100 Years of the Healthy Debate Initