Shi (12), Snyder (12), Granmayeh (12) host Gender in Debate Conference

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Emma Colacino, Staff Writer

Panelists and attendees discussed gender, sexism, and gender dynamics within the debate and speech circuit during the second Gender in Debate Conference (GIDC) held on Saturday over Zoom. The conference, which Emily Shi (12), Sasha Snyder (12), and Leyli Granmayeh (12) directed, brought together students from a variety of debate activities such as Public Forum (PF) Debate, Model United Nations (MUN), Model Congress, Mock Trial, and Parliamentary Debate. The 90 attendees consisted of students from the school, as well as students from other states and countries.

The conference began with an hour-long panel session in which debate alumnae Sara Catherine Cook, Jenna Freidus ‘18, Amala Karri, Anjali Ramanathan, Rabhya Mehrotra, and Inbar Pe’er answered questions regarding their experiences with sexism in debate and discussed ways to make the debate circuit a more equitable space. 

Shi moderated the panel discussion and read audience members’ questions, which were sent to her through the Zoom chat. Shi found it powerful to see underclassmen writing in the chat about how the panelists’ experiences resonated with them in their own debate careers, she said.

Hearing other female debaters speak about past experiences was Jojo Mignone’s (9) favorite part of the conference, she said. While she was horrified to hear the stories of sexism that other women have experienced, she learned how to respond to misogyny in a debate competition. “In an instance where we witness or experience something that suggests women did not deserve equal judgement in a debate, we should confront the issue,” she said. “For example, reporting a judge if they make a verdict in which your gender holds weight.”

After listening to panelists speak about sexism from judges, Rachel Kuhn (11) reflected on her past Mock Trial tournaments and on the fact that the majority of the judges were male, she said. “That brought to light how I would be so much more comfortable if more of my judges were female.”

After the panel, the conference was split into two half-hour breakout sessions, the first with mixed debate activities and mixed schools, and the second with the same debate activities. The purpose of the first breakout session was to have attendees reflect upon the panel and the role of gender within debate. In the second breakout room, students brainstormed ways to make the debate circuit more equitable. 

Granmayeh said the breakout session was interesting because the diversity of participants — both in terms of their schools and backgrounds in debate — ensured a wide variety of topics and issues were discussed, she said. 

While Shi moved throughout the breakout rooms, she heard a lot of attendees self-reflecting on gender in debate, she said. “Even in groups that were dominated by a lot of Horace Mann students or debaters, I saw that people from other schools were really opening up about their experiences.”

After rejoining the main session, students were sent into breakout rooms, which were separated by debate activities; the first room was for PF underclassmen, the second for PF upperclassmen, the third for Model Congress and Model UN, and the fourth for Mock Trial, Speech, Parliamentary Debate, and other miscellaneous activities. These rooms provided a space to brainstorm ways to combat gender inequality in debate and create initiatives to make the debate environment more equitable. 

Within the PF underclassmen room, students discussed the importance of addressing instances of sexism, Sam Korff (10) said. “If a judge makes a comment about the way a person who identifies as female speaks or the way they dress, instead of just going up to them after that, and saying, ‘Well, I’m really sorry that happened actually,’ we should be standing up in the moment and telling the judge that that is wrong.”

Alexa Turteltaub (10) was glad to see how many students — regardless of gender — were dedicated to working against gender inequality within debate. “You can’t just change the culture by only talking to girls and telling them how to deal with gender discrimination, so the fact that the boys were participating to create a more equitable environment in debate was really inspiring and a pleasant suprise.” 

The organizers discussed making this year’s conference focus on identity in debate, and include topics of race and sexulity, but ultimately decided that two and a half hours would not be enough time to discuss the topic adequately, Shi said. “Being a white cisgender woman in debate is very different from being, for example, a Black woman in debate or being a transgender or non-binary debater,” she said. In future years, Shi envisions the conference holding more discussions on intersectionality and how other identifiers such as race, sexuality, and class, along with gender, impact debaters within their careers.