2001 White Paper on Gender and Debating

Report of the ad hoc Committee on a Code of Conduct for CUSID

Monday February 12th of this year, we were asked by the CUSID president, Ranjan Agarwal, to lead a forum concerning gender issues in CUSID the weekend of this year’s National Debating Championships.

In the interests of soliciting broad input, promoting a somewhat focused discussion, and bringing forward a set of concrete and constructive policy proposals, we immediately undertook a consultation process in which we e-mailed or talked to many people from many clubs to ascertain your opinions about these issues. This document is the product of those consultations as well as numerous discussions and e-mails between the two of us. We do not take it to be exhaustive, but do believe that it will provide a valuable starting point.

In our consultations we encountered a CUSID that would very much like to be the diverse and inclusive place that we think it can be. We talked to or e-mailed many people, of both genders, who feel included, comfortable, and fairly treated, and some others who do not. Ultimately the goal of this process is to make CUSID a better place for all of us, by making a better place for each of us.

We believe that each of us needs to more conscious of our actions and their effects. In particular, we need to be more sensitive to each of our members. This, in combination with implementing a set of constructive initiatives will make CUSID more fair and inclusive, allowing it to grow both in numbers and in diversity.

We need to realize that fostering an inclusive environment is in all of our best interest. It is everyone’s problem. Blaming each other for the problems will get us nowhere. None among us has acted perfectly. And, by extension each among us can do better. Each of us needs to start asking, “What can I do to make this environment more open and welcoming?” We believe that adopting this type of attitude is the single most constructive thing that we can collectively do.

Finally, we believe that CUSID needs to engage in an open conversation about these questions. Such a conversation requires that each among us, no matter what his or her opinion feel comfortable sharing it. That requires that we treat opinions with respect, especially when we do not share them. We ask you to consider this report, and to share your thoughts on this topic, whatever they may be and whether or not you believe they will be popular.

The report is organized into four sections. In the first three sections we seek to describe concerns relating to recruitment/retention, that which goes on in rounds, and that which goes on outside of rounds. The fourth section contains a set of policy proposals that we recommend for adoption at the 2001 CUSID AGM.


Through the consultation process this was probably the most referred to and the most agreed upon area of discussion. It was generally agreed that women are not as well represented as men in CUSID. It was also generally agreed that at the beginning of the academic year and only to a slightly lesser extent throughout the novice year, as was seen recently at Guelph, gender parity in terms of numbers seems to exist. However, agreement also lay in the fact that there are fewer women who stay for more than a few years and many male “dino’s.”

Debate lay in whether this was necessarily a bad thing. One debater argued, “equality is about ensuring equal access, not equal numbers.” Perhaps the question that needs to be answered stemming from that comment whether unequal numbers are a sign of unequal access. Clearly not all of us have felt the same levels of comfort or discomfort in CUSID. Many debaters put their comments and “situations” where they were made to feel uncomfortable in the form of a question, as they were not sure whether they were being fair. Ultimately we believe that if there is a perception even by some that women or any other member or group within CUSID are made to feel uncomfortable and leave the organization because of that discomfort there is a problem.

Many of you distinguished actions that could be taken at club levels and those that could be taken at the CUSID level that could assist in recruiting and retaining a greater diversity of novices. A more general comment that was made but one that seems to flow through this report as a theme is that we all need to be more aware of our own actions and of the actions of those around us in order to avoid making others feel uncomfortable. This sounds easy. However, the number of debaters who commented that “a lot of times, people don’t even realize that they are doing things that are discouraging female participation,” means that either it is not that easy or we are being lazy.

What more specifically can we do about recruitment and retention? Some clubs that fell they have either seen success recently or in the past provided us with their insights as to what worked. Suggestions included having more women involved in show debates, running meetings, promoting the club during clubs weeks training novices etc. Refer to Proposal C for details as to how CUSID as a body might further this particularly in the areas of training and show debates.

Suggestions were made that club executives need to “censor themselves” that much more. What we think is important here is that club executives recognize their position as leaders within CUSID and that they act responsibly in order to set an example. It was also suggested that executives take into account when making sleeping arrangements that co-ed rooms should be avoided unless they are certain that parties involved are comfortable going co-ed.

Some positive comments as to changes already taking place were made with the implication that there was “hope for the future.” Such comments not only included pointing to results of Guelph novice and Trent but it was suggested that by Novice being pushed back next year it will allow for clubs to spend more time encouraging women who might feel uncomfortable going away fro the week-end, often with a group of older men, some time to adjust and feel welcome and comfortable.


This was a particularly contentious discussion topic since invariably everyone commented. Some believed that if there was no problem in the rounds then there is no issue for CUSID since these same people believed that CUSID is a body that can only govern our actions in rounds. Another line that seems to flow through this report is that while some individuals felt they had never seen or heard of a gender bias and/or had generally never felt uncomfortable in debating rounds due to their gender, others did. One debater said that she “perceived a disadvantage.” So whether there actually was one that she noted or whether it was her perception of the situation the situation is not ideal.

There were three areas that were repeatedly raised as being problem areas in rounds. There was the issue of in round behaviour, of public speaking, of whether women have an equal chance at success in CUSID.

First the issue of in round behaviour was brought up several times. One debater commented that in rounds they often feel the judge or other debaters in the room are watching their body and not listening to what they are saying or watching their face (for eye contact, facial expression and other such skills we teach debaters to use in the art of persuasion).

Heckling in rounds has also been brought up as a source of discomfort. While heckling if it is part of the style (as it is in Western Canada) may be used as a form of positive manner and may add to a round when it is not part of the style (as in Central Canada) it is perceived to be “threatening,” uncomfortable and often degrading since it often isn’t a heckle formed to beat the other side but to harass the debater. Judges heckling in rounds has been noted to be absolutely uncalled for and unacceptable in any forms of debate in Canada.

We feel that in Proposal B there should be a clause discussing whether or not heckles are welcome in a round, what is an acceptable heckle if they are and that judges should under no circumstances be heckling debaters.

One debater dealt with this first issue by saying that it “all boils down to being taken seriously” in rounds. This is again a matter that we must take into consideration allowing us to be more aware of what does, and doesn’t, make some debaters feel uncomfortable. By taking this into account when we judge and when we debate we can create a better environment for debating in CUSID.

The second issue was one of public speaking and what has happened on a number of occasions during such rounds. Several debaters saw this as an issue right across Canada. The issue was that in many rounds of public speaking speeches become incredibly sexual and offensive in nature. One reaction to this is, and has been, for the audience to react in such a way that the debater stops speaking. Another reaction is that, perhaps in discomfort, many debaters laugh along with the speech and nothing is done to rectify the situation while those feeling uncomfortable have no “clear” recourse. While someone feeling uncomfortable could approach the speaker afterwards and explain what bothered them should they have to do this? Ideally, no, since ideally these speeches should not be made.

One debater suggested the problem with public speaking is that the emphasis has been put on turning it into a humour based outlet for speaking and that it is more of a stand-up comedy show. They felt that this was contradictory to the academic nature of our sport. We believe while this may lend itself to exacerbating the problem humour itself is not the root issue. The issue seems to be whether or not CUSID will tolerate and laugh at such behavior or whether it will condemn it.

One thought, which applies to both debating and public speaking, is that similar to recent World Championships judges and debaters should be told either through explicit rules (Proposal B) or in briefings that offensive material (whether it be racist, sexist etc.) be reason enough to drop a team. Clearly this is something that could lead to some debate since it has been raised that in rounds there should be a form of “parliamentary privilege.” We believe that there are clearly differences from running a contentious case and/or using contentious examples and being unquestionably offensive. If someone should drop a team for this reason there is an automatic “appeal” in the sense that a tabs director will notice the RFD or the low scores and ask for a justification as is done in any other such low scored or strange looking ballot round. Follow up at the discretion of the offended debaters, judge or tabs director may be made with the ombudsperson or directly with the other team so that they are aware of what was offensive in order to avoid such a thing happening again.

The third issue is one that has been thrown out there a lot this year with no one answer or conclusive evidence. The issue is whether or not women have a harder time attaining success than men in debating. Is there a glass ceiling? Is it harder for women to advance through open rounds? Are split sex teams or same sex teams generally more successful and if so, is there a reason for this related to gender? (Believe it or not this was brought up as a question by debater long before the semi-final round at Pro-Am in Central Canada.)

Various debaters had varying experiences and thoughts on this issue. Whether or not there is a proven problem if the perception is there that there is then we must recognize it and attempt to respond to it. One argument that was made that we believe has led to the perception that women are successful less often in rounds of debate is returning to the issue of retention. While many men, often referred to now as the “old boys club,” stay in CUSID quite actively for much longer than one degree granting period most women do not. This is not we believe, a bad thing. However, this does mean that generally the longer you are in debating, the more experienced you are, and the more likely it is for you to have the skills and knowledge to be more successful.

APDA has taken on the model of only allowing to debate for four years. We believe that there is merit to having debaters on our circuit, whether they be male or female, who have had more years of experience. Perhaps the question is why are women less interested in staying in CUSID, which returns us to section I of this paper. If we had more women stay longer we would, under our current system, have the double benefit of having more “role models” asked for in section I and a greater likelihood of more women advancing further in competitions.

On a “hopeful” note several novices said that they are planning on becoming the female “dino’s” of this generation of debaters!

One remedy, again addressed in section I and in proposal C is that “good coaching levels the playing field.”

One of the strongest statements regarding this issue that we received was that “CUSID is a superficially inclusive environment where the “old boys” club accepts female participation because it is politically correct and not because females have equal footing or can compete at the same level.” Whether we agree or disagree with this statement is beside the point. The point is that if such feelings exist within CUSID we have a clear mandate being handed to us right now that CUSID needs to work towards becoming a more inclusive environment in and out of rounds.


In this document there exists an explicit separation between what goes on in rounds and what goes on out of rounds. To some extent, it is necessary to recognize that these are not two perfectly discrete categories. Many argued that feelings they thought originated at parties carried over to rounds the next day. Others argued the converse.

A. CUSID Social Environments

Some people generally enjoy CUSID’s social environments. Others expressed that CUSID’s social environments do not always feel like inclusive spaces. Many referred to feelings of exclusion which they attributed, at times, to the existence of an unwelcoming ‘old boys club’ atmosphere. It was suggested that CUSID social arenas create a continuing sense of exclusion in that the people at the ‘top’ of the social environment are often unwilling or uninterested in so much as talking to or remembering the names of anyone else, until they succeeded. It was further suggested that those same people at the top of the social environment acted as gatekeepers to success, essentially choosing who would get to join the old boys club by deciding with whom they would debate. Others referred more explicitly to a feeling that CUSID social environments are often overly, “testosterony”.

Concerns were also raised about CUSID clubs or significant portions thereof choosing to hold social events, around tournaments, in environments (like strip clubs) that may be uncomfortable to many within the club. It was suggested that having club outings to such environments might reasonably be believed to cause discomfort to some, especially younger members, in that they would have to choose between spending time with their club and spending time in an environment in which they were comfortable. Moreover, younger debaters in particular, wanting to fit in, might participate notwithstanding discomfort in order not to seem ‘prudish’ or insufficiently open.

These questions are probably not best framed in terms of right vs. wrong or offensive vs. acceptable. Rather, we would probably benefit from asking the question, what can we do to create an environment from which the most people will derive the most enjoyment? It seems unlikely that policies can play a particularly important role in creating a generally more sensitive environment. But we can all, as individuals endeavor to make our social environments more inclusive. It seems clear that there would be collective benefit in ensuring that the social environments surrounding tournaments are as sensitive and respectful to all as possible.

B. The Unproblematic Expression of Individuality

On the surface of things this may sound like an abstract notion. It is not. Some people within CUSID do not feel accepted, as themselves. This leads to feelings of exclusion and a lack of a welcoming environment, which it seems responsible to assume acts as a disincentive to active participation and a less enjoyable experience as a participant. Although the examples below relate to explicitly to gender or sexuality, similar sentiments might exist concerning race, religion, status as a non-drinker, etc.

One debater expressed that, “I find that too often, women are “looked at” and then “listened to.””

Another expressed that he felt, “a shiftiness when I talk to some straight CUSID guys, as if they’re afraid I’m going to pounce or something.”

Another said that she had, “never felt as objectified as in CUSID social environments. Anywhere I’ve been.”

These are not the kind of sentiments that can be addressed with explicit policies. Nor do they point to problems which can be solved, as such. That said, a concerted effort on each of our parts to be sensitive to and accepting of each other will contribute to an atmosphere of respect in which we will all feel more comfortable.

C. Sexual Harassment

It is not our belief that there is a great deal of harassment within the CUSID environment. There undoubtedly is some. Although people did share examples with us, in the interest of protecting confidentiality we will not identify them (or the people they claimed were guilty of the harassing behavior).

Some noted that the harassment that they have witnessed or experienced is in many ways a function of many drunk university students being in the same place at the same time, and things getting out of hand. Although we do not think that CUSID is in a position to enact policies to curb drunkenness or harassment, it bears noting that a more serious attitude of self-control and of looking out for our friends, whether harasser or harassed is more than in order. Sexual harassment is illegal, for good reason. Being drunk does not excuse it.

Where we do think that CUSID has a role to play is in regard to creating an explicitly comforting environment to those (relatively few) who experience harassment. We think there should be people designated to listen and provide confidential counsel to anyone who feels harassed or excluded for any reason and wants someone to talk to. We propose that this be one of the explicit roles of the Ombudspeople who we propose that CUSID should appoint in proposal #1. We think serious consideration should be given to whether or not these people should have an official role in conflict resolution.


A cursory examination of CUSIDnet will show that insensitive posts are not very infrequent. We will not identify them here, except to direct people doubting this to CUSIDnet itself. A number of people have expressed that this contributes to their sense of CUSID as an unwelcoming, insensitive environment.

While we do not believe that the regulation of CUSIDnet is an appropriate response to this, we do think that the self-censoring of insensitive posts would be in order. We also encourage people to express their disenchantment when CUSIDnet becomes inappropriate in order that posters can be more aware of the perceived inappropriateness of their posts, as well as in the interest of promoting a conversation about what is and is not appropriate discourse for this forum.


A. Ombudspeople

We suggest that the CUSID executive appoint two ombudspeople annually in the weeks following nationals. They should have two explicit roles.

First, they should be available at tournaments to listen to concerns about inclusion, big or small and with respect to any criteria. These could include such diverse concerns as a team from a small school feeling that they were not being taken seriously, to someone who believes they have been sexually harassed or a tournament official who believes a debater has reacted inappropriately to losing a round. What if any role the ombudspeople should play in attempting to resolve conflicts should be seriously considered by CUSID.

Second, the ombudspeople should be responsible for publishing a report, for discussion at a forum to be held annually at the national debating championships, regarding progress towards an inclusive CUSID. This report, in future years should not be restricted to questions of gender, and may contain discussion and/or policy proposals much like the ones you are currently reading.

We believe that these positions should be appointed rather than elected because we see them as largely bureaucratic in nature and because we believe that these roles are well defined enough to render a criteria based selection process preferable to an election.

We see a series of utilities in the creation of these roles. First, in creating a place to which complaints can be addressed CUSID shows that it takes these concerns seriously. Moreover, people who may feel excluded gain the resource of an informed person who will take their concern seriously, and be willing to help them to reach an acceptable resolution. As well, through the responsibility to prepare and present an annual report CUSID gains the ability to track progress and make itself aware of new issues (or previously unconsidered issues). Finally, by entrenching an annual forum we keep these issues on the table. We believe that the existence of a continuing and mandated concern for these issues is the best way to promote the atmosphere of sensitivity and respect we desire.

B. Judging Criteria

CUSID should approve, at its first meeting of 2001/2 a standardized set of judging criteria. Based loosely on the WORLDS criteria, but in more detail, these criteria should make explicit what are and are not relevant criteria to the judging of a round. It should further explain scoring ranges, and codify how rounds are to be decided.

Irrespective of gender-related questions we think that such a standardized criteria is a good idea in that it will tend to produce a more consistent understanding of how rounds are to be adjudicated. With specific concern to gender, this will allow for the implementation of concrete policies of non-discrimination. It will allow for a clear accounting of what elements of style are and are not relevant (which will presumably serve as an opportunity to reinforce the notion that a wide diversities of speaking styles can be effective, and an explicit repudiation of a small number of sexist notions like the perception that a strong male debater is assertive and a strong female debater bitchy.) Moreover, the simple act of rendering our judging criteria explicit and more standardized should reduce implicit biases and should reduce the perception of bias as people will have a clearer idea of why they won or lost and why they were awarded the score they were awarded. People will have a clearer notion, before the round starts of what they must do to win.

C. Training Seminars

At each tournament, there should be a one-hour training seminar on an aspect of debating (whether case construction, an element of style, opp. strategy, or whatever).

Similar to the judging criteria, we think that a continuing commitment to training is just a good idea. We also think that this is applicable to gender related concerns in that people seem more apt when training is informal to train or be trained by people participating in their own gender group, and people seem more likely to take debating cues (when watching rounds) from people who participate in their own gender group. Our evidence for this notion is found in anecdotal evidence we received from debaters suggesting that they looked to debating role models within their own gender group. Given that CUSID is currently a majority male environment, this disproportionately benefits male debaters. We believe that a formalization of the training process will mitigate against this problem, both because the training seminars can be given by a diversity of people and because we believe that training in formal environments is likely to be less gender concerned than training in informal environments.

D. Voluntary Statement of Principles

CUSID should draft a set of inclusive principles for approval at the first CUSID meeting of 2001/2. This would be an explanation of the kind of environment people should expect to find in CUSID. Clubs would then be afforded the opportunity to endorse the set of principles and commit themselves to forwarding those principles by signing on.

Such a document would serve twin purposes. First it would act as a reference against which to consider actions. This would serve as part of the project of rendering more explicit our expectations of each other and ourselves. As such people would likely be more conscious of their actions and their consequences. Second, such a document would serve as a benchmark against which to measure progress. Annually the ombudspeople would track CUSID’s success in keeping its commitments as set out in the statement of principles in their report to CUSID.

Katie Telford, Chair
Mike Jancik, Chair

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *