If you’re not familiar with high school parliamentary debate in the state of Pennsylvania — congratulations! You’re just like the rest of us. As a member of my school’s speech and debate team, I’ve run the gamut of events, competing in Lincoln-Douglas, Congressional, and Public Forum debate, as well as Duo Interpretation, Poetry, and Declamation, but my main event, for the time being, is the Parliamentary debate event. While I don’t have the time nor energy to explain parliamentary debate, its distinctions from the more common forms of debate in the state of Pennsylvania include the following:
#1) Topics are released per tournament rather than monthly, bimonthly, or yearly (a true pain in the ass)d
#2) Our rounds can either be prepared or impromptu
#3) The rules literally change every 5 minutes
#4) The topics are not as rigorously vetted as the national topics from the National Speech and Debate Association for Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas.
I’ve learned to deal with grievances 1-3, but #4 continues to vex me and has caused so much ire among my fellow teammates that I felt compelled to write. For example, take a look at one of the topics that I have to prepare arguments for this weekend.
This House believes that public universities should be required to adopt gender-neutral pronouns.
It’s not that I’m not open to tackling controversial subject matter (the fact that this topic is controversial confuses me in all ways), but the arguments against gender-neutral pronouns in the public discourse are, in my opinion, illegitimate and appalling. Furthermore, the setting in which we are debating this is not conducive to any sort of educational experience and the victor of the round is heavily based on the political opinions of our judge, who is often a parent or coach unfamiliar with the nature of parliamentary debate. Having to prepare both sides, my research for the opposition is largely comprised of arguments by people whose concerns are inherently selfish, disrespectful, incendiary, and lack any basic regard for the rights or considerations of non-binary students who greatly benefit from the security of having gender-neutral pronouns. For example, here is the reasoning behind such a policy from the University of Michigan.
‘You can’t always know what someone’s personal pronoun is by looking at them. Correctly using someone’s designated personal pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.
When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (or, often, all of the above.)’ – University of Michigan
You would think that this wouldn’t warrant any sort of backlash. It’s a proposal that doesn’t harm anyone; all it does is simply ask professors to refer to students as they would wish to be referred. Students have a right to not feel “disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric…”, yet our country never ceases to disappoint as a student, Grant Strobl, responded in protest to the policy by forcing his professors to call him “His Majesty”, clearly exploiting the policy and undermining the concerns of non-binary students on the grounds of “absurdity”. Even worse, hundreds of students at the University of Michigan joined the student’s protest, validating his disrespectful behavior.
After the policy was implemented, Strobl said, he joined “hundreds of students” who “changed their pronouns to protest the university policy.”
“Students have been calling me His Majesty, those that have read the story, and it really does illustrate the ridiculousness of the policy in ignoring the English language,” he told CNSNews.com. “It just creates more complexity, more difficulty for our society as a whole, and it goes against the university’s mission to pursue truth.”
In an interview with Fox affiliate WJBK he said, “We are really happy that we are spreading the absurdity of this policy.”
Yet, as he cries “absurdity” at the implementation of this new policy, I cry absurdity at the fact that Strobl and hundreds of other students have so quickly dismissed non-binary students everywhere for their own trivial concerns, These students are inadvertently perpetuating a culture that incentives students to wallow in their insular beliefs, rather than consider the benefits such policies or proposals have on others. And while I’m criticizing theses students for their behavior now, I’m going to have to defend their arguments and viewpoints legitimately in debate rounds, without sounding bigoted and rude. I have my work cut out for me, but when a debate topic makes you contemplate what ways you can debate a topic without being a total jerk, there’s a major issue at hand.
I don’t understand the logic of some debate coaches in my area who choose these topics that are not only clearly one-sided and controversy-ridden, but are also either shrouded in scandal or lack any legitimate debate. Several of our topics in the past have been so obscure that we often can’t even find people online who would even suggest advocating for or against our topics. I understand exploring topics that are hotly debated and contentious, but shouldn’t there exist some reasoning for choosing topics other than “I heard it debated on Fox News last week”. Let us not forget the fledgling debaters who won’t be able to come up with arguments against gender-neutral pronoun policies outside of what is readily available on the internet and ultimately end up spewing the sentiments of extremist hotheads. I’m preparing for particularly ugly rounds this Saturday, and I’ll be sure to update this post with the gnarly outcomes.
In the meantime, I should probably start working on cases, or at least a strongly worded letter voicing my concerns.
Disclaimer: my personal views come out pretty strongly in this piece, and if you inherently disagree with me, I’d love to hear your side — I’m not for alienation based on people expressing their own opinions civilly, but I myself cannot stand for incendiary or blatantly rude claims
Source for the University of Michigan controversy: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/10/07/a-university-told-students-to-select-their-gender-pronouns-one-chose-his-majesty/?utm_term=.88d0c6b63cc0