The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

Commodification of serious issues

March 30, 2023

Speech & Debate, by nature, allows students and mentors alike to delve into difficult and layered topics in order to unravel causes and solutions; while an intellectually stimulating and important activity for youth, concerns can be raised about how some topics in debate are broached. Anagha has experienced firsthand the effects of what she attributes to being the “luxury of distance.” 

“People are sometimes not cognizant of the fact that the issues they talk about affect their opponents and the judges in the room,” Anagha said. “For you to sit there and debate something in a purely intellectual manner is a luxury that’s often only granted to a certain demographic.”

Three debaters hold trophies at the Robert Garcia Memorial Invitational. From left to right: Grace Chang, Evelyn Chao, Bridget Liu. (courtesy Anagha Rajesh)

The lack of sensitivity that some debaters with an inherently more privileged mindset approach issues with can have real impacts on marginalized groups in the debate community. For example, Anagha discussed a topic she once debated relating to radicalism and social justice, where male opponents would often “commodify [the topic] for the sake of winning the round.” The main goal for many competitors revolves around emerging victorious from a round rather than gaining new insight into worldly or polarizing issues. The arguments in that round surrounded sexual violence against women, and when raised without sensitivity and empathy to the topic, female and non-gender conforming debaters were the ones who were affected.

“I think you can discuss these sensitive topics in a debate round, but it’s about doing it in a way where you realize debate at its core is an educational activity where you learn about current world events and you look at how to solve them,” Anagha said. 

Debate, she believes, is a multifaceted activity, and while some aspects breed insensitive approaches to nuanced issues, the other side of debate allows for solutions to be discussed in a nurturing, thoughtful environment. 

“The point isn’t to win rounds; when you have students whose mindset is purely ‘I need competitive success,’ that fosters this kind of issue where people are commodifying things for the sake of winning,” Anagha said. “When you have a group of students who have the mindset, ‘I’m using Speech & Debate to advocate for things I’m passionate about,’ there’s a lot more humanity involved.” 

Speech & Debate thrives off different perspectives clashing and begetting new responses to different world issues. MVLA’s Speech & Debate team harbors a team of coaches and high school students, all willing to speak up when an argument can be improved. 

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