*Members of Atlanta’s renowned Morehouse College Speech and Debate Team, who were competing earlier this month for possibly another national championship, suddenly pulled out of the tournament, in protest.
According to 11Alive, the tournament was on Zoom, and the Black debaters could see and hear white debaters from other colleges mocking them, and using racist gestures and comments. They say the judges and organizers did nothing to stop it.
“This was the last straw,” said the veteran Morehouse Debate Coach Ken Newby, speaking about Round Five of the annual, U.S. Universities Debating Championship.
“The cameras of some of the other debaters in the room were turned on, when they should have been off,” Newby said, “and my debaters could see them mocking them during their speeches, while they’re delivering their speeches, micro-aggressive, anti-Black behaviors.” White debaters, he said, were using racist gestures and comments about the Black Morehouse debaters.
“They couldn’t take it anymore,” Newby said. “What they experienced in that round of the debate, for them, was so traumatizing that they didn’t want to continue debating in the competition, anymore,” especially because the judges, instead of stopping the behavior, according to Newby, rewarded the offending debate teams with high scores.
After Morehouse pulled out, other college teams followed in solidarity, including the students from Atlanta’s Spelman College, Regis University, Yale, Harvard, University of Vermont. “A bunch of other teams,” White said.
The tournament ultimately was cancelled. Organizers issued a statement saying in part, that they take full responsibility for the anti-blackness that transpired during the tournament and have since begun discussing with college debate teams a list of changes that need to be made, and they are pledging long-needed reforms in time for next year’s debate season.
“The first primary suggestion we would like to highlight for future CAPs and organizing committees is that equity announcements and actions related to anti-Blackness and racism should never be delayed due to other events like issues with judge allocations,” the USUDC statement said in part. “Further, we encourage the United States University Debating Association to adopt a BIPOC forum or caucus similar to those in other international debating circuits, the role of equity officers to be reformed such that it plays a proactive rather than a reactive role, organizing committees to prioritize diversity at all levels of tournament organization, and further discussions, involving and moderated by systematically marginalized members of the community, to be taken seriously in order to reform the structural inequalities of this debate format.”
Watch reports about the Morehouse protest above and below: