Students from around the city gathered at the school on Saturday, Nov. 23rd for a day filled with discussions at the Gender in Debate Conference. Alexa Mark (12) spent around a year planning this conference, which is the first of its kind at the school, she said.
The conference hosted over 60 students from Horace Mann, Stuyvesant, and Dalton, Mark said. These students had backgrounds in varying forms of debate, including Parliamentary Debate, Public Forum Debate, Model Congress, Model United Nations (UN), and Mock Trial.
To kick off the day, students were split into smaller groups comprised of people who did the same style of debate. In these groups, participants were given a chance to discuss their own experiences within debate and recurring issues involving gender discrimination. Towards the end of the session, students explored possible solutions to the problems that were brought up, Mark said.
Following the discussions, two keynote speakers gave presentations: Amala Karri, a freshman at George Washington University who was the president of the debate team at Hunter College High School, and Inbar Pe’er, a sophomore at Columbia University who was the first sole female president of Stuyvesant High School’s speech and debate team. Both Karri and Pe’er won numerous tournaments and awards in their careers as high school debaters, specifically in Public Forum Debate.
Immediately after the speakers finished, participants returned to their groups to discuss issues brought up in the presentations. Students were then split into new groups of mixed styles of debate to compare the issues facing different realms of debate. At the end of the day, these groups returned to the discussion of potential solutions for the problems they had identified.
Andie Goldmacher (11), a member of the school’s Model Congress team, learned about some of the unfair expectations girls in other forms of debate had to deal with, she said. “I was shocked to hear about how girls were told their voice was annoying and they had to change it, or that they needed to dress slutty on the first day,” she said.
“I heard people talking about how a lot of the time, even though people are not purposely being exclusive, there will be all-male group chats, or women will sort of just get boxed out by these more aggressive men,” Mark said. Students also brought up examples of double standards from judges, she said. “If you’re more aggressive as a girl, that’s traditionally looked down upon, whereas if you’re male, it can be a great strategy.”
The bias of judges and chairs is another prevalent issue in debate. At the conference, participants discussed how chair bias can be an especially big problem in Model UN, co-Secretary General of the school’s Model UN team Arman Kumar (12) said. “We talked about having a more uniform judging system to decide winners,” Kumar said. “It’s currently very subjective at Model UN conferences, where the chair just chooses who they think won.”
One solution to the issue of unfair judging is the possibility of bias training, Mark said. While some tournaments have already implemented this, bias training at all tournaments could ensure that people are judged fairly and according to the same standards, she said.
During the keynote speeches, both Pe’er and Karri talked about how they were able to succeed in the face of adversity and exclusion, Mark said. As sometimes the only girl on some school debate trips, Pe’er would have to be in a separate room from the rest of the team after curfew. In the morning, she would feel left out from any conversations or preparation that had happened the night before. Pe’er also said that her accomplishments sometimes felt underappreciated and were overly attributed to her male debate partner.
A major takeaway from Karri’s speech was the importance of recognition, Goldmacher said. “Because you’re a girl, people find more things to pick on about you as you get higher and higher in the debate circuits,” she said.
Karri also discussed the importance of Equity Officers, Dalton senior Claire Marchand said. Some tournaments have already begun having Equity Officers, who are designated individuals that debaters can talk to if any issues regarding discrimination or bias should arise.
“It was really inspiring and eye opening to hear what they had experienced and the solutions they suggested to their problems,” Marchand said.
Hannah Moss (9) attended the conference with no prior debate experience and received valuable information about how to handle instances of gender bias during debate. “If a person sees sexism, they need to report it. Your gender does not define how you debate and how good you are at it,” she said.
If the conference were to be done again, Mark said that there would ideally be a wider variety of speakers and more students in attendance. However, she is overall very happy with how the conference went, she said. “I hope that people had a platform to share their experiences,” Mark said. “I also hope that people who attended are able to see the impact that their actions have and think about ways that they can make the community more inclusive.”