First Diversity Recruitment and
Retention in Debate Ideafest
Edited by Gordon R. Mitchell
University of Pittsburgh
Published by Office of the Dean
University of Pittsburgh
Ideafest convened at
June 10-11, 1997
Communication Based Diversity Program
Larry Moss, Shanara Reid,
Tuna Snider, Melissa Wade
First Address: Melissa Wade
This morning, I want to talk about ways to use the communication model for diversity training. I want to start off by sharing three quotes with you that illustrate why this is a valuable exercise. The first quotation is from Martin Luther King, Jr. This particular quote had a profound influence on me when I was in college in the 1960's, and it has animated my understanding of the world for a very long time. It's not one of his better-known quotations.
The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be, because the nation and world are in dire need of creative extremists.
And that is my chllenge today, to give you a model of how we can use creative extremism. Now, Martin Luther King, Jr. made that statement in 1962, and in April 1997, the Harvard Project on school desegregation released the following report with the following trends:
The South, which once led the nation in integrated schools, now follows the national trend of sending blacks to poor and inferior schools while whites attend affluent and superior schools.
This morning's New York Times released a Gallup poll that looked at the attitudes of African-Americans and white Americans about racial issues. The poll focused on attitudes about race between Caucasians and African-Americans (with little or no consideration of Latinos, who fluctuated between the two categories making the survey statistically imperfect), and I will highlight the following findings. Among the more intriguing findings is the amount of pessimism among African-Americans. The poll indicated that 76% of black college graduates said race relations would always be troublesome for the country, while 56% of blacks who had not earned a college degree felt that way. Blacks younger than 25 years old also felt that race relations would always be a problem. Conversely, 48% of white college graduates voiced such a pessimistic view while 56% of whites without college degrees felt that no solution to animus between races would ever be found.
Now, regardless of reality, this is the perception that folks have about the ways in which this country deals with these issues. I want to talk about a couple of things. I want to talk about the environment that we currently live in; what kind of society we have. The second thing I want to talk about is what prejudice is. How does it invade the culture? Very simply; I'm not going to take long there. And then I'm going to talk about practical ways in which we can use communication and the ways we talk to one another to understand the ways in which, as Foucault explains, we have a tendency to treat that which is different as inferior, how that conclusion comes into play.
And I want to start with a story. Most of you folks are debate coaches and you don't have Saturdays, and neither do I. So on one of my rare Saturdays (and of course my husband is a debate coach and he was out with my daughter at a tournament), and I'm home alone with my son, and he is dying for me to get up at 7 o'clock in the morning to watch a new cartoon with him. With great glee and relish, I get up to watch the cartoon. I am so excited to be there, let me tell you. So we start watching, and in the opening scene there's a woman who comes to the podium and she is announced as the President of the United States. And she defers, by way of saying that there is an imminent military threat to the security of the U.S.; she defers in the program to a huge cartoon figure with lots of medals on his chest. And he comes up to the podium and says there's an imminent alien invasion, there is nothing we can do about it, and we need to call on a group of superheroes to save us - this is the only chance we've got. Flash conveniently to the fortress of the superheroes who happen to be watching television at the time. And these are clearly mutant creatures. I mean, some have antennas, some have wings, they're all different colors, but anatomically, it's very clear that they're male and female. When they have discussions among themselves, it is very clear that they represent different ethnic backgrounds. And so, they are talking about whether or not they are going to engage in this battle with the alien forces. And they pick up the phone to call the General, and they say, "Yes, we will be there." So the General announces, to cheers in the crowd, that the X-Men will be saving the day.
Okay, now, we've got a female president of the United States; we've got the traditional male general (powerful, militaristic, etc.) to whom the woman defers to in a very traditional way - although, we have a woman in power. We have superheroes who are male and female and we call them X-Men. Now you professors of rhetoric could probably write a 25 page article on the inconsistencies of the symbols involved in Saturday morning television. But let me tell you, from a very different point of view, that when the cultural transition (which is well underway, folks) hits Saturday morning cartoons, it's here. Now we can sit and discuss that horribly trivial phrase of political correctness, because it does trivialize the transition in society. And we can debate it out, in the academy and in business, and everywhere else, but the bottom line is: it's underway. It's in Saturday morning cartoons! The kids are seeing mixed messages because the culture is trying to become consistent in the way that it views the world. And right now, we're a little confused about what that means.
The idea of political correctness - the idea that we can be reductionists and put one understanding of how this came to be on the table - is inappropriate because business is already in the process of reducing hierarchies and making things more horizontal in the way decision-making is taking place. The existence of specialized departments in the academy challenges traditional structures in education. We have Women's Studies and African-American Studies, and theology is presumed to be white and male, which is why we have feminist theology as well as African-American theology. Because we need to script over straight old theology, which is traditionally the province of dead, white European males.
Education is seeking to shake off the industrial model under which bells ring at 50-minute intervals, which in the old time of education signaled the end of industrial shifts, to prepare folks to work on the assembly line. But we still operate on this model in education, although at this point in time, it's antiquated.
The problem, when we get to a culture in transition, is that we live in the middle of a culture war. We end up with charges of racism, sexism, heterosexism. We have a need in Western culture for blame assignment, which increases counter-charges, defensiveness, and threatening behaviors. We look for scapegoats in our society to blame all of this on. And in our culture, the scapegoat for these charges is primarily the white male, who woke up one day, found himself in charge and responsible for thousands of years of oppression. Most white men just think they're people and they don't understand this.
Are there practical ways to begin to reduce the conflicts that are inherent in prejudice? You know Jerry Spence, the attorney who wrote that book about winning every argument you encounter, or something like that, and this is definition of prejudice? He says, "The prejudiced mind is like opening the door to a room packed to the ceiling with junk. Nothing whatsoever can get in, and when the door opens, the junk comes tumbling out. You can drown a prejudiced person in reason, screen, weep, and beg. But your pleas of fairness and justice will go for naught; you had just as well sing to a bag of jelly beans."
Why is there prejudice? Because we all like power. If you've ever had a younger brother or sister you understand this. Power is an important thing. We want to feel that we're important and that we're different. My sister is sitting in the back of this room nodding yes, she was evil! She was the older sis - I was wonderful, but I got in trouble all the time because she was good at it. We are all judgmental people. And part of the reason we're judgmental is because language is imprecise. How many times have you been in the dog house with somebody because you said something, they misinterpreted it, and you didn't figure out exactly what the miscommunication was for weeks after that? Language is imprecise. Now, communication scholars in the room understand that nonverbal communication is the house of judgment. Everyone of you has had a parent, or significant figure in your life at some point when you rolled into the room and you were in trouble, and they gave you one of those patented looks that said, "You will not be allowed to leave the house for the rest of your natural life and you will do the dishes." And you know that name, when they use all three names? Melinda Meredith - you know you're in trouble, and there's nonverbal stuff that goes along with it. And we judge [debates] based on nonverbal communication whether someone likes us or not. But we will judge sometimes based on the vision of ourselves, and every look reinforces that. We see judgment everywhere, and 90% of the judgment we see is our judgment of ourselves. And we see power over others as a way to make ourselves feel better. Now, this is a room full of educated people, how many of you stand in the checkout line at the grocery store and look at the tabloids? Really? We want to see that all these attractive, wealthy people are miserable! They can't stay married, their kids are a mess, they're drug addicts, etc. They have all these problems and it makes us feel good about ourselves. What's wrong with the culture that makes us feel good because someone else is miserable? We have some odd ways of looking at ourselves, but understanding judgment and power - you don't have to read Foucault to understand all this. Look in your own homes, this is where the type of engagement takes place and our culture reinforces it. And capitalism, folks, reinforces it. And everything that we've talked about, with respect to race and gender and sexual preference, often is not anything about one of those particular items or even in concert, but it's a question of economic status. And that disproportionately those things follow on the shoulders of folks which is unfortunate, but we live in a capitalist society and we are encouraged on the basis of economic merit to set up hierarchies.
Okay, locating our own prejudice is the first step. We are all prejudiced; we will all be prejudiced. When we encounter something different, we assume it is wrong. When LD gets upset at policy debate and creates something new, policy debate attacks it. When CEDA and NDT formed - they attacked each other. What is the true debate? My mama taught me that the true debate was with her. Now, debate is debate. It doesn't matter if it's with your mom, or if it's CEDA or NDT, or in a non-competitive situation or on Tuna's cable TV show. It doesn't matter. It's a conversation that takes place, and most of the time we want to use that conversation as a vehicle to advance our way of thinking over others. We're territorial, we have pride of authorship, and we have trouble getting past all of that. And the bottom line, folks, is that we don't respect each other. And prejudice is a very personal thing, and understanding our prejudice is a very personal thing. I heard a powerful speech by Andrew Young, who's a former congressperson, Mayor of Atlanta, he served as Jimmy Carter's U.N. representative and at the time he made this speech, he was running for Congress. I was just a 17-year old kid and I had just discovered Martin Luther King, Jr., and I was just in love with all of this stuff. And he started talking about a recent trip he had just taken to San Francisco and his adverse reaction to Asian-Americans. He did not understand their culture; he did not understand why folks did not look him in the eye. He did not understand that it was a sign of respect for one's elders not to look that individual in the eye (when Western culture emphasizes direct eye contact), and he didn't want to think of himself as an elder. This made a powerful impact on me because I saw him as other. And that's what he was trying to share with us. It was a very personal reflection, on his part, about himself and how he felt about himself and the way in which that impacted his respect for others.
I think that the way we talk to each other influences the outcome of our ability to communicate and judge one another. And there are so many obstacles to communication, and there are so many studies that have suggested that those with the lowest credibility are women, people of color, teenage males. As a collective group of public speakers, women have a fairly low level of predicted credibility in front of an audience. We don't have power in this society so there is the assumption that we have nothing to say. There are obstacles to communication. The vast majority of you have had experience with studies that suggest that even with the best public speaker or speech you ever heard, you will only retain about half it. Why is that? Because your mind wanders off to what you're going to have for dinner tonight. Is your significant other noticing how good you look today? We build all this time into a classroom for books to fall on the floor, Susie to go to the bathroom, etc. We build two hours in for an exam that should only take one hour because we don't teach concentration skills. There are barriers to communication. There are studies that suggest that males between the ages of 13-25 have sexual fantasies about every 25 seconds. Now, you've got to get in those little windows between the sexual fantasies, to make the point, folks. Why do you think teachers say things three times? Lawyers, ministers, preachers, and religious leaders say thing three times to get into the windows between the sexual fantasies. Women have them, too, we just go about every 1 1/2 minutes. We are fundamentally biological creatures, and our communication is influenced by that. There are significant barriers to communication. It's a miracle we can talk to one another.
Now, I'm a fairly laid back person, but a couple of times a year - and you can put this on a calendar - I become very unappealing. And the major one is the week before our high school tournament here at Emory, when we have about 1500 people come onto this campus for four days. They come from California to Maine, they oppress all of the people from Emory in this room. Some try to take vacations during this week. If you're smart, you get out of town! Now, sometime during that week, because it matters so much to me that it goes on properly, that folks feel honored, that a good show is put on, that the kids who've worked so hard to get good judges, well, sometime during that week, I'm going to come home really bummed out, and all of the stress and potholes of planning something that takes over the whole campus is going to explode. Now, I'm going to come home and go, "They took my rooms away!" and "The weather is ..." and "I just don't know what's going to happen, this is just terrible." And then the first five years we were married, he said, "You know, you can fix that! You can do this and you can do this ..." And the more he talked, the madder I got. He was in the doghouse by the end of the night; he was usually in the doghouse for the rest of the week, and he just stayed out of my way. Now, we're the type of people who are both debate coaches, so we don't bring our work home, so we don't fight very much. Finally after about five years of this, I was crying and complaining, and he goes, "Well, you can ..." and I said "Shut up. I am smart and I will figure this out! I want you to sit down on this sofa, put your arm around me and wallow in it with me! I want you to threaten to kill people who've gotten in my way; I want you to plan what building we're going to blow up and use the lumber to build some blasted rooms we need to hold debates in. I want you to just torpedo the construction that's been on-going on this campus since 1963! And there's no place to park, either."
Now, listen folks, 20 years later this last January, I walk in the door at 10 p.m., not in a very good mood and I start my spiel all over, and then he goes "Well you could ..." and I glared at him. Then he said, "Oh yeah! I'll be sitting down now, putting my arm around you, wallowing in it with you. Who should we kill tomorrow?" Listen, I have this man well-trained about this, and after 20 years we are still doing this dance - why is that? Because when he was two years old, somebody gave him a toolkit and said, "Go fix things." And he does! He loves to fix things. And they gave me a doll and said, "Go love this." And as a result, I love emotion. In fact, I've never met an emotion I don't think we should spend at least 2 hours dissecting for all of its full meaning. I think this is a terribly important thing. And we, as a result of these experiences, have different ways of looking at the world. We have different ways of looking at the world because our culture has constructed roles for us. No one told me women weren't supposed to be in debate. I didn't figure that out until I got to college. I was from Texas, everybody has debate - men and women. I got to college and there were three of us. What happened? I didn't know! Nobody told me women weren't supposed to do this. We have roles that are constructed; sometimes, we flop right out of our roles and we don't know what happened or how we got there. But we have ways of being as a result of our upbringing.
There are studies that have been done on language. Socio-linguists, Tannen, you know the most widely read marriage manual in America, prescribed by psychiatrists? The title of her popular book is: You Just Don't Understand. And her argument is, we have different styles of language based on these gender constructions. Men tend to be hierarchical in their conversation style, they one-up or one-down depending on which gets them the most status in the conversation. Women are very consensual. We want to sit in a circle, touch knees, and we're not leaving the room until everyone is happy. We want everyone to agree on everything, and men roll their eyes at this. And so, in social situations, the women drift over here and the men drift over there, and even as I'm talking, the women are nodding yes, I know exactly what you're talking about. This is a communication style for women; we nod; we affirm folks as they're talking. We let them know that we hear them. Men, for the most part (and please hear these as glittering generalities, there are exceptions to both of these rules) simply stare at you when you are talking. Because, you see, if you're in charge, you don't have to affirm. You don't need to let the speaker know that they have been listened to. There are verbal and nonverbal styles of communication that are not right or wrong; they just are. Now, if men would nod more at significant others of either sex, they would get more dates. Now, if women would assert and interrupt at meetings, they would get more respect at the table.
When you have a lab at an institute, the men will jump all over what assignments they want and the women will sit and wait to be given assignments. The ones [women] who interrupt and behave like "men" and ask for assignments, are usually referred to as "bitches" by the end of the tournament. Now, I've had debaters argue this with me, saying that there is a similar word for men. The females will give me a few words that they believe describe the male counterpart of bitch, but these words, in my opinion, are status symbols with women - especially debate men - because they are crowning accolades of assertiveness. The way we talk to each other is different, and if we cross over into this other gender role, you're in serious trouble. Let me tell you folks, in high school, I was one of the million of women who did speech and debate. I got to college, in the NDT in 1971, and there were four of us. In 1972, there were five. And this was out of 150 people. So then I was a coach, and I had some status because I was a good debater. In fact, I probably got a little extra because I was a female and they didn't expect me to be able to talk. And then, I can't believe what I did. I got pregnant. Because my uterus worked, somehow my brain had ceased to work. My male colleagues, with whom I had been friends with for five or six years as coach, all at once started telling me their personal problems about their wives and girlfriends. Why? Because I was going to have a baby? Somehow, having sex makes you a virgin in this culture! I don't understand that! It seems quite illogical to me, I know how my children were conceived. But somehow, the fact that I was now a mother meant that I could no longer be an intelligent person. Then I committed the ultimate heresy and started bringing babies on the debate circuit and then had to feed them, but that was seen as inappropriate. Why? Because I had to step out of the construction of my gender. I was supposed to stay home with that baby and make it healthy. Men were supposed to go off and be intellectually challenged, to "bring home the bacon."
Okay, why I am I saying this? We can't even talk to each other across gender lines. Now how are we supposed to talk across racial and cultural lines? I teach an academic class at Emory in the Educational Studies Department where I send students into different schools to set up debate programs. Their job is to teach the students and the teachers. The vast majority of these interns go into the Atlanta public schools, into the inner city in Atlanta, and help set these programs up. I long ago formed a partnership with Dr. Moss (whom you are going to hear from next), and in the course of that partnership, he helps my students understand the setting in which they are in and they come back to me much better human beings, because they understand dignity and respect. Most of them go in with capes unfurled to "save the world," and it is incredible to watch some of these folks. I have one student, whom many of you know, named Anjan Sahni, and he is arguably one of the best debaters in history at the high school level, and he seeks to be that at the college level. But he's also a profound humanitarian, he's also a 4.0 student as a rising senior at Emory, which is no easy feat. But I have met few folks like Sahni in my life. He works at an inner-city daycare center on a regular basis; he's a sheik with a turban, the four year -olds think he's a genie. So when he showed up in my class, I assigned him to Crimm high school in Atlanta, and he went. With the full curriculum preparation he'd had in the first three weeks of my class, he was ready to go. He walked in and it was a disaster. So Anjan shared his experience with us, and he was very dissatisfied with the group response, because it did just didn't reach his profound level of disappointment. And he had a lack of understanding about what had gone wrong, so he waited after class. He asked me, "I just don't know what to do, I was so prepared, I had handouts, I knew exactly where to start, I've had some of the best institute instruction in the U.S. in my life - and I totally failed. They were hanging from the ceilings, they were climbing out the windows, they weren't listening to me. And it really made me mad and I didn't know what do." And I said, "Okay, this is what I want you to do next week. I want you to go in and complement them about something. I don't care what it is; but I want the first five minutes out of your mouth to be complimenting them." He goes, "You want me to lie?" And I said, "Okay, if that's how you see it. Yes, that's what I want you do to." So he walked in and said he was so glad he was at Crimm and not at South Atlantic, because he was listening to the intern from S.A. H.S. (a big rival high school) complain about how horrible their experience had been, that he was glad he had good kids instead of those kids. Well, they instantly changed their attitude. They had a wonderful, productive session, and he came back to me the next day and asked what had happened, and he didn't get it. So I said look, you went to Westminster, one of the swankiest private schools in the U.S. You expected those kids to line up in straight rows, raise their hands, and answer your questions. But that's not the way these folks learn. If you're in an African-American community, these folks engage with eye contact and aggressive interruption. If they're interrupting you and stopping your train of thought, and asking questions - they're listening, they're engaged. But because they weren't behaving like the folks at Westminster, you weren't respecting them. You weren't respecting their learning style; you were judging them based on your own understanding of your own preparation, and you did not acknowledge their role in this process whatsoever. Now Anjan gets it.
If we don't respect folks, if we don't understand where they come from, we can't have communication with them - much less teach them anything. And when we make judgments about "others" based on our understanding of right and wrong, and don't respect where they come from, we have not only failed to communicate but we have usually projected an air of discrimination and prejudice and we didn't mean to.
I can never speak for a person of color. I don't know what that's like. I do not understand that kind of discrimination. I've watched it, but it is not in my experience, and I can't understand it. The best we can do in communication settings is to try and find metaphors to bridge the chasms of difference, to find ways to talk to one another so that we understand how we feel. Now I have heard some of my African-American friends say that they have felt invisible. That they're in a department store and no one's waiting on them; that they walk into a book store and immediately they're followed around. I had my son out of school a couple of weeks ago and he was concerned that he'd be picked up by a truant officer, because I was meeting a friend at lunch and then Patrick and I were going to a debate tournament. And I said get lost, here's some money for the food court, here's a bribe to buy yourself something so I can have lunch with my friend, and you can oppress the debaters on the bus with whatever noisy device you buy, etc. And he said, "What am I going to do if I get picked up by a truancy officer?" I went, "Ohhh .... just bring him back here to me and I'll talk to him." But he understood that it was "assumed" that he'd be skipping school because he was that age, and that time of day, and that mall. I do not understand what it's like to be a person of color. I do not understand what it's like to be a 14 year-old boy, but I do know what it's like to be invisible because I have tried to buy a car before. When I go into a car place with my husband, they tell him all about the engines, and the fuel economy and all this stuff. Then they look at me after about 15 minutes of talking to him and they go, "And ma'am, what color would you like?" Because that is the understanding of my role in this relationship with this man in buying this car. They don't even assume I work.
Part of our task in understanding communication-based prejudice, or how we can use our understanding of the ways in which we communicate to pull down the walls of difference is to exchange metaphors. Studs Terkel has a powerful piece in one of his books about what the pain of racism was like. It's like everybody in the world got issued a pair of shoes that fit, but everyone who looked like you got a pair that didn't. They were too small, and your feet hurt. And some people reacted to that pain by wanting to lash out in anger and kill everyone who had shoes that fit, because it was so unfair. And some people took that pain and were self-destructive with it, because it hurt so much that they were basically involved in activities that were like committing suicide over the course of their lives. And some people hobbled along silently in their pain and were sad and mourned the youngsters who had not learned to just accept it. And I would add that at this day and time, (and this is Melissa speaking, not Studs Terkel), some people throw their shoes off and risk getting glass in their feet rather than wear shoes that are too small. Those are the people, in my opinion, with the greatest dignity. But we need to treat people and behavior that is "other" with respect, because if we respect folks then they can listen to us. I do a class at Emory in human ecology where I talk about how to have an argument between environmentalists and non-environmentalists, because the kids, at this point in human and natural ecology, are fired-up tree huggers. And we'll talk about the fact that they walk into these settings and they go, "No, no, no, no!" They assume the person they're talking to is a jerk. They assume that if they're a Republican, they have no environmental sense whatsoever. Now for the NDT this year, I'm going to use Jerry Falwell as a conversation partner. If you don't respect the person you're having a conversation with, you'll never find a middle ground. But if you start off a conversation by asking the person about themselves, instead of telling them where you're coming from, you have a greater chance of understanding them enough to have a conversation. Why are you here? What do you do? Why do you do this career? What is the common ground that we can base ourselves in conversation around? If we don't ask questions about the person we're in a conversation with, and we don't understand them - we can't have that. Part of respect is learning about the other person. I hate lab groups that start "Let me tell you horror stories about myself as a leader, then I'll get to my debate record and then I'll tell you how wonderful I am, and oh, what was your name?" The first thing you should do at a lab group is get them talking. Learn about them first, so you can know how to teach them. In educational studies we call this "diagnostic evaluation." I call it respect.
There are all kinds of metaphors we can use, and I hope it encourages this group that we will share these metaphors with one another so that we can learn to talk about each other in better ways. And I want to end with a story that's part sermon, and then Dr. Moss can talk. We're going to butcher our schedule today, but we'll get to him. Understanding our own prejudice is personal; it is highly personal and it is experiential, you cannot learn it out of a book. You can study it, your can read all you like about it, but until you have had experience you can not do anything. And we resist experience because if we have experience with folks who are "others" it makes us feel responsible if we mess up. But they're going to mess up, too; the dialogue is two ways. If we risk, in communication, then we allow for the experiences that are going to let us learn stuff. Now, I was raised in a fairly affluent home with a lot of educational opportunities. Two parents, serious mentors all the way along my educational road - didn't earn any of it. I am the product of the accidental collision between sperm and an egg one night. It did not in any way, shape, or form, entitle me to squat. But there's some part of me that's always assumed I was entitled to it, because I was raised to believe I was entitled. When I had a four-year old and an infant, I took my working mother guilt to a field-day and it was great. I took my son up under a tree on a hill, spread out on this blanket, and was ready for an hour of quiet watching my four-year old run through all of the games and exercises. So, I'm sitting up there thinking my life is fabulous; no phones ringing, no office, no people needing me to do anything, no deadlines, great. And I look down to my left, and there's this man who's passed out drunk, beer bottles everywhere. And there's a woman who's with him who's starting to head up the hill. So, she comes over to me and says, "Can I sit down?" And I am so resisting her, but it is a public park, so I say sure. "Can I hold the baby," she asks. "No. I've just gotten him to sleep and he's a little fussy," I say. My daughter then runs back up the hill to give me more of her ribbons, and she just starts chatting with this woman in a very animated way, like she was the only one we would bring into our house, invite to dinner, have conversation with, etc. So she bounds back down the hill, and I'm thinking of anything I can say or do to get rid of this person. And she goes, "Is that your daughter?" And I'm thinking, great, now she wants both of them. "How old is she," she asks. "She's four," I say. "Oh, I have a four year-old somewhere, I don't know where she is," the woman says; "When I got pregnant I told them I'd change. I did change, but nobody would listen to me. And I don't talk so good, so I couldn't convince them. When she was born, I only got to see her one time - that was it, I never got to see her again. They took her away. So I come out here to the park and I watch these kids, and I pretend that one of them is my baby, and that she's somewhere, she's happy and healthy and getting to play games. I do that every day."
And I felt so small. Then it dawned on me, in this huge epiphany, that this woman was exactly like me, that the thing that had mattered most in my life to me was my children. And the thing that mattered most to this woman was loving a child she never even got to be with. After all the effort to make us better than others, to be happy even when in the tabloids the rich and famous were unhappy, that we are all human beings. And we are all the same. We have different roads, and different challenges and trials. But when we stop seeing the humanity in other people around us, we are less human. We lose some of our humanity when we quit seeing other people as human, when we see that which is different as "other." When we reject communication styles which are different, when we don't try to find metaphors to bridge the chasms of difference. If we don't have profound experience, or recognize them when they show up in our lives, we will never do anything. And respect comes out of these experiences. I hope you will all be creative extremists. And I hope you will all find ways to respect other folks, and then engage in what you think you have to offer them.
Second address: Larry Moss
Where I come from we were always taught to be grateful for the things that we have, and certainly the message that Melissa brings today is that I'm certainly grateful for having been here. One of the things that I often marvel at is the extent to which we ad lib. And the question that came to my mind was, well, don't I need to know a little bit about what I'm going to say - so that I can kind of shape what I'm going to say? And then it seemed sort of silly because we always seem to manage to end up saying the same thing - but hopefully from a different perspective. What I intend to do today, in a very short period of time, is to simply echo what Melissa has said. Perhaps I can say it from a different perspective, in that we are somewhat different on the outside, and certainly in terms of our experiences we are different. But I think we come to the same conclusions, and what I want to do is echo some things that I have heard.
I want to focus our attention on that intersection between traditional institutions of socialization and the minority community, and much of what I'm going to say is intentionally personal. Now, people who know me understand that I am not given to making statements about intentionally personal things to folk. I don't put my business in the street. Part of that is because you learn, when you struggle over a period of time, that when you're engaged in a struggle with people, you don't tell them things about yourself. I came to understand that about the "inscrutable" Orientals. No, they're not going to tell you how they behave so you can use that to oppress them. I learned a long time ago that people will stand and be mute and silent because they're not going to tell you anything that might help you oppress them. So, as a part of that tradition, I learned not to say things that were important to me in groups where there may be people that are part of that oppressing community. So, because of the really profound respect I have for Bill Newnam, I told Melissa at one point that Bill is a genuinely nice guy. That's about the highest compliment I give out, because I'm not one of those people who are easily convinced. But over a period of time, I have become genuinely fond of both Bill and Melissa, and I know them to be genuine people. Because of my respect for them, and what they attempt to do on a daily basis, I will attempt to share some very intensely personal things about this business of the intersection of the minority community with traditional institutions of socialization, which includes schools, debate programs, churches, and a lot of other things.
My story begins back when I was a 16 year-old kid on the outskirts of Watts - which was on the peripheral areas of Los Angeles. Watts was the area that they burned down in the famous Watts riots. I went to school at the 99th Street School - if you remember, 103rd Street was what they called "Charcoal Alley" - to tell you something about where I'm from. I was 16 years old, a senior in high school, and they tell me I need to go to college. Now, my counselors told me a little earlier that in my senior year I needed to get straight A's so I could get a B average and go to somebody's college. Fine. I got straight A's, I have a B average, and some impressive looking, tall, white man came to my school and told me he would give me a $10,000 check if I went to his institution. Now, I didn't much care about Claremont Men's College - I didn't know where it was, and certainly I didn't know anything about Claremont Men's College. But I did know that this white man was standing there with the check for $10,000, telling me that if I went to CMC, they'd give me the check. Now, in some part of my head, I sort of thought that that meant I was getting the $10,000, not that it was going to be the institution. So my parents and I got out a map and found out where Claremont Men's College was. I became a hero then, because where I was from, folk didn't get to go to school because of academics. We had kids who went to school because they could throw a football 100 yards, and we had kids who went to school because they could run like the wind, but not academic stuff - not out of my high school. And frankly, except for that particular moment in history I would not have been going either because I did not have the grades for it. It was very fortunate for me because Claremont had never had a Black graduate. They had some Black students the year before I enrolled - two Black kids, both had straight A averages, and both of them flunked out in the first semester. So, they decided that Claremont should adopt a new strategy, which was: Let's go out and get somebody who has good test scores and maybe we can train them in the way that they ought to go. And they came and got me with my B average, and I went on to Claremont, and it was like stepping into a different planet altogether. Claremont was 60 miles from where I lived, but it was like 100,000 miles from where I started from; I walked into this cold turkey, there was nothing that could have prepared me for this.
My second day at CMC, I'm still walking around trying to figure out what all this stuff is, and somebody told me that I had to go and get a girl for Scripps College - which was the women's college across the street - and escort her to church. Now, this was a little problem for me, because I'm here trying to adjust to all these things and there's nobody else at this school who looks like me. There's nobody at this school who has my economic background and I'm told that I need to go and get some little white girl off the little balcony at Scripps and walk her to church. This would be difficult under any circumstances, but especially for me coming from Watts as I did, and knowing that if this child says the wrong thing, I'm going to turn this thing out and we're going to have difficulties. No question in my mind; because I had heard those stories about white women going out with black men, like they're some kind of animal. It was a very uneventful trip, actually. I asked her where she was from, she said Cincinnati, and that was the last thing that was said. I have never been so absolutely grateful to walk into a church and have somebody start talking. I don't know what the minister said, but I was profoundly grateful because I didn't have to say anything. So I learned very early that this whole business of walking in, being the only Black at Claremont, was going to be a difficult proposition. There was a lot of little of little things that happened, but overt things - people trying to run you over in their car when you're riding your bike - you get used to that. The things that were revelations to me were things that made me feel like an exhibit at this institution. And folk who are in white institutions really need to understand this: I felt like an exhibit at CMC. I had kids (twins from England) get together and one of them bet the other one that Black people had an extra bone in their feet which is why they can run so fast. They had the temerity to come to me and ask to look at my foot, so they could see whether that bone was is my foot or not. They were fortunate that they asked me that question when I was a freshman and not when I was a junior or a senior, when I had come to terms with this business. So, that's part of what you're dealing with. The Mormons came to my room one day and they said, "Listen, we want you to consider joining the Mormon faith." "Sure - tell me about it," I said. "Well, there's this second level of heaven that you get to go to," they said. I said, "Wait a minute. You have the temerity to come to my room and tell me I should join your faith, where I get to join your second level of heaven?" "Well, it's not 'us'," they said, "that's what we have been told." My opinion, very clearly at that point was, I don't really care about you or any of them other fuckers. If I've got to go to your second level of heaven - I don't care! I'm a human being - I assert that. And I don't care what you say on what authority, you cannot get me to repute any of that.
There's a lot of little things that happened and you do get this sense of being an exhibit and I began to resent that. All of a sudden I started to look around, and I saw myself as an exhibit. And I understood that the money they were giving me was to come to CMC to be an exhibit, so that the little rich white boys I was going to school with would be able to say they had direct experience with somebody Black. And I resented that, but it was not a resentment I could share with people, because my role was to come to CMC. And what I had been told was that if you endure this experience and you go through this stuff - you will be a credit to your race. And I desperately wanted to be a credit to my race.
So, I find myself somewhere during my senior year, and I didn't have enough money to go home very often. I lived 60 miles from Los Angeles, but I was pretty much stuck at Claremont. So, on the times I went home - like the end of the semester when everybody had to leave - I never understood why all my schoolmates always went home with each other. A lot of my classmates went to Punaho, a private school in Hawaii, and I could never quite figure out why no one ever invited me to come too. Now, I wouldn't have had the money to do it anyway, but I thought at least I could have gotten an invitation to go. My sophomore year at CMC, I found myself on a bus going home and I was the CMC man by then. I had my Claremont blazer on, I had my tie with the little gray and maroon stripes, and I had my Oxfords on. I went out and bought one of those pipes, you know the ones with a little bend that looked like a ski jump! I bought one of those, and I went to the library and I got the biggest Latin book I could find. Now, I want you to understand this. I'm sitting in the back of a Greyhound bus, with my pipe and this Latin book (I do not read one word of Latin), and because I had to show people when I got home that I'm not like them; I am now a Claremont man, I am a credit to my race. See, an articulated assumption was not simply that I am not like you; it was that I am now this credit to you. And you need to understand what this does to an adolescent who's trying to grow into manhood, who's taking all of these signals from all of these people about what that means. I am now better than you because I have my blazer and I know this stuff that happens out there at Claremont and I am now socialized into what CMC is. These are the folk who nurtured me. This is the community who fed me. These are the folk who gave me the confidence that I could go up here and do these things and now I am better than them. There's a separation that takes place there and that cost is too high. If that's the cost of being a credit to your race, that cost is too high. And that's much of what I wanted to say to you today. I said I am echoing much of what Melissa said; to say that something is different is not a value judgment. Three times. To say that CMC, and the folk who were at CMC, are different than the people I grew up with should not have been a statement about one being superior to the other. And when I asserted my superiority based on that little foolish pipe and that Latin book I expressed my foolishness.
Thankfully, there were people in the community who intuitively understood what this fool boy had gone out there and got into his head. And they said, come on baby, I'm going to take you back in and teach you something. Much of the problem that we have now is that we have people who don't get that. So that while I wanted to spend a little time sharing this whole business about difference and how we interpret it, I did bring a cultural manifestation. I'm going to play that for you in just a few seconds, and what I want you to do, if you would, is to try to mentally (or jot down some notes) about this, and when we are finished experiencing this cultural manifestation, we want to talk about it. Talk about communication; it's a form of communication. I want to talk about it in ways that perhaps we haven't gotten to yet. If you're in the back, I hope you can listen to this ...
[Larry Moss played an excerpt of a song for the audience on a tape player]
For those of you who are enthralled with the music and want to hear it again later I will make it available to you. But, to get to the point, how many of you know what they were saying? What's "fittin to dip"? That's a linguistic derivative of pure old Southern speech. You know what "fixin to" means - it means getting ready to. This is a cultural concept that I find fascinating because I can be fixin to get ready to go. Southern people know exactly what I'm talking about. I haven't started yet, but in my mind, I'm doing the the things that are necessary to get ready to go. It's interesting, because if you follow that out, the future tense of something, English teachers will know this, is "be done." What are you going to do when they come? I be done got ready to go. Y'all don't know that? There are thousands and thousands and thousands of people who were born and raised in the South; that's an integral part of their speech. And especially when you make folks mad. If you don't get out of my face, I be done knock you out. And that's probably one you better understand.
The point is, the song I just played for you is immensely popular in the city. Thousands and thousands of copies of this stuff has been sold. This thing was number one in the Atlanta market for four weeks in a row. First time I heard it, I went, "What is this mess? Why y'all bringin this junk in here to me?" But see, every child I have in my class understands that; every child I have understands that. The kids I have here at debate camp understand that. The folk who will be great debaters understand that because it's part of their culture. The parents speak in that language: "Fittin to dip." "Fittin to" means I'm getting ready to go, "dip" means I'm going to get out of here. They all understand that. And part of what happens to me is, I have to sit with them now and say, explain that to me because I'm somewhat divorced from that. I'm flying off to New York with Beth and they're doing this, and I miss out on some of it. The important point to understand is, that represents people who have nurtured and sustained them and you have no right to reject that. You have no right to ask them to reject that, because you're asking them to reject the folk that gave them life, and who give them sustenance and who care about them. You have no right to ask people to turn their backs or repudiate that. That cost is too high.
So when you take me and you turn me into some fool sitting on the back of some bus with this pipe and this Latin book, at the cost of being a credit to my race - that's too much. Institutions have to open up. Now, do I say we need to debate in that language? No, because I couldn't understand it either. However, it does mean this: It means I will tell my kids, for instance, there's the language of commerce. There's a language that we have to be able to use; it's a tool. Debate for us is a tool. We're giving kids weapons that they can use to protect themselves. When we were interviewing Johnny Fernandez, we were talking about debate, he said that what we need to do is give our kids weapons they can use to fight off society as it tries to victimize them. Absolutely; because the tools we're going to impart are going to do that. The point I'm making here, while we're in that process, is: Let's not denigrate where these folk came from because it is different from where we came from, because they conceptualize things differently. If you listen to that song, it's a very genuine thing. There's the same things we would be discussing if we had any sense about how our society operates. "Who dat is?" I know linguistically it makes your skin crawl a little bit, but what it amounts to is a question that says: "Who is that man in your life?" And the answer is so profound, don't worry about this person, that's just somebody who fathered my child. It raises profound questions about the relationships of fathers and children and folk and relationships. And the woman is saying over and over again, "Don't worry about this. This is just my baby's daddy. Obviously, this is nobody important." At the end of the song, it raises the question about what it means to love in this society. And when he says, "I ain't wit it" - he isn't with that. This raises profound questions, all of which we can use if we are bright, to engage people in conversations about what is happening in our society. And we lose much of that because we operate on one level and denigrate other people.
So part of what I wanted to say really had to do with the extent to which we have to begin to listen and to appreciate difference. Again, a difference is not a value judgment. Our observation of a difference really ought to be a point of inquiry. If we aspire to be, claim to be intellectuals, then the observation of that difference really ought to be the initial point of inquiry about what is the difference. And ultimately, we'll come to the conclusion that those differences and what lies beyond that difference will get us to the point of understanding some commonalties of the human condition. And then we can link up on those. But we can't do it if we're going to disrespect and hold people accountable for repudiating these factors which nurture them.
Let me give you an even more poignant reason why you need to start listening to some folk. When I was in California recently, I had the advantage of talking with this guy who was some big- shot demographer and we were talking about changes he had perceived. He told me some things that I consider to be really profound. He said, "Did you know that by the year 2005, Hispanics are going to be the largest minority in this country?" I said, "Yeah... well I kind of knew that. One thing I always tell my kids is learn to speak Spanish, because I know the numbers." But the next thing he told me was, "You know, by the year 2015, white folk will not be in the majority in this country anymore." Well, we're going to have to do some adjustments, then, aren't we? We're going to have to talk about what this democracy means when we're no longer the minority. Black birth rates have leveled off, Hispanic birth rates are going through the ceiling, and white birth rates have gone down the tubes. And what this means, in a very profound way, is that we're about to look at some very serious changes. And if we don't learn to appreciate, in real ways, differences - in terms of culture and the way people live - and not to evaluate those in a pejorative sense, we're going to have problems. The good news is, as 2Pac used to say, "We ain't mad at you."
A lot of times we get games played on us, people get "Well, you know, y'all did this to us..." We know you didn't do anything to us, I mean, I'd like to see you try to enslave me.
But the reality is, where we are is where you are. In many cases, where my community is and where your community is, is a function of an historical thing that we just need to acknowledge and figure out how to work with that. When I say that Bill is a good guy and I respect Melissa and all these people, it is because they are human beings and they look for that humanity in people. I'm a lot more cynical than both of them, but I think it has to do with our experiences. It has to do with, for instance, when I'm riding in a car as a child with my parents and we're in Louisiana and some man comes and pulls a gun, sticks it in the window, and we pull over and try to call the police. You call the police and tell them that some white man put a gun in your window, and they're likely to lock you up. I'm a kid, I'm observing my father who, like all men in that stage, wants to protect his family. He's put in a position now where he has to cow-tow for folk in order to keep his family from being harmed. All of those things you're taught in school about authority and rights and everything - none of that stuff works in this particular instance because of the overriding impact of racism. So we understand that. And you need to understand that that is part of us. We understand that the safest way to protect our children is not to allow them to become victims. One of the reasons we try to be aggressive with our debate kids is because we're not going to let them become victims. And they are going to be the ones who assure that, because if you attempt to make them victims, then you're going to have problems. We know that we can't depend on philanthropy; we understand that we can't get out of there, and Johnny Fernandez understands in a very tangible way that and we can't depend on folks' good will. We have to create folks who will not allow themselves to be victims. And that's what we try to do with debate. That's what you have the power to do. And it requires that we do some fundamentally basic things, yet different things. To say that I'm different because I went to Claremont doesn't really mean I'm superior to folk where I live. I went to school with folk who worked in tire factories. Folk who got up everyday, went to the factory, and made a little, piddly money. But enough money so they could have a wife, a family, a TV, etc. Now they are old like me, looking down that road going, "What is this all about?" It's not that different. We understand their class difference, we understand their racial difference, we understand that they're very difficult to overcome. The news does not surprise me in any way, the fact that we perceive things in different ways, but there are some basic, sociological realities that are going to make us start looking at that. And that's why I brought up the demographic thing; it gives me great hope. It means that all of a sudden, people are going to have to start looking at different strategies. And while these different strategies are being conjured up, we're in a position to talk about things. And we can talk about things in a rational way, an honest way, a straightforward way, without being prejudiced and without looking at differences as being a sense of superiority or inferiority. I think we have an opportunity to escape a lot of difficulty. I think back to Claremont. As I was writing my outline yesterday a man called me from CMC. I answered and this kid introduced himself as a sophomore from CMC and he said he wanted to talk to me about giving some money. I said, "Listen, let me tell you something about CMC." About 10-15 minutes later, he says, "Well, I'm sorry sir, I'll call you back when you feel better."
It's not that, I just think there are some things about the institution that you need to know; part of this is why I'm not sending another penny back to Claremont. But Claremont is no different in a lot of ways from any other institution I've been in, when you are engaged in higher education; and it includes Georgia Tech and a lot of other places I've taught at. So we have a special responsibility, and I feel very honored to share these comments with a group like this.
So you begin to learn. You begin to stretch out; you begin to trust some people. And that's what I'm hoping we can begin to accomplish here. Because one thing we will not tolerate is to allow folk to make our children victims. And, if you participate in that activity, even if you do that unintended, then we have to lock horns, but that's not going to happen. One of the things that I feel blessed about to look at the folk here, who I've taught when they were little ones walking around and didn't know anything about anything. And then you see them here, see them assertive, see them aggressive, and you know folks are not going to victimize them. So then, the challenge is to go back and pick out and find those folk who are now those bloomers coming up and turn them into folk like that. And the other thing is to situate these institutions that we have and that we adore and do so much good for, so that they will not unintentionally attempt to make victims of others.
Finally, I guess I should end by closing by saying this: What we're attempting to do with young people these days is to provide them with weapons. It is not necessarily to make them come over and conform to any notion about what they ought to be. It is not the typical thing of, we're going to send you to that institution and you're going to become "a credit to your race." It is, let us arm you with the tools that you will need to straighten out this world that we've kind of screwed up a bit. I tell my seniors all the time, your job is to go out there and straighten up the mess that we have made of the world. Straighten out the mess we have made of the world. We have not been quite able to do those things, we have not been able to live up to the creed that we have begun. But you have the power and the authority, and hopefully the tools, to go out there and do that. And I would hope, frankly, that that is what all of us in this community are about. Giving these children the weapons that they are going to need to save us from ourselves. Thank you very much.
Third address: Shanara Reid
Melissa asked me to speak about practical solutions to the problem of welcoming minority students to institutes, especially the Emory National Debate Institute. And I think it is very important that staff members make a concentrated effort to welcome these students, to respect them, and to make them feel welcome in a community that they are not used to being a part of. We need to make these students feels welcome and not just tolerated, and that is very important. The reason that we need to make them feel that way is because they pick up on the vibes that we send out when we welcome them here. And if they feel they're not welcome - that they're just tolerated - they won't get as much out of the program and they'll feel that you only have them here because there is some benefit to yourself, or that you think you're trying to save them from some abysmal heel that they grew up in, and they won't respect you. So it's very important that we realize that before we begin any type of instruction for, not just African Americans, but for any minority student. To that extent, I plan on isolating three different situations that have occurred at the ENDI in the past period.
The first situation was something that I was personally a part of and it occurred last summer. I was a part of one of the varsity lab groups and I was a lab leader, and there were two African American men in that lab group - they were the only African Americans in that group. Throughout the course of the institute when students were starting to work together, students usually bring in different types of music they want to listen to. Since the group was a majority of white males, a lot of them had specific music that they wanted to listen to, that these two African American males just didn't want to listen to. Because they were from urban Atlanta, they were used to the "booty-shake" rap music / Hip Hop / R & B; none of that was being played in the lab group. So they isolated themselves, they left the lab group area, and went out into the hall and did their work - just the two of them. They felt like they weren't getting enough attention from the lab leaders, they felt like they weren't a part of the group. So, in an effort to try to make them have a good experience at the ENDI before they had to go to the University of Michigan for an institute where they would maybe be the only two there, I tried to go out, and I tried to be a lab leader for them, to speak with them and help them to have a good time at the ENDI. But whatever I tried to do was obviously the wrong decision because I couldn't get them to go back into the lab room. What ended up happening was, they self-isolated themselves, and as I tried to help them, I felt isolated myself from the lab group. So there was no African American influence in the group whatsoever, it was like I had a lab group of two people and I went to the other lab leaders and said this was the problem, I don't want them to leave this institute with these experiences because they'll go to the University of Michigan, they'll isolate themselves there, and they won't be happy. The leaders and I talked about it, and Pete went on to try to solve the problem. His method was to try to make them become part of the group, which I felt wasn't the answer, because they rebelled against any type of authority, because this isn't school, and they weren't happy with us trying to force them into the group. So, that was a wrong decision, and it was coming close to the end of the institute, they had to leave that Saturday for Michigan, and we knew this was a very serious problem. So we took it to the director of the institute. We told her what had happened, we told her what we had done to try to solve the problem, and she said okay. She brought the two young men in for a practice debate, sat them down and had a full fledged debate that she judged, and she gave them a critique after the debate. What she had done, was reinforce their self-confidence because the reason they isolated themselves was not the music that was played, but because they felt ill-equipped compared to the other students who had come from different schools where there was more money available, where they were able to get more experience. So she helped to build their self-confidence. Just because you're African American, just because you're from the inner-city Atlanta schools, doesn't make you inferior. That doesn't mean you can't succeed. She didn't say that to them, in actuality, she gave them the tools to realize that for themselves through her critique and through her working with them through rebuttal rework. And they came right back into the group, they ended up sharing different types of music. And some of the things they missed out on were things that they wanted to listen to, but because they isolated themselves, they weren't able to experience. They had a very good experience the rest of the week at the ENDI and they had a great time at the University of Michigan; they had confidence in themselves.
So, that was one of the first situations that we encountered at the ENDI, and the lessons that can be learned from that is that we have to reinforce and affirm students of color. But we can't make them feel like they're just here, like they're tokens or they're just tolerated. We have to make them feel like they aren't inferior, there's no reason why we should evaluate Black versus white at an institute. They are students here, they are here to learn, and we are here to help them. But if there is a problem, then I think that the lesson I learned was not to try to take it on by yourself, but to talk to other faculty members or go to the director of the institute so that you can come up with a formal plan of action that the student doesn't know about but will help them mainstream in with the rest of the institute, so that they have a good experience.
The second situation was one that involved junior high school kids and their experiences with the institute. There were a number of instances when the kids were running down the halls, etc. They're very active at that age and I think that a lot of people mishandle how to deal with that situation. This isn't a school: we aren't authoritarian principals or anything like that, but we are here to help them. I think that the way to handle that situation is not to yell at them, but to say, "Hi. My name is Shanara." Ask them what lab group they're in, who they're working with, tell them where you're from, ask them where they're from. Start a conversation that they will listen to you in. All you have to say is, "Look, we have to respect this building. This is like your parents' living room. You wouldn't want a visitor to mess up something that your mother had worked very hard to provide and if you do mess it up, then that means that you won't be able to come back next summer, as much as we want you to be here. And that means that someone else won't get these opportunities and we really don't want that to happen because we're really, really happy that you're here with us. We want you to return, and we want you to be here and get everything that you can out of this institute." You have to affirm them, to make them welcome - not just tolerated. And that's the best way to handle that type of situation. Also, you have to realize that you have to respect the students and not become some type of authoritarian figure over them. If you give them their respect that they think they deserve, then you'll get a lot more response out of them than you normally would; it's all about respect. That's very important, especially for African Americans, I know from my own experience.
The last situation is one involving a staff member's treatment of minority students. This is something that I personally experienced throughout my high school career, and throughout my college career, where I'll be walking down the halls, especially when I was in a summer institute, and all of the African American students would speak to me. But there were times when white lab leaderships wouldn't speak to me. Like they'd see me, and I know they'd see me because I made eye contact with them, but they wouldn't speak! And I always felt like, why don't you speak to me? I see you talking to other white students - is there something about me particularly? Is it my color? And I don't know what it was, but I took it as being a Black / white issue, that they were not speaking to me because I was an African American. And it's very important that when you walk down a hall as a staff member, that you speak to these kids. That you don't go out of your way to avoid them, to avoid physical or eye contact, because they take it very personally and it's very hurtful because they believe it's a race issue. So, if you see a student in the halls, introduce yourself to them. Talk to them so that they know that they're welcome in this community and not just tolerated.
So, in conclusion, I think it's very important that we respect these students. They come from a different culture where they take things personally and things are very sensitive in this environment because they're not used to being here. We have to not only respect that, but we have to try to do things to facilitate that, that means we have to respect students, we have to affirm their efforts for coming here because it's very scary to come out of your environment and into this one. I think that's very important for running a debate institute.
Fourth address: Tuna Snider
I would just like to point out that I'm teaching at the most expensive public school in America, with absolutely no scholarship money and very little local debate. So, it's out of necessity that I had to find a different way of recruiting. As happens so often when we find a different way, we find that we like that way. What I'm about to say may not be useful in many situations and I'm not going to try to relate this specifically to an inner-city context because now that we've heard that we're all "one-blood" and "one-people," I think that these kinds of approaches work for our one people that we're looking at. I would just say though, that a lot of what I'm going to talk about will not be useful at all, unless you are willing to transform the psycho-social environment of your debate team. You can follow my little guidelines and if the psycho-social environment that's created on your squad is not suitable, none of this will work. And the coach has to take responsibility for creating the psycho-social environment that values everyone who shows up and values all of their contributions. To me, as a coach, I need to do that first; I need to do that before we make photocopies, before we go to the library. We need to do that from the first moment we meet everyone and every time we try to break out of the psycho-social environment, we bicker and are more productive because of what each person gives. Once that doesn't exist, the idea of bringing new people in and training them to maximize what they get out of debate and making them top notch competitors or even hanging around, will not take place.
I believe that it's possible, and if you don't believe me, you can ask people who are here. You can ask Cleopatra Jones who was never in debate before she came to the University of Vermont and was voted debater of the year in the East and All-American twice. You can ask Paul Kerr who's here from the University of South Carolina who only debated for three semesters at the end of his college career. You can also ask my daughter who's here, who never debated in high school and has debated for one year, and is now someone who's ready to grow and develop into debate. Sean Lemoine said, "Tuna, I didn't think it was possible to take somebody who's never debated before and get them so they could really debate good. Then, I saw that Jethro guy. How did you do it?"
Well, what you do is have confidence and faith that we all have the abilities it takes to be an outstanding debater. We are ready to debate no matter where we come from. We are wired and fired. We've got a brain, it's ready to go, it's the most powerful reality-generating device in the universe, five billion cells - it's ready to go and everybody comes equipped with it. All you have to do, like any muscle is energize it and get it working and it'll do just fine. What we try to do is not to say that, well, our goal is to take raw, inexperienced debaters and turn them into the finest debaters in the country. That's just not going to happen with everyone - nor is it that important. As I expressed yesterday, I think it's very important that you consider the number of people that you're impacting and how much each of them benefits, as opposed to how high they get in "our hierarchy" of debate achievement. As Melissa said today, there's such a small difference between being in the octas and being in the finals, that to draw major distinctions at that level is ridiculous. We, of course, want students to rise to the top because we love it when the kids who never debated in high school and don't have scholarships beat those kids that do. I don't mind using that as a motivating factor, that's good. Boy, when we beat you, you not only lose - you really lose. We love it!
Also, it's very important to me that students continue debating. They don't have to become national circuit debaters on our squad and be important. I want them to continue debating and to continue to improve because those are the experiences that transform lives. It's not about the power of trophies, it's about releasing the power that exists within all these people. And finally, I am very fond of the people on the debate team who come to me at the end of their junior year or the beginning of their senior year and say, "I need something more before I go on to grad school and the rest of my life - I think it's debate." I think it's these people, who only debate for a small period of time, who experience some of the most profound changes. And I'll tell you, of my devoted alums, those people in that category are really over-represented because the know what debate has done for them.
So, if you're tired of the recruiting rat race and if you're tired of smooching the bum of some high school superstar that you need to pamper in order to keep them involved, then I say - throw that all away and follow me. In keeping with the theme of this, I mostly want to talk about the kinds of messages you need to send to new students. And you need to send it immediately, you need to send it consistently, and everyone on your team needs to hear this message. The biggest mistake you can make on my squad is to dis those new kids. You diss those new kids and you're out of here. The reason that doesn't happen is because all my kids were the new kids not very long ago, and they don't see the "other," they see themselves.
Here are the messages I'm concerned about sending from the first moment I meet them, and there are at least seven that I want to talk about.
First, you are important. I am not important, I am here because of you. I need you, and if I don't have you, I don't have a debate team. The most important people are those coming to their first, second and third meetings. The most important tournament of the year, for me, is the first tournament in the Fall where I take all my new debaters.
Second, I try to communicate empowerment. Debate leads to advocacy, to change in the world. It's making you leaders; they learn to control their own educational experience. Are you tired of being made to sit there quietly and listen to the teacher? Well, I know of an activity where the reverse is true.
Third, I try to indicate my willingness to have a personal/intellectual relationship with them. This goes along with being wanted and accepted. And the line I use is "I want to be your debate coach." That's what I want, I don't want you to win trophies for me, I don't want you to obey - I want to be your debate coach. Not just so I can teach them, but so they can teach me.
Fourth, I communicate to them that they can gain success through debate. Whatever you think it is, it can help you make money, it can help you lead to social change, it can help you learn how to express yourself, it can help you gain knowledge. Most especially, academically, you learn how to learn.
Fifth, I try to communicate to them that ideas have consequences. I think this is a good way to deal with sexist speech, racist speech. If you don't mean that by what you're saying - then what are you trying to say? I don't know what you mean, only what you say, and what you say is important.
Sixth, I communicate to them that the debate community and the debate activity is somewhere that they can belong. Young people are seeking inclusion; they're seeking groups where they can be accepted, where they can be nurtured, and also where they can safely express their differences. Melissa's model is the family, mine is the community. How do you build community amongst people? Only one way - to struggle together. When the group struggles together, they feel community.
Seventh, I believe in you. You can do it. I've got a Ph.D., I'm a professor; I get paid without doing manual labor and I believe in you. Now, somewhere along the line a lot of children in America were told that they suck. I constantly see kids who come from privileged backgrounds who are told they're no good, and don't have any self-esteem. I see students from other backgrounds who feel the same way! We're one blood in that regard, too. But I tell them, "I believe in you. You can do it, maybe you won't now, but you will." A lot of times that's something that makes a big difference.
In terms of the nuts and bolts, I'll run through it really quickly. I want to describe our program for how we get novice debaters. The first thing I want to say is that all the debaters you need are already on your campus. Now, it's not because I am a good coach that two years ago, two students, one in her second year of debating ever, and one in his third year of debating ever, reached the semifinal round at Nationals. It's because they were already there on campus, I didn't go anywhere. Okay, they're there. How do you get them? First, you've got to locate them. The best method we use is the poster. I have white boy posters, white girl posters, people of color posters, people who don't-know-what-they-are posters, etc. Of course we have our "want to get rich?", "want to be successful?" Hello, white boy! So try it! Don't just have one poster. So, I wondered where Rochester got all these debaters and then I put up a novice recruiting poster with red, gold, and green. You guys know what red, gold, and green stands for? It's the reggae colors and the African colors, and it means a lot. Red stands for the blood of people who were killed in slavery, yellow stands for the gold that was stolen from them and the money that was made off them by the traffic in their bodies. Green stands for Africa. It stands for earth, it stands for nature which is our salvation and our hope. So it's not just colors - it's a creed, an idea and it's important, and I've got to get me a color copier after hearing that story.
Another good thing we do is we have letters that say, "We've noticed that you are an articulate person, expressive, interested in ideas, etc. You have all the qualities it would take to be a debater." And I hand out these letters, and my students give them out too. That's been very effective. Personal contacts are the other thing we need. Everybody I talk to I say, "think about debate." Also, talk to teachers. Don't be afraid to seek out groups on campus. I think Sam Nelson at the University of Rochester has done a really good job with this. He goes right to the Black Student Union meetings and says, "the system sucks - we're with you, let's do something about it, let's learn how to change it."
One of the most important meetings is the initial meeting. I try all kinds of stuff, but this is what seemed to work. It's got to be short. The poster needs to say that the meeting is short. I just tell them basically about debate and what we do. We debate a topic, we go to tournaments, we'll find a place for you to stay - maybe on the floor because we like to make our budget stretch. Then, I hand it over to the students and let them testify. And those are the ones they listen to! You've always got to have students at your first meeting to testify. Have novices as well as varsity debaters speak, answer their questions, and then I usually try and get out of there within 20-30 minutes. Pass around a sign-up sheet, and then call them. Keep calling them, make them feel welcome, be personal.
The other thing I do is have personal meetings with them. If someone has questions, say I'd love to meet with you and talk about this - can we meet on Thursday? Can we meet on Wednesday? How about Friday morning? And then they start to know that you value them, that they're important. Then our training starts. We have a fourteen step program, and then I give them the list and say, "here you go!" Along line seven or eight, it's time for you to go to a debate tourney. You don't need to know everything; you've got to learn by doing. And so we go through the steps and each of them takes less that 60 minutes. It has to. You have to break it down so they can assimilate it over a period of time. Sometimes we can schedule two or three steps over a weekend, if you can get them to agree that they'll all be there. The other thing is, it's hard to find one mutually acceptable time to meet. You're just going to have to give up and have two meetings; don't be afraid to do that. As time goes on, they may get more in sync, but that may not always be the case - so have two meetings.
Okay, here are the 14 steps. One, walk-through of a debate. I get them and set up: you're the judge, you guys are over here, write your names on the board - no, that's not how to write your names on the board. Here, this is a ballot. Look at the ballot, give it to them. Now the pairings come out, you guys come find me and we find out who you're meeting. We coach you, we talk about your judge, you take notes and then you go off to your room. Then you sit in your room and you wait to get on your side - always try to capture the table first - and then when the judge is there and ready to go, you start. Walk through the debate, make them actually get up and sit down so that they have an idea of what's going on. Then they feel like, wow - I've already been through a run-through debate, so it's alright.
We try to give them a varied mixture of theory, skills, and practice. I think it's very important to have them speak early. If they come out for the debate team, odds are they're willing to speak, and most Americans aren't so getting them speaking is important. I think student support and inclusion is very important. My debaters realize that the future of this squad is these young kids, and they don't feel that these kids are a threat to their travel. Nothing gets my wrath more, expressed in private, one-on-one, than somebody dissing my new debaters. Larry was right yesterday when he said you have to get them to a tourney early. I always send them to a tourney before they're ready. All my attrition takes place before the first tourney. We don't even stay at hotels. At Cornell, we slept twelve people on the floor of a fraternity house. But they like it; it's like an outing, like a road trip. If you can get them on the trip, on the first tournament, that hooks them. And we have rituals that are involved in that, too. At the end of your first day at the tournament, it's very important to me, I find them immediately, shake their hands, congratulate them, and say, "Congratulations, you are now a debater." You're not really a debater until you have gone to a tournament, as far as I'm concerned. The other thing is, when they get their first win, everybody on the squad applauds for them. We had a team that decided they were going to come out for debate early in the year; they didn't come out for debate really until the end of the year when they thought their academics were in order. They decide to go to Novice Nationals for their first debate tournament ever. So you've got to prep them, they've been working for this all year. And they lost round one, and round two, and round three, and round four, and round five, and round six. And when they came back and won round seven, my squad surrounded them, and applauded them, and patted them on the back, and told them that that was the most important thing that happened that weekend.
The other thing that I do is that I keep track of wins and losses for the squad, not by team, but for the whole squad. I don't care - every win counts the same. If you're 0-6, I need that win next. Everyone counts the same. A quarterfinals win at Nationals is just one win, and that win in round seven when you're 0-6 is one win, and they both count the same. Of course, you don't have to win, we still love you. It would be nice if you win at least one, though.
We don't really have them research until after they've been to a tournament. It's a lot to learn how to debate; it's a lot just to learn how to speak, and the vocabulary, and the conventions, and the jargon, and I think that's different in different settings. So if I was in an Urban Debate League, I might well teach research skills early, but for our case, we don't have them do this. It's bad enough. You know what it's like - "Hey, you want to go to a debate tournament? Cool, here, file these three thousand briefs." Someone's got to help them file these briefs. What are these? We have them all put question marks on them, set them aside, and then they can come forward with a stack of twenty briefs they don't understand, and you can answer their questions.
We try very much to make them equal members of the squad; they have opinions, they're encouraged to express those opinions. At squad meetings, their opinions are valued just as much as the varsity debaters. I do not assign partners. Brand new debaters who don't know each other, I'll say, "Well, you don't know each other, do you want me to just make up some teams?" But in the long run, I do not assign partners, because that gives them control, that gives them power, they feel like they're in charge of their debate experience more when they pick their partners. You can help them through partnership problems, but you're never the cause of these problems; you're always the solution to help them, and they're responsible for them. And some day, I know, Melissa's going to come over to my side on this one.
The final thing is that I try very hard to have a diverse coaching staff. Now let me tell you, Vermont is the whitest state in the Union; the University of Vermont has to be the whitest school I have ever seen; it is realy white. It's been a struggle, but I feel good about it, but if there are students of color on campus, a lot of times, they end up on the debate team, because they feel welcomed there, they know that they can come there and they'll be accepted. But it's good to have a diverse coaching staff. Right now, we have a majority of women on the debate team, and probably will next year. So, I've got to have a woman coach; I can try to affirm, but I'm still a man. I could try to affirm - "Oh, now, that's terrible; Let's wallow in that" - but it only gets so far. I need coaches who are women. I need a diverse coaching staff.
The final thing I want to say is that I think this approach is completely in touch with Larry's closing remarks, and it's what I tell my seniors when they leave - this debate stuff was easy. Now comes the rough part. As Billy Sunday once said, "This whole world's in a helluva fix." And you're the one who's going to have to fix it. I've tried to help you a lot, and now you have to do something for me. You have to save the world, and you better get busy. And I think that speech works. Because when Chuck Morton raises $1 million to establish a 24-hour a day national sexual abuse hotline, he calls me on the phone and tells me, "I'm on it coach; I'm trying; I'm not getting it all done, but I'm doing something." And I know that's sad that they want to impress me, but I'll tell you, if it's for a good cause, as Melissa knows, a little manipulation can be very useful. So I feel good about it, but it's tough. Without the right psycho-social environment, you can forget it. Without an environment of openness and acceptance, it's not going to work. And I think a lot of these ideas could be transferred to the kind of Urban Debate League and outreach experience that we're talking about. I hope it will work; it's got to work, because it's not just whether debate's going to grow. We could have a lot of policy debate teams, but big deal. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about the ozone layer. I'm worried about a billion people who are starving to death, and soon, their bare hands are going to be stronger than all of the nuclear weapons in the world. And when they call us to task, we're going to know that all of our technological achievements and wealth are not getting us where we need to go. So it's not just because we need to save debate; it's because we need to save the world, and the best people to do that are the people who know about the cruelty and victimization in the world, because they're the ones who are going to do something about it. Let's get them and give them the skills they need. Thanks.