Equitable Access: Strategies for Adjudication Cores

Datum: Oct 14th, 2020
Category: International, Jurieren

This is the second part of a four (!) part series on accessibility in debate, looking at strategies for debaters and judges seeking safe access to debate. The first part covered strategies for participants to improve access to debate and is available here. The third part will encompass different regions’ structures of equity within and outside of tournaments. The fourth and final part will contextualize the gendered and racialized experiences of leaders and organizers across the spectrum of debate circuits. If you have questions, suggestions, or experiences to share, please contact spruced [at] tuta [dot] io. As always, people are sincerely encouraged to share their own experiences, practices, and ideas. 

Part I: in conversation with Namita Pandey, ILS Law College; Australs Grand Final Judge, ’20

Part III: in discussion with Clarence Logan-Bronte, Assistant Debate Coach, University of Rochester; Equity, USUDC 2019 & 2020; CA, Eastern Online IV ’20, BSDT ’19, Huber Debates ’18

Part I: Adjudication

This section is not about “including” underrepresented participants; it is about stopping the active exclusion of WGM and (on many circuits) POC and non-EPL participants from equitable access to the judge and CAP opportunities that others take for granted. Addressing biases in debate is a necessary precursor to meaningfully accurate competition outcomes for participants. As a member of an adjudication core, seeking to adopt policies that address inequities in debate is necessary to avoid actively (even if unknowingly) maintaining the disempowerment of underrepresented identities. We hope this is a chance for others to share their experiences or approaches to improving equity within and through adjudication cores. (Edited to acknowledge the other approaches that do exist and are being used, and the limited ability to adopt or relative efficacy of these policies in some contexts).

It is also important to note that in some circuits, groups are underrepresented that are not in other circuits; for example, the experience and representation of participants of colour will be contextualised by the makeup of their circuit and leadership on it. Similarly, the experiences of different language backgrounds will differ based on whether that region is majority EPL; ESL; EFL. This article will seek to contextualise the general ways in which underrepresented groups should be included, but for some of the mentioned groups this may be of less relevance on some circuits.

I. Recruitment

CA Recruitment

  1. Confirm that your team is majority people of colour; at least achieves gender parity; and, is significantly diverse in language background.
  2. Consider also whether you are selecting candidates representative of different backgrounds within your region, or whether you are diversifying your CA team by selecting a “famous” international CA that is frequently recruited and not ensuring that underrepresented identities within your circuit have access to opportunities.
  3. If your region doesn’t have experienced locals, are you seeking out women and gender minorities (WGM) and others without experience to train as an “Assistant CA” or “Deputy CA”
  4. Seek to recruit and select candidates that represent as best possible the spectrum of regions/circuits participating at your tournament.

Judge Recruitment

  1. Post your application call in debate groups for underrepresented identities and ask participants of your team or institution that are WGM or People of Colour to do the same (some may be private)
  2. Have regional CA members – or, if none, Organising Committee members – contact and encourage WGM and different identity backgrounds to apply. Review regional tabs and contact judges from regional institutions that you may not know personally or have heard of 
  3. Reach out directly to judges you know and encourage them to apply
  4. Actively recruit – keep in mind that many WGM may not think they are qualified to apply and also that they may not know if the tournament may be welcome to them / not want to apply if they aren’t familiar with or have had bad experiences with members of the institution that you may not know of 

Judge / CA Selections

  1. Consider the circuit and institution contexts when looking at experience, or consider including a test component: many WGM face significant barriers being selected to compete at tournaments and especially at majors. This is also true of People of Colour in majority-white institutions/circuits and ESL/EFL debaters on primarily EPL circuits.
  2. Many WGM are unable to attend tournaments due to travel or scheduling requirements. This compounds a lack of opportunities to get debate or judge experience – you could consider:
    1. Prioritizing depth of break even if they may not have as many tournaments
    2. Dropping outliers in checking their adj scores or speaker scores to account for bias that may have occurred
    3. Including and evaluating training and coaching experience
    4. Offering an optional judge test
  3. Consider judge mentorship programs for novices or setting aside slots for WGM debaters without circuit exposure/rep

II. Panel Construction in Prelims


Are underrepresented identities being chaired at a rate:

  1. equivalent to male / white / EPL chairs (ie: if all but one or two of your chairs are white, EPL, men you probably are biased and producing inaccurate calls for participants).
  2. equivalent to the proportion of tournament judging they make up (if 80% of your judges are people of colour, 80% of your chairs should be, not 50%; same for women and gender minorities; same for language status)

Observing judges

  1. Make sure judges from different backgrounds are being watched as chairs by CAP
  2. Make sure the observation is holistic and accurately represents the judges’ ability:
    1. Are they being asked specific questions or actively brought into the conversation if they seem hesitant to speak or agree immediately?
    2. Are they being allowed to speak without being interrupted or talked over by other panelists?
  3. This should be at equivalent rates to others; ie, WGM judges should be watched at least as much as men. Ideally men would be watched in a panel with women and EPL judges in a panel with ESL/EFL judges to see how they manage a panel discussion
  4. Are WGM that organisers / CAP lack information on being watched early? Are they being given opportunities to reflect their performance (ie: chair if they do extremely well; moved to competitive rooms if they seem to have a good read of the round; watched again if there is still a lack of information)
  5. Are teams that are entirely women / gender minorities being placed in front of WGM chairs or majority WGM panels 

Assessing Feedback

  1. If WGM chairs get feedback on chairing that is negative, does it reflect their panel feedback or is it an anomaly? If so, it should be less significant in determining their competitiveness to break
  2. Biases in WGM performing roles of leadership (making decisions, issuing requests, interrupting people, being critical of teams, not being nice / friendly / amiable)
  3. Socialization that may make WGM chairs uncomfortable or unfamiliar with being willing to cut people off when speaking, point out when panelists are excluding other panelists, etc

III. Breaks & Elimination Rounds:

Consider a ghost break or notify judges in advance if you are determining breaks based on judge outround availability. Many WGM may not report their availability for elimination rounds because they assume they will not break 

Even if they aren’t available for elimination rounds, 

  1. Having breaks on their CV can be very significant given the barriers to selection, participation, and biases in vetting applications or people giving feedback on applications for majors that may exist
  2. Not breaking at a tournament means frequently people looking at tabs or participating themselves at the tournament assume the judge was not “good enough,” which can produce biases against the judge at other tournaments

Advance and chair judges from underrepresented backgrounds, and specifically non CAP and regional (not exclusively international) judges at a rate that reflects both their relative rankings and the composition of elimination round teams.

Part II: Setting Motions 

Writing motions is both opportunity and obligation- every topic set is an expectation for a minimum of 100 minutes of each participants’ time to be dedicated to an interrogation of the issues in question- what would be at a typical 12 room tournament 220 hours. 

Given that context, the opportunity to interrogate and educate participants on important and contentious issues is rewarding, yet imbues adjudication teams with the duty to be aware of the impact motions they set will have.

Frequent controversies related to motion setting point to a larger question of when and how to set difficult motions, and whether some are meaningful to set. This is especially true of motions that require a discussion of groups united by identities. Dominant misconceptions surrounding a topic or underrepresentation of communities and identities in debate compound the ways in which motions are written or set in ways that worsen biases, validate stereotyping, encourage violent language and actions in rounds, dismiss experiences, exclude communities from access to rounds or competition, and reify bad education about topics.  

I. Debate Rounds on Inadvisable Motions 

Judges emphasize incorrect and discredit correct conceptions and facts used to warrant arguments based on the prominent misunderstandings that already exist about these topics.

Other debaters are likely to run arguments based on inaccurate stereotypes and generalizations about a group of experiences

  1. That can have real harmful impacts on individuals with direct personal relationships to the issues
  2. It contributes to the attrition of identities that feel like the debate community does not and cannot understand and better reflect their experiences, and thus is not a place for them
  3. It adds to a dominant narrative about what arguments are persuasive and true within the debate community about these misunderstood topics. It also legitimizes this belief in equal balance about these topics and setting motions about them
  4. It adds to the miseducation and beliefs that debaters carry about topics and take into other debate rounds and into their discussions about topics in their real life and the coaching, lobbying, and positioning they have.

