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The New ~Debate~ Normal

THIS SUCKS. Arkansas was quarantined for 3 months and things are still far from normal. The end of my debate season with the senior debaters on my team was stolen from me. Yes, I realize this might sound selfish, me complaining about the end of high school debate as I’ve known it when millions of people have died... Yet, my feelings are still valid. The frustration I am dealing with is being felt by the entire speech and debate community. This blog post isn’t meant to cover up the pain all of us are feeling, rather my intention is to highlight the positive side of an online debate season.

As I’ve mourned the (most likely) loss of my senior year debate season, I am starting to see the positive side of things. This March, all of my junior year debate plans were put on halt. I was devastated at the idea of not getting to compete in the Arkansas State tournament or debating in person with my senior friends one last time. This June, I virtually debated at the National Speech and Debate Tournament and I was presently surprised by my experience. The tournament ran smoothly, and I didn’t have to run up 39 flights of stairs (throwback to NSDA Nationals 2019) or get lost in downtown Dallas. On top of that, I had so much more free time than my typical schedule would have given me to prep for debate rounds. As a debater with no coach or other varsity members to help me prep, the free time COVID-19 has given me to prepare is unparalleled. At no other point in our lives will we have this much free time until we’re retired. That being said, THIS IS THE TIME TO PREP! Read that book on K literature that you want to explore! Cut more cards during this time than you’ve cut in your life! Coach the novice of your team! There really is no better time than the present to prep! Especially, if you come from a small debate program like myself, this is the time when you can prepare to take down teams with more resources than you!

Having competed in my first online debate tournament, I have experienced some of the perks of online debate. For starters, online debate eradicates so much of the inequity in this space. Online debate gets rid of travel, hotel, and transportation costs. Personally, my school district doesn’t allow us to travel outside of a 300-mile radius, yet online debating allows us to go to tournaments that previously weren’t accessible. Debate is tough. The sleep deprivation, stomach pains from the lack of food, backaches from the terrible hotel beds (if it isn’t clear I go to public school<3), and even the negative impact on mental health are all reasons many leave the debate sphere. Now, a majority of the consequences of debate are eliminated. Not only do I predict, online debate tournaments might bring back debaters who turned away from the activity because of these negative impacts, but I think it will give those who suffer through the pain a well-needed break. I think the debate space needs to use this time as a wake-up call to realize many of our practices are toxic. This activity shouldn’t make someone have a caffeine-induced anxiety attack because of the 8 coffees they’ve had in order to win a debate round. This activity shouldn’t be what 17-year-olds base their entire self worth off of. I hope this time encourages us to reflect on what we want the new debate space to look like in 2021.

If you have never debated in an online tournament before, I have some advice for you! First, check your WIFI. Most online debates will happen through the zoom application and good WIFI is key to prevent glitching. I recommend you figure out which part of your house has the best WIFI connection and debate from there if possible. **I realize this statement on WIFI comes from a place of privilege. The access to stable internet is something I think many of us take for granted, and I would like to highlight how this new form of the debate will create yet another form of inequity.** I think this goes without saying, but good lighting and audio is also an important component. Many debaters are purchasing gamer headsets for online debating. I don’t have a headset, and I think my earbuds work fine. But, if you already have a headset I would recommend you use it. Again coming from another place of privilege, I think aiming for a quiet space in your home where distractions will be at a minimum is beneficial.

As for my advice for actual debating, I think you should have a clean desk space to flow. I HATE online flowing and I would never recommend it. I personally find online flowing slows me down and is harder to keep organized. If you plan on competing in a partner debate event, I recommend you have a facetime with your partner IN ADDITION to the zoom call. This way, you can communicate with your partner privately, similarly to if you were in person. (don’t forget to mute yourself when you speak!)

This season of life isn’t easy. The experiences being ripped from all of us isn’t fair. We’re all facing different forms of loss during this time. Yet, we aren’t truly losing our Speech and Debate season. We can still use our voice to speak up. We can still be inspired by the phenomenal young people in this activity. And we can still find our community.


Anna Dean (she/her)

Bentonville West High School Senior


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