Create A Safer Speech And Debate Community

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To whom it may concern, 

We are creating this petition in solidarity with those leaving speech & debate because they feel unsafe. Alumni and current students have come forward with stories about gross misconduct in this community at tournaments and camps. For documentation of these horrific experiences, you can look to https://www.instagram.com/speechanddebatestories/ and www.speakingupsafely.com. For context, @speechanddebatestories was started on Friday July 3rd -- within six days, we have gained 1,181 followers and have had 138 people thus far submit devastating experiences of harassment and violence in debate.

The NSDA was developed under circumstances in which debate was centered around schools. However, the emergence of prep squads, coaches who are not teachers, national circuit debate camps, and the prevalence of young adults in positions of power demands revision of the NSDA’s current guidelines. 

The members of Speaking Up Safely and Speech and Debate Stories are committed to (a) joining the task force mentioned below, (b) reviewing and assisting in policy creation, and (c) acting as a partner through this change process. 

We recommend:

  1. Given the reach of the NSDA, we find it imperative that something be done and an example be set. The NSDA is an honor society. We recommend that the following changes be made to the code of ethics. 
    • The NSDA should explicitly condemn harassment, discrimination, sexual violence, and predatory actions on behalf of judges, coaches, and competitors. 
    • Coaches should affirmatively strive for diversity and inclusion of people with different identities and ideologies both on their own team, and in the community writ large.
    • Coaches should report instances of sexual misconduct and discrimination to the appropriate leadership in their schools, when it comes to their knowledge.
    • Coaches should prioritize the physical safety and mental wellbeing of their students over the desire for competitive success and prestige.
    • The honor code should be expanded to recognize competitors’ obligation to speak up for fellow competitors, and create a safe community. 
    • Individuals should have to re-sign the updated code of ethics, acknowledging understanding of these new additions.
    • The code should be clear that there are stakes. It's the responsibility of an NSDA member school to ensure students / coaches / judges are no longer part of their program if they seriously or repeatedly violate the honor code.
  2.  The NSDA should create accountability mechanisms for instances of misconduct.
    • The NSDA should have a system for reporting instances of misconduct, and conducting investigations, particularly in instances of repeat offenders. The NSDA should then pass on this information to schools, and any relevant parties, including, but not limited to: camps, prep squads, and tournament directors.
    • Reporting should be safe (e.g., preserve survivor anonymity, secure from data breaches, and have a closed network of people who can view submissions).
    • The NSDA should recognize their obligation and responsibility as an honor society and an organization to confront irreparable violence to members of our community. Inaction leads to decreased participation and degradation of the debate community. 
    • Encourage and guide tournaments on how to have ombudspersons at every tournament to help address issues of misconduct.
  3.  The NSDA should create a process of accreditation for coaches, judges, tournaments, prep squads and camps. NSDA’s revised code of ethics should guide the process of accreditation. The NSDA should:
    • Require certification for all coaches and judges, that requires background checks, sexual harassment training, anti-bullying training, mandatory reporting training, anti-bias training, and cross-checking of all past debate employers. We believe tournaments and schools should only hire judges and coaches with certification. This accreditation should be renewed at regular intervals. Certification should be removed if a person is found to have engaged in sexual misconduct or other discriminatory practices.
    • Establish best practices in terms of the training listed above. Training must be reviewed by the NSDA for approval. They should publish suggested training that schools, camps, and prep squads can use as resources.
    • Work with organizations in speech & debate to develop best practices for safety standards for debate camps, and establish accreditation for debate camps. This ought to include, but not be limited to: background checks, sexual harassment training, anti-bullying training, and anti-bias training. Camps should be required to contact all previous employers within debate to confirm staff members are eligible for rehire and fit to continue working with children.
    • Strongly encourage tournaments to ensure that judges are accredited, that prep squads have hired only accredited coaches, and that students have agreed to the code of conduct.
    • Remove accreditation from camps, tournaments, and prep squads in response to institutional disregard for the codes of conduct.
    • Not accept sponsorship from any non-accredited debate camps.
    • Require accreditation at the NSDA and district tournaments.
  4.  We acknowledge that this will be an ongoing conversation. Thus, we urge the NSDA to create a task-force to develop policy regarding sexual misconduct to be responsive to the needs of the community.
    • This committee ought to include student representation, as well as representation of coaches that have recently graduated high school, as we believe it is critical that members of the NSDA listen to student voices, and understand the toll this has taken on forensics participants of all ages.

While we thank the NSDA for all the work it does, we are disheartened by the silence of such a powerful force in this community on this issue. Many in the community look to you. Even if you are not the solution, you are a powerful attack on the source. Through debate, we have learned the skills to acknowledge injustice and to speak out. We, as a community, can do better and advocate for those we have failed. We know that we will, and look forward to, having the NSDA as a partner in this fight. We anticipate your response and your action. 



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