Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Making Debate More Inclusive for the Student-Veteran Debater

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Making Debate More Inclusive for the Student-Veteran Debater

Article excerpt

Introduction

Debate is a powerful co-curricular activity that affords participants the opportunity to explore questions of identity as students debate propositions related to public policy. As many debate participants know, this opportunity can be challenging for members of traditionally marginalized communities, who struggle not only for recognition and understanding in everyday life, but also during debate rounds, in squad rooms, and in other social spaces. While debate educators have begun working on issues of identity and inclusion relating to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, the challenges facing another group, military veterans, have not been addressed. That began to change during the 2013-2014 tournament season, when the Georgia State University team of Luke Floyd and John Finch debated veterans' issues in academy, in broader society, and in debate itself. Their advocacy in the National Debate Tournament/Cross Examination Debate Association (NDT/CEDA) debate circuit paved the way for including veterans' in competitive debate.

In this essay, I discuss some of the practical aspects of making student veterans feel welcomed and included in intercollegiate policy debate. I also highlight some of the ways the GSU team of Floyd and Finch, and I as their coach, worked through some of the issues facing student debaters who have served in the military. My concern is that the debate activity has been--and continues to be--insufficiently reflective about how the issues of war and peace so common in debate affect people who have been deployed or who have relatives who have been deployed to war zones. It has become all too easy in contemporary policy debate to describe hyperbolic scenarios of nuclear war and human extinction without ever thinking about those who actually have been involved in war. Soldiers and veterans are uniquely affected by many of the issues prominent in debate, particularly those resolutions that focus on military interventions, democracy promotion, national security policy, and other war-related issues (Brown 2006; Carlton 2012). In this article, I weave together theory and practice to consider how we might help student veterans participate more fully in the debate activity. Student veterans are marginalized in competitive debate. I contend that we must do more to welcome veterans into the activity. This would benefit veterans by giving them an important outlet for advocacy, and it would improve the quality of policy debates by bringing lived experiences to debates over international relations, military policy, and war. Debate is often heralded as inclusive and welcoming of minority voices. Yet, without including student veterans' voices, the activity cannot live up to those claims.

Marginalization and student debaters

Non-traditional forms of debate, focusing on the lived experiences of those participating in the activity, have become part of a larger movement to make debate more inclusive and welcoming for traditionally marginalized groups. Important efforts by teams too numerous to mention have centered on issues of race in the debate activity, and these efforts have helped create space for students' lived experiences in the debate round. The efforts of these "race teams"--a term sometimes used derisively but at other times with respect--have proven valuable precursors to more recent efforts to bring issues of veteran identity into debate. Debaters who have argued about race in both ontological and epistemological terms have helped expand conversations in the debate community in meaningful ways. They also provide some grounding for addressing the challenge of including more student veterans in debate.

Luke Floyd, then a corporal and now a sergeant in the United States Army, served one tour in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) before enrolling at Georgia State University. Before his deployment, he had spent two years at College of Idaho, where he had participated in parliamentary style debate. …

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