Dear friend,

As we begin the new school year, we wanted to keep you informed about a petition we received this summer surrounding issues of sexual violence in the speech and debate community. As your district chair may have shared with you, we reached out to the group petitioning and have taken some time to reflect on areas of growth for the organization.
Speech and debate is a powerful activity because it gives young people a platform to speak their truths. Our activity teaches young people to use the power of their voice to ask for change to improve their local and global communities. As the organization prides itself on providing a platform for young people, we take seriously the issue that some people do not feel safe, do not feel safe to speak out, and do not feel that our community has their back. Sexual violence has no place in speech and debate communities or in our society. We each can do our part to make this community safer and more equitable by engaging in education, holding each other accountable, and keeping the safety of our participants at the forefront.
We know that safety is a priority. As the school year starts, we encourage coaches to read and discuss your own harassment and discrimation policy with your team members. We encourage you to talk with your school administrations about mandatory reporting, background checks, best practices on hiring new people, and support for students.
Building on our work from the past few years mentioned below in the forwarded email, we are proud to announce a few new Equity Initiatives approved at the May 2020 Board meeting. After receiving feedback from our 2020 National Tournament coaches' caucuses, from alumni, and from some of our members, we will start this school year with the following two committees in consultation and/or partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Women's Debate Institute, and the Association of Black Argumentation Professionals:
1. New Judge Accreditation Process Committee - In order to ensure that speech and debate tournaments are a safer and more equitable environment, judges ought to be culturally competent and inclusive educators. Judges must ensure they facilitate a positive learning environment for students and provide culturally competent and inclusive performance feedback and decisions. Nearly every member of the speech and debate community participates as a judge at some point, whether it’s experienced students judging novices, coaches judging at tournaments, or schools hiring community members as judges. We believe a comprehensive judge course with credit for completion is the best way to build lasting change in the attitudes and actions of our community members. The new training will build on our recent Cultural Competency course, the free “Adjudicating Speech and Debate” course, and continue to develop in partnership with the NFHS. Immediately, it will also include the NFHS course, “Protecting Students from Abuse.” This group will conceptualize a judge accreditation that will meet local and national judge training needs and will equip local tournament directors with actionable steps to create a safer and more equitable speech and debate community. 
2. Implementing Equity Officers Committee - The addition of equity officers to the National Tournament in 2018 is a step that we are very proud of and we believe can be modeled at tournaments around the country. In 2018, we also recommended that every speech and debate tournament have a harassment and discrimination policy. Please check if your school or school district has a harassment and discrimination policy that applies to your tournament. They may also have guidelines or resources for selecting equity officers to serve at your tournament. Equity officers provide accountability measures to these statements. They also provide a safer place to report violations of these statements at local tournaments. We will be developing more resources on implementing an effective equity office for your tournament to deal with violations of your harassment and discrimination policy, and to facilitate a safer and more equitable speech and debate environment.
In addition to the work from the above committees, we are committed to reviewing the student Code of Honor and Coaches Code of Ethics. We continue to reflect upon other recommendations we have received from the NSDA coaches' caucuses and other members and hope to take further steps to make the speech and debate community a safer and more equitable space. 
If you have thoughts or resources you would like to share, we’d love to hear them. Please email them to the Director of Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Nicole Wanzer-Serrano. 

J. Scott Wunn

Executive Director

Nicole Wanzer-Serrano

Director of Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Our email to District Leaders: 

Many of you have been contacted directly and reached out to us about a petition circulating surrounding issues of sexual violence in the speech and debate community. I want to thank everyone who reached out to us for ensuring we heard about this important issue.
The safety of participants is our number one priority when it comes to connecting, supporting, and inspiring a diverse speech and debate community. As you all know, in the past few years we have taken significant action to reflect and operationalize our value of equity. Many of our previous equity efforts have addressed some of the recommendations outlined in the petition, including: 
  • Publishing our updated Harassment and Discrimination Policy and encouraging others to write their own.
  • Monthly Email to all tournaments held on Tabroom with Safe Tournament Resources, including an Inclusive Tournament Checklist which explicitly encourages each tournament to have a Harassment and Discrimination Policy.
  • Equity Officers at the National Tournament, which has been modeled at many tournaments nationally, to enforce our Harassment and Discrimination policy. 
  • Providing free Cultural Competency Judge Training, and requiring it of all judges at the 2020 National Tournament.
  • Adding a reminder about implicit bias to the top of every ballot of the 2020 National Tournament to address microaggressions. That language was: We are all influenced by implicit bias, or the stereotypes that unconsciously affect our decisions. When judging, our implicit biases negatively impact students who are traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised. Before writing comments or making a decision, please take a moment to reflect on any biases that may impact your decision making process.
  • Ongoing review process of our core documents, which resulted in recent updates to our Mission and Vision, the writing of our Equity Statement, and a 2020-2021 review of our student Honor Code and coach Code of Ethics. 
  • Hosting annual coach caucuses, resulting in recommendations that become an integral piece of our equity work each year.  
We know that there is more we can do, and we’re currently discussing the best next steps for addressing this extremely important issue. We’ve reached out directly to the people behind the petition.
Our Equity Statement says that, “We will take responsibility. We will heed, learn, and evolve. We will work conscientiously to model and foster an inclusive and equitable speech and debate experience for all.” We thank all of you for helping us in this process, and welcome any feedback you may have. 

J. Scott Wunn
Executive Director 
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