into situations where it can increase our challenges, where there are better ways to respond.  We fail to distinguish between situations that endanger us and those that make us uncomfortable and this stops our learning, understanding and growing and takes all of us away from the opportunity to create something new and better (Emphasis added).

Some argue that circuit Lincoln Douglas debaters have comported themselves appropriately online and have rationally and fairly participated in “educational” discourse which has given marginalized people and others a fair hearing in which they have been able to provide a vigorous defense. They may further assert that such online discussions have only been in response to what they interpret as unfair practices by tournament administrators; however, this position is not reflected in the evidence that exists.

When victims of online attacks have presented their defenses in the same format–assuming that there was a chance they could persuade the online mobs to view them dispassionately — circuit LDers have consistently used the following psychopathic and maladaptive responses, which function as case studies for the psychological theories we have cited so far:

  • Those who we think look or act different from the norm should be attacked.
  • Those who are attacked ought not be defended vigorously by people in authority.
  • Those with a duty of care toward attacked students have an obligation not to strongly condemn, oppose or deter such bullying from continuing or else– “they are fighting fire with fire.”
  • Those who are attacking should be left alone and/or encouraged to keep going.
  • Those who are attacked “had it coming” (i.e. “they should stay in their place”).
  • Those who are attacked (and marginalized) should to go to another place designed for them (such as the Urban Debate Leagues), but the initial attack ought not be critiqued.
  • Debate should not be a safe space for minority/marginalized participants and we don’t care if it isn’t, our sole role is to choose who did the better job of debating, we are not educators.
  • The students in question are merely collateral damage whose sacrifices are needed to promote “education” and “discussion” on key issues affecting the community.

These despicable arguments are not straw men; they have actually been and continue to be used in the online bullying which takes place in our community. Unfortunately, innocence, rational argument, diplomacy, “turning the other cheek” and/or adult authority/professionalism will not protect anyone from online abuse.

In the current climate where the debate-centered websites serve as both places to educate and attack students, judges, and coaches, these attacks are impossible to escape. Because these sites are popular within the community and attached to widely supported summer institutes and online educational support, attacks serve to galvanize the community to exile and shun any student, judge or coach that the internet gangsters do not believe should be in the auditorium.

Lanier argues: “I worry about the next generation of young people around the world growing up with internet-based technology that emphasizes crowd aggregation… will they be more likely to succumb to pack dynamics when they come of age?” The utopian tendency is to believe that social media pluralizes and diversifies opinion; most of the evidence suggests that it is just as likely, when combined with anonymity, to reinforce groupthink and extremism (Lanier).

All of these factors: anonymity, groupthink, a pre-disposition of negative bias against out-groups (i.e. minorities/marginalized groups) and group polarization all combine into the explosive situation in which we find circuit LD, and ironically, where “Circuit LD” found itself in round 7 at the National Tournament of Champions:

In round 7 of Lincoln-Douglas debate at the 2014 Tournament of Champions an explosion occurred. All of the above theory about online behavior erupted in person as scores of students, coaches and judges refused to go to their rounds because of a perceived injustice. We call this the “TOC Explosion of Entitlement of 2014.” An African-American coach (one of the authors of this article) brought an ethics violation to the tournament directors. His student was given a loss in spite of the winning student admitting in-round that he carded the straw man of an article and passed it off as the author’s advocacy, only clarifying when pressed in cross-examination. The tournament directors found that the ethics violation was substantial and serious enough to merit a double-loss since the judge’s decision on the round had already been made. It is worth noting that the tabroom directors intentionally did NOT tell the tournament directors what schools were involved before a decision was made. In the view of the protesters, quoting a straw person did not rise to the level of an ethical violation since it was admitted in cross examination that the author concluded the other way. The protesters also said things like, “This happens all the time/is standard practice/philosophers do it all the time.” The question no one has asked is if the question wasn’t asked, would all involved have known the true intent of the author as it was being used to verify a claim. 

“Outrage” spread throughout the tournament. A mob organized a spontaneous “sit-out”. Over 40 coaches, students, and judges went outside of the lobby of the building that was the center of the LD Tournament and refused to go to round 7. They “struck a blow for justice.” In their view, they never denied that the misuse of evidence was real; they were instead more concerned that a particular Black coach was using his “undue influence” on the tournament officials. In this case, the mob’s inherent suspicion and fear of “Black control” overwhelmed any sense of restraint, sportsmanship and professionalism. It is possible that it is purely coincidental that the recipients of the online vitriol — and in this case in person hostility — were either persons of color, women or gay, but we believe that this issue is too important for our community to not seriously examine the intent of such objectively dangerous destructive behavior.

As evidence for the hostile and dangerous environment these students and coaches created, when the Black coach’s debater walked down the steps to go to his next round, a person from the mob pointed in his direction and shouted:

“There he is!!!” 

The student turned around in shock. Another coach saw this situation and felt the need to escort him to his round to ensure his physical safety. “Don’t go anywhere without an escort,” this coach told the frightened student. ALL individuals in the protest are culpable for creating the culture that lead several students and coaches to be concerned about their safety, EVEN IF they believed they were engaged in legitimate protests.

In response to the “sit-out,” the tournament officials tried on multiple occasions to explain their actions to an angry, yelling mob of students and coaches, but these efforts were to no avail. The round was delayed, pairings were redone, and judges were replaced. Our “heroes” thought that they were striking a blow for justice. They only succeeded in terrorizing more students. The online world of virtual bullying had stepped into the real world.

It is worth noting that another protest by another school was filed earlier in the tournament (against a student who happened to be of color), reevaluated after being originally denied by the tab room, and then granted, which caused the pairings to be redone. Was there any protest regarding the new pairings? (It is also worth noting that the judge involved denied that the offense being protested even occurred). Did the ruling inflame or incite more protests? It did not.

III. Haven’t Disagreements within Our Community Happened Before?

Richard Sodikow was not always a beloved figure. Throughout his career there were serious heated disagreements with other coaches. Like many extremely successful coaches, he was accused of cheating, being hostile, arrogant, and mean-spirited. But coaches largely dealt with this by talking to, arguing with, and yelling at each other. It was usually not in front of students. We understood that we were educators and the problems within our community come from the adults in our community. Our students need to be shielded from the adult controversies of administration. It is up to the coaches to fight and work it out behind closed doors. Fourteen and fifteen year olds need to concentrate on getting better at the activity we love. When the alarms go off the confusion should be on the outside, not in the realm of our students. The impacts of these new controversies are far worse given that the comments stay online forever, and can be Googled or searched on the internet, at a later date. The impact on victims for college admissions, internships, and even future employment is undeniable and intolerable.

IV. This has NOTHING to do with issues of Race: Quit “Race-Baiting,” “Playing the Race Card,” “Being All Al Sharpton-Like”

As the authors of this article are all African American men, it would be fair to say that we find many of the targets of online vitriol to be either racial minorities, or women (many who self-identify as “persons of color”). The online attacks on students and coaches of color are too significant to ignore if one is being truly objective. In the 1970’s, psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, MD, developed the concept and study of “racial micro aggressions” in the interactions between those of majority culture and self-identified racial minorities. Derald Wing Sue, PhD, (Teachers College, Columbia University psychologist) defined micro aggressions as one of the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them,” (DeAngelis). Sue attempts to define distinctions in micro aggressions by labeling them as follows:

Microassaults: Conscious and intentional actions or slurs, such as using racial epithets, displaying swastikas or deliberately serving a white person before a person of color in a restaurant.

Microinsults: Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a colleague of color how she got her job, implying she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.

Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, white people often ask Asian-Americans where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land. (Sue)

We will, as did Sue, focus on microinsults and invalidations as they are perhaps more prevalent in our activity. It IS worth noting that in circuit LD and some summer institutes over the past two years, students and coaches have been consistent victims of microinsults. For example, in the past couple of years, one student’s framework was referred to publically as the “nigger framework” in a camp environment. Other examples include publically declared attacks at minority students such as the following: “She/he should talk about the topic (a juvenile justice and broader criminal justice resolution we might add) instead of running that race crap” or, “It is obvious why she/he was chosen for that round robin #affirmativeactionsucks.”

Even professional credentials and pedagogical success cannot protect minority coaches from such racially charged condemnation. We have been told that people are “threatened” when we watch our own students debate and that our presence creates “an uncomfortable atmosphere” for them. This unfounded racially charged concern has gone so far that at one season ending invitational that there was serious discussion of banning some black coaches from watching their own kids debate—a right that was explicitly given to all coaching staffs. The idea that some coaches felt that it was acceptable to interpret black coaches’ bodies as threats (and to functionally, demand that they are denied rights which apply to all other white coaches at the tournament) is not only fundamentally racist but also disproves the idea that we live in a post-racial circuit LD world.

To be clear, last time we checked, no real-life gangsters or “thugs” spend their time as full or part time debate coaches. The only possible exception is the “thug life” that many who launch rhetorical Molotov cocktails from the safety of their respective domiciles/computers in virtual anonymity embrace.

Interestingly, some are so bold/emboldened by privilege in many cases, that they don’t mind putting their names online because they feel they have instant “credibility”, because of who they are. They also know that few will respond for fear of the backlash.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, many readers may still exclaim that these actions have “NOTHING to do with Race”, or possibly “just because people disagree with you does not mean we are racist.”

While a fair retort, writer Tori DeAngelis explains the reasoning behind such a response:

“It’s a monumental task to get white people to realize that they are delivering microaggressions, because it’s scary to them,” he contends. “It assails their self-image of being good, moral, decent human beings to realize that maybe at an unconscious level they have biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of color.

Before those reading retreat into appeals to colorblindness, or worse yet a refusal to listen to those of us who are “canaries in the mine”, perhaps heeding the words of Pulitzer Prize winning author Nicholas Kristof is in order when he recently opined that: 

A starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.

We suggest that a more mature and ethical response is to actually listen to, and reflect on the examples and experiences we present here. A truly inclusive community would not metaphorically stick their heads in the sand to wish away these experiences, they would instead empathize and take action.

V. We Must Act: Protecting Your Own Students is Not Enough

If a teacher witnessed someone terrorizing a child in another classroom, he would be morally and legally obligated to act. If he tried to excuse his silence by saying that he is only responsible for those in his own classroom, he would appropriately lose his job and face legal sanction. We are ethically, and legally, responsible to take care of all the students in our collective auditorium.

Many may believe that only students, judges and coaches of color (or other marginalized groups) are affected by the scenarios we describe. Witnesses to these online mob attacks would be well served to remember the analogy of the miner’s canary. Historically, coal miners carried canaries with them as a warning signal against the invisible, deadly fumes within. If the canary died, the miners knew to get out before it was too late. We believe that this analogy fits the situation of the online mob attacks in LD. Those who foolishly assume that the students we have described earlier are the only ones who have been under threat are making a dangerous error in judgment. Like the TOC Explosion of Entitlement of 2014, the mine will eventually explode.

A famous poem that began circulation in the 1950s describes the dangers of intellectuals avoiding conflict and refusing to take action in Germany during WWII:

First they came for … and I did not speak out – because I was not …

It concludes,

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

The hesitance of the majority of members of the debate community to speak out, either because they do not perceive hostile messages unless personally directed or because they fear reprisal, leads to a world where civil discourse is replaced with hate speech.  If we believe in the power of speech, we cannot afford to allow some to be silenced by the antipathy of others.

Maybe no one ever comes. Maybe a coach’s team excels to the highest levels of success on the National Circuit. The question remains, at what cost? Some may see our analogies and examples as hyperbolic. We disagree.

Many of the online mob attacks are arguably illegal in nature. But the real crime here is that these mobs continue to be empowered by both the silence of bystanders and the pitchforks held by those coaches and camp instructors who spearhead (or tolerate) the abuse. As a community we cannot claim to care about education while we allow children and other educators to be under siege at tournaments and in online forums.

VI. Acting on Our Obligation to Protect All of the Children in the Auditorium

Coaches must be proactive and stop being cowards–they ought to make protecting all of the children in the auditorium top priority because they have the pedagogical and moral duty to stamp out online bullying. Here are a few places to start:

1. Stop Supporting Institutions that Allow/Encourage Rhetorical Violence that Hurts Children

Adult educators must stop supporting institutions that tolerate attacks on minors, judges and coaches. While pedagogical disagreements are acceptable, continued support of environments which show disregard for student, judge, and coach welfare should face financial consequences. Refusing to intervene is morally callous and indicates tacit acceptance of the abuse/bullying of children. Child welfare should determine where coaches and students allocate their resources. If not, we are insincere hypocrites in our claims to want debate to be a safe space for all children.

Students, judges and coaches who knowingly attend a summer institute, buy educational services from, or participate (even innocently) in the online forums of companies that host websites that allow such attacks share responsibility for the destruction of safe educational debate spaces. In this light, posting a sticker of offending institutes on a laptop or bag has become the debate equivalent of flashing a gang sign. The sticker serves a dual purpose: 1) as an implicit threat to any judge who does not want to end up on the target end of a flame war, and 2) a defense against being the next target.

Recently a highly respected, highly successful coach spoke to us of a fear of telling students that they could not attend a certain institute affiliated with a website that allows anonymous attacks on students, coaches, and programs. There was concern about what would happen to the program if it got back to the people who ran the summer institute. This coach had a well-grounded fear that his/her respected program and its students would be targeted for online abuse. The fear of reprisal was so intense that the calculation of “while online attacks are bad and harm children, I cannot risk the chance that my students are attacked.” We feel strongly that is sentiment is felt by many who choose to stay silent.

These gangster methods of intimidation have no place in our activity. Stop funding them.

2. Online Discussion Boards Must Institute and Consistently Enforce Policies to Regulate Future Conduct

Offending online debate websites must immediately institute and enforce policies that will not allow their sites to poison the debate space including, but not limited to, specifically disallowing negative comments about students, judges, and coaches on their sites. Allowing these comments at best teaches bad sportsmanship. At worst, allowing those comments is a deliberate attempt to intimidate, harass, and bully students and judges.

Some websites’ administrators may respond that they are objective “news” organizations or free forums for educational discussion. But the owners of these sites have clear financial interests tied to outcomes of debates; they advertise that if you come to their camp, they will teach you how to become champions. This claim is meaningless unless the people who attend their institutes win. These sites do not acknowledge their blatant conflict of interest. Their allowance of bullying is not in the interest of free speech. These sites are tolerating the abuse of minors and the judges and coaches who care about them in order for their clients to win more rounds. Additionally, these same websites receive advertising money for each additional, controversy-induced hit. (In the spirit of disclosure the authors either run or have taught at institutes in the past, but do not host or run debate blogs or websites.)

Others may claim that the individual’s right to free speech should trump the claims we make here. We believe that this position is off the mark. Consideration of the appropriateness of the time, place, and manner of disagreement is in order in any conversation about free speech. Discussing the specifics of a student’s at-large application in a public forum is not the appropriate place. Challenges to a student’s evidence ethics should occur in tab rooms, not online blogs for a public flogging. And at no point should racist or sexist insults be included when discussing philosophical disagreements. Those who use the “free speech” excuse to permit the bullying we described here ought to adopt a student-centered perspective which balances freedom of expression with student welfare and safety.

Some circuit LD sites may argue that these policies have already been in place. However, even as recently as the 2013-2014 season the abusive behaviors described earlier have NOT been consistently and rigorously opposed by site administrators, especially when the targets of such abuse have been students and/or coaches of color who do not share their camp affiliation.

While in theory such policies have been in place, in practice a “hands off” approach has been adopted instead.

Sites that want to make money off of teaching and promoting circuit LD debate must stop threatening and poisoning the community.

3.  Educators Must Strongly Condemn the Racist, Sexist Attitudes That Are Often the Basis of These Attacks

Sadly, much of the bullying and intimidation we describe here stems from an anti-educational and anti-intellectual attitude toward those students (with particular targeting of students of color and women) who wish to expand the range of scholarship they learn through Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Amazingly, some coaches and camp institute instructors have suggested that scholarship which speaks to the particular experiences and perspectives of marginalized populations (such as women, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, LGBTQQ groups, etc.) is on-face “morally bankrupt” and unsuitable for debate. We believe this type of attitude is misinformed.

If LD debaters genuinely believe in the “marketplace of ideas,” and that the debate space is for debaters, then the exclusion or elitist dismissal of literature speaking to experiences/issues of difference is indefensible.

To be clear, what we call for requires genuine respect and honest consideration of alternative ideas and scholarship—mere tolerance through having a handful of summer camp sessions on “Critical Race Theory” or “Feminism” is not, by itself, evidence of substantial and authentic consideration. Constructive engagement regarding the serious academic study of differences (and corresponding acceptance of people from different backgrounds) is required, all year round: online AND offline.

4. Close the Doors!: The National Speech and Debate Association, The National Debate Coaches Association, and the National Tournament of Champions Should Develop an Online Code of Conduct and Require Adherence as a Prerequisite for Participation

Academic debate is dependent on honesty and fair conduct. Participation in online bullying, attacking students, coaches and judges should be enough to be disinvited from all of these prestigious tournaments. People responsible for sites that allow this poor sportsmanship to occur should also be disinvited. Making online statements about students or coaches already means that you would not be able to fairly judge that student or a student from that coach’s school. The commenter is a participant in making the tournament hostile toward the targeted students. No student or coach or judge or team should walk into a tournament feeling under siege.

These tournaments must make a decision as to whether the poisonous world of online bullying has a place at their tournament. These tournaments, and national tournaments in general, can no longer pretend that they do not see or recognize the problem of online bullying and how their silence makes them complicit in these attacks against children.

Too often this year we have spoken to coaches who have said that they did not know what was happening and that they did not know that students (mostly minors) were treated so badly. Coaches have a duty to be more aware of what is going online given that such forums are the vehicle by which many debate people communicate. Some have said, “I didn’t know that was an issue. I didn’t read that stuff,” or “I just thought it was a camp war.”

Now, everyone knows. It’s time to make decisions. It is time for these prestigious tournaments specifically, and national tournaments in general, to protect every student who walks into their auditoriums. An enforced code of conduct is a minimal standard that we must take to stop the predatory, profit-driven adults from abusing the children in our midst.


When listening to the statements of the affected students at the beginning of this essay, we must ask ourselves how any responsible adult could ever, ever allow that to happen to another young person. It is now time to choose. Neutrality is an abdication of our deepest professional and human responsibility.

Over time Richard Sodikow was forgiven for the many conflicts he had with adults because it was clear to everyone in his path that he was an educator who loved to teach and train all of the children in our community. He positively impacted programs beyond Bronx Science and considered his support of other programs—especially programs where students are Black, Brown, and from different economic classes—as essential to the integrity of our community. Right now in our community, the judging and decisions all lack integrity, and every coach (full or part time), every judge, and every educator is responsible for showing leadership in changing the norms that exist in circuit LD.

It is now our turn to gather all of our children into the auditorium, walk on stage and yell at the top of our collective voices, “Close the doors!” And then we must ring the alarms that will push the hatred and danger away.

Jonathan Alston – Director of Debate at Science Park High School

Anthony Berryhill – Ph.D. Candidate in Political Theory at Yale

Aaron Timmons – Director of Debate at Greenhill School


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Bogdan, Racles, Hating the Herd, Our Unknown Enemy: Mob Mentality, October 14, 2012.

DeAngelis, Tori, Freelance writer and journalist – former Editor for the American Psychological Society, Unmasking ‘racial micro aggressions’, American Psychological Association, 2009, Vol 40, No. 2.

Festinger, L., Pepitone, A., & Newcomb, T. Some consequences of individuation in a group. Journal of Social Psychology, (1952).  47, 382-389.

Janis, Irving L.  (Scholar in Residence at UC Berkeley. Victims of Groupthink. New York: Houghton Mifflin. (1972)

Hendricks, (Vincent F.) Professor of Formal Philosophy at University of Copenhagen, The Conversation, June 5, 2014,

Kristoff, Nicholas. When Whites Just Don’t Get It – After Ferguson, Race Deserves More Attention, Not Less, New York Times, Aug. 30, 2014

Lanier, Jaron, 2010, You Are Not a Gadget

Le Bon, G., (1896) General Characteristics of crowds – Psychological Law of Their Mental Unity. The Crowd: A study of the Popular Mind. Book I, Chapter I.

Le Bon, G., (1913) The Psychology of Revolutionary Crowds, The Psychology of Revolution, 4, 57-63

Muchnik, L., Aral, S., and Taylor, S. Social influence bias: a randomized experiment. Science. Vol. 341, 9 August 2013, p. 647. doi: 10.1126/science.1240466

McCallum, Stephani Roy, Uncivil Discourse and Mob Mentality, Dialogue Partners, Bringing People Together, April 18 2013

National Speech and Debate Association, “Code of Honor.”

Stanford University, “Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford”

The article was obtained with permission from here.

Recently Passed NDCA Proposals -- Petition Against Online Bullying

Proposal Cyber-Bullying Petition Passed the NDCA on a vote of 8-1 with Jim Menick dissenting.

"I want to move that the NDCA Board sign The Pledge for Online Civility in the Debate Community."

Script of the petition:

The Pledge for Online Civility in the Debate Community

Debaters are part of a greater community that fosters education, competition, and mutual respect.  And as a community, we have an obligation to cultivate a safe and respectful environment free of intimidation, harassment, and cyberbullying. 

Online discussion within the debate community is healthy and for the most part, overwhelmingly positive. However, sometimes online discussions devolve into “flame wars” where members of our debate community become the targets of name-calling, false accusations, and other harassing and intimidating behavior that has no place in our community.

Such online harassment does very real and permanent damage that often far exceeds what even the attacker intended.  Victims can be haunted by the irrevocable and public nature of how the internet keeps everything online for everyone to find and see forever.  False accusations might be perceived as true by prospective employers, college admission officers, or even family and friends.  For the attacker, they too must live with the damage they’ve done, and in some cases, face legal consequences of their own.

Bullying and harassment in this modern, online age can spiral out of control so quickly and so egregiously, that we owe it to ourselves to rise above it and put an end to it.

To that extent, we hold each other accountable and to ask of each other a pledge of civility—a promise not to be a cyberbully.  We pledge to keep it civil.  Specifically, we pledge:

  1. To stop and think before we post

    We understand that once it’s out there, we can’t take it back.  Our words will be forever available to the entire world and will reflect upon our ‘target’ (and ourselves) forever.  So we will choose words carefully, base them in fact, and when in doubt, err on the side of caution.

  2. To tone it down

    Spirited discussion is one thing.  Escalating hyperbole, insults, threats, and anything else that might be chalked up to “heat of the moment” communication instead of rationale thought should never be posted online.  We can disagree without being disagreeable.

  3. To take it off line

    We recognize that if a conversation is escalating in a bad way, we should take it off line—or at least out of the public realm.  Email.  Pick up a phone.  Have a meeting.  The world doesn’t need a permanent record of our argument.

  4. To not pile on

    Online threads tend to draw others into one side or another.  And as the conversation devolves, so does the level of civility by everyone on the thread.  We won’t take the bait.  We won’t keep adding fuel to someone else’s fire—something that only serves to make a bad thread even worse.

  5. To reintroduce social graces to online forums

    Nice, polite people can turn into real jerks from behind a keyboard.  Basic human etiquette and manners go out the window.  We’ll strive to bring back pleasantries, mutual respect, and basic human kindness to make the online world a friendlier and less-intimidating place to communicate and debate.

Please join us in our effort to keep it civil and preserve the debate community as a safe and productive community.   

Rationale for supporting proposals regarding advertising and wiki -- Dana Randall

I am writing to provide members with the rationale I had when supporting and voting for the following to proposals:

Proposal -- Advertising on the website (The vote count was 7-0, Shane Stafford and Maggie Berthiaume Abstained)

I formally propose we solicit advertising for our website and for the policy and LD wiki sites.

Proposal -- Stipend for wiki, Revenue Sharing (Passed Unanimously)

I formally propose we pay a stipend of $1,000 annually to Aaron Hardy for his work on the wiki as well as split the profit from all ad revenues on the wiki on a 50/50 basis with him.

This summer I worked at the University of Michigan Debate Institute for seven weeks.  I am ashamed to admit that as a long time user of the Open Evidence project and member of the NDCA this was the first summer wherein I volunteered to upload files for the OpenEv project.  I uploaded all the of the University of Michigan files the last day I was in Ann Arbor and it took me hours to complete the task.  After my eyes were watering from trying to not miss a file or lose my place as I uploaded each document I discovered that my contribution to the project was really very small.  Many members of the community have donated hours and hours of their time to do this summer after summer.   Aaron Hardy is one of those individuals.  The Board member responsible for the OpenEv project estimated that his efforts this summer alone to set up and maintain the OpenEv site totaled over 50 hours.  The proposal for Aaron Hardy’s stipend lists it as for his “work on the wiki” it is worth revising the language to include his work on for the OpenEv project as well.  That is not to say that Aaron’s “work on the wiki” does not warrant much more compensation than the 1,000 stipend the Board decided to offer him.  Prior to Aaron’s managing of the wiki it was primarily maintained by Bill Batterman from Woodward Academy.  After years of volunteering hundreds of hours each year Bill would like a break!  I cannot thank Bill enough for the incredible contribution he made to the community in this capacity for years.  Fortunately for the HS Policy debate community Aaron Hardy volunteered to fill that role.  He spent at least 30 hours setting up the wiki during the pre-season and spends over anywhere from 10-20 hours a week maintaining the site.  Aaron put in these hours and spent his own money to host the wiki, upgrading the server each year, including this year where he moved it to a cloud-based setup to more easily facilitate rapidly scaling it upwards on busy weekends without any expectation of receiving funds from the NDCA.  Multiple debate camps also approached him looking to buy advertising space – wherein he would have received 100% of the revenue – he declined.  His efforts here were entirely to enhance the ease of posting directly from Verbatim, to provide a larger speech document repository, and allow for better full text searches and Tabroom integration.  This was all done prior to my reaching out to Aaron regarding a modest monetary compensation.  I initiated this dialogue with Aaron after receiving dozens of emails at the Wake Forest tournament regarding wiki glitches that I had to forward on to him knowing he was already receiving dozens of similar urgent and entitled emails.

The proposals passed by this Board with regard to a stipend and advertising space will not generate a profit for Aaron Hardy.  The debate community will continue to benefit from his donation of thousands of hours and dollars of his own.  The intention of the proposals was to demonstrate how grateful the organization is for his efforts.

More generally the proposals do not represent and an attempt to promote a for-profit business model.  The NDCA is a non-profit organization.    Last year the NDCA Board passed a proposal to provide Financial Assistance for students hoping to attend the NDCA Championships and for sponsorship of the UDL League Director Conference.  These are efforts the Board felt were consistent with the organization’s mission.  I would like to see these types of efforts increase that is the reason I voted to provide the organization with another means of generating revenue. It is my understanding, after consulting persons much more familiar with technical issues than myself, that the addition of these ads will not slow the operation of the sites.  If that did present a problem then the Board and myself would obviously revisit this decision. 




Newly Passed Proposals by the NDCA Board

The following represent recent proposals passed by the NDCA board:

Proposal End Congress at the NDCA Tournament: (Passed by a vote count of 8-1)

I move that the NDCA tournament procedures be amended to eliminate Congressional Debate.


Proposal -- Increased Transparency (Passed Unanimously)

I propose we list the names of who voted and how each member cast their vote on each proposal.  Board members should also be given the option of writing a short synopsis explaining their vote on the NDCA blog, if they so wish.


Proposal -- Advertising on the website (The vote count was 7-0, Shane Stafford and Maggie Berthiaume Abstained)

I formally propose we solicit advertising for our website and for the policy and LD wiki sites.


Proposal -- Stipend for wiki, Revenue Sharing (Passed Unanimously)

I formally propose we pay a stipend of $1,000 annually to Aaron Hardy for his work on the wiki as well as split the profit from all ad revenues on the wiki on a 50/50 basis with him.