II. General Advice For Setting Motions on Contentious Topics

Motion Testing

  1. Have (only some) members of the adjudication team research the motion before testing it with each other: this allows you to vet both how accurately the motion represents the issue you want to discuss, as well as the accessibility of relevant or reasonably representative arguments to debaters without this niche background 
  2. Consult with people who share the experiences or narratives you want to approach through the motion – while one person obviously does not representative the plethora of diverse experiences and views of those who share their identity, they are more likely to have reasonable familiarity with the dialogue around this issue and salient viewpoints of those within their community, as well as how your motion language effects or engages with that

Consultation with Equity

It is important to note that motion vetos is rarely an element of equity review at all, nor a power most equity teams have.  While some circuits approach equity review of motions differently or do not incorporate it at all, a few of the basic approaches t motion review by equity include:

  1. Flagging any potentially ineffective or harmful motion phrasings so that CA teams can consider more effective ways to approach the clash and to improve the likelihood that debates will focus on the intended clashes
  2. Notifying CA teams based on their familiarity with participants that a particular topic is uniquely inaccessible or traumatic in a way would significantly reduce the competitive equity of the tournament by setting that topic
  3. Providing equity the opportunity to educate themselves on the specific issues, contexts and experiences that motions may address so that they can ensure this is well addressed in the briefing and that they are equipped to provide meaningful education (in the case of violations) and support (in the case of experiences and needs of participants)
  4. Giving equity the awareness to make topic- specific equity comments to improve the approach teams and adjudicators will have prior to the release of a particular topic
  5. Equity can release a topic area announcement and provide a brief period to be contacted by teams that wish to cancel the motion, in which case a back up motion is used. Judges may also request not to adjudicate the topic

Topic Announcement

Remind participants about BP expectations for communicating about other experiences without reaching generalizations or stereotyping. Perhaps even announcing examples of common misconceptions related to the topic set prior to the round (instead of via equity warnings post-debate, which, while sometimes educational, tend to be damage control for the exclusionary or harmful argumentation that has already occurred).

It is also advisable to remind judges of the WUDC standard for disregarding arguments and finding entire speeches less persuasive based on the severity of offensive analysis presented in a speech. 

III. Responding to Fallout- When you get it wrong

  1. Acknowledging and apologizing for the way motions have produced harm
  2. Offering to be available if a participant wants to speak to the adjudication team or a specific member of it directly
  3. Providing a platform for organizers or equity members to address the circuit publicly

Part III: CA Experience Setting Contentious Motions

“would they feel like extremely personal issues are being trivialized?”

I. Writing & Vetting Motions

Clarence suggests that in the same way debaters are encouraged to imagine that the groups they are discussing are in the room, adjudication teams setting motions should think about it as well.  He suggests doing research and then considering the following questions.

(1) “How might people directly impacted feel if this motion is set?

(2) Would they feel empowered?

(3) Would they feel like an ongoing discussion within their own community is being recognized and normalized?

(4) Or, would they feel like extremely personal issues are being trivialized?

(5) Or that the typical debater would misunderstand the motion in a way that minimizes real world harms?

(6) Or that the typical debater shouldn’t be the one to evaluate this motion?”

II. Motion Elimination:

Clarence emphasizes the importance of striking a motion when current events or local conditions (motion), prioritizing “the success and education of the tournament’s participants” over relevance. However, to figure out which motions raise awareness as opposed to which produce harm “requires an awareness of the community’s perspectives.” Clarence describes removing a motion “due to equity complaints to emphasize that listening community members before a tournament begins.” Specifically, “Black debaters have clearly communicated that motions which deal with police brutality, deal with the ongoing protests, or otherwise speak for Black people cause harm. In the past, debaters have communicated similar perspectives on motions relating to sexual violence, abortion, etc. These are specific requests that need to be heard, and yet I’ve seen them misrepresented as if they were vague requests to cancel every motion that might involve a marginalized group.”

III. Info Slides: 

Clarence suggests that providing more information isn’t sufficient to address the ways people use stereotypes and reproduce discriminatory narratives: “Info slides provide facts and context, they do not have the power to influence bias. Info slides draw a box, but problems arise when people fill that box in, color outside of it, or determine whether someone’s finished product was good or not.” Instead, Clarence recommends that info slides when paired with equity announcements can improve the likelihood of debates being informative and equitable.

IV. Conflict Resolution:

Apologies mean a CA team is taking ownership of what they have done, as well as represent their responsibility as people of power in the community.

Part of the problem comes from how CAs are seen as good at debate and thus validated in considering motions okay if they successfully run these arguments.  On this, Clarence says, “I think that CA teams would also benefit from having to publicly apologize for enabling those arguments, but also need to, even before that happens, work harder to question whether or not the beliefs they hold are in fact harmful to some members of the debate community, even if they’ve seen success from those arguments in the past.”

Clarence warns that the default, in which CA teams seek to educate the community after a controversy, is perhaps not a good solution. The way the motion is set suggests that there is a lack of awareness and knowledge about what needs to be addressed. In addition, CAs may end up defending a motion rather than resolving the way it has impacted the community.

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