Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Ten Years of Demographics: Who Debates in America

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Ten Years of Demographics: Who Debates in America

Article excerpt

Pamela L. Stepp and Beth Gardner (*)

In the preface of Freeley and Steinberg's (2000) tenth edition of Argumentation and Debate they highlight text revisions about the influence of culture on perceptual reasoning and cultural restrictions on argument development (Freeley & Steinberg, 2000). Further Freely and Steinberg (2000) added two new values to the text's well-known list of values for participation in intercollegiate debate. Along with the traditional educational values of preparation for leadership, critical thinking, and purposeful inquiry, additions include computer competencies and the development of multicultural sensitivities by providing opportunities for participants to interact with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds (Freely & Steinberg, 2000). These changes in a well-known highly successful debate text emphasize that intercollegiate debate is no longer an exclusive white male activity or is it?

Over twenty years ago Americans began to pay attention to diversity when Workforce 2000 (Johnson & Packer, 1987) informed us that more women, minorities, immigrants, and physically challenged individuals would be entering the workforce. The American Council of Education (1988) projected that by the year 2000 one third of school age children in the U.S. would be Hispanic, African American, American Indian or Asian American. Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1995, p. 140) categorized men demographically as "other" when she found that in 1992 women in the United States constituted 51% of the total population. She emphasized that these numbers would help guarantee that more women would enter jobs in education, business, and government. As reported in The 1999-2000 Chronicle of Higher Education: Almanac Edition ("Nation," p. 7), university and college enrollment in the United States includes 55.8% women and 26.2% minorities. Since Johnson and Packer's (1988) and the American Council of Education's (1988) predictions appear to be fairly accurate, it is time to explore whether the valuable educational intercollegiate debate activity is inclusive and representative of today's college population.


Is Intercollegiate Debate A White Male Activity?

There has been concern about the demographic population in intercollegiate debate. In the 1980's research by Logue (1986) and Friedley and Manchester (1985) about participation in National Debate Tournament (NDT) debate reported less than 20% of the debaters were women. In the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), Medcalf (1984) and Logue (1986) found close to 30% participation by women. Logue (1987) also reported in a study of debate including tournaments on the East Coast that less than 10% of the competitors included minorities.

In the 1990's The 1992 Report on the 46th National Debate Tournament and the 1993 Report on the 47th National Debate Tournament indicated a continued low participation rate for women of less than 20%. Loge (1991) found less than 6% African American debaters debating in a study that included 64 schools. Loge (1991, p. 80) also noted at the NDT in 1992 only 2% of the debaters included African American men and no African American women debated at the NDT that year.

The most comprehensive race and gender demographic study in intercollegiate debate (Stepp, 1997, p. 179) reported that during the five-year period from 1991 to 1995, 55% of competitors were male and 45% were female competitors at the CEDA national tournaments. Minority participation averaged only 13% These figures did not represent the female and minority student populations at United States colleges and universities (Stepp, 1997).

Poor Retention of Women and Minorities in Debate

A serious problem that has plagued the debate community is retention of women and minorities. Although research about beginning debaters is limited, several individuals have addressed the issue of novice retention of women and minorities. …

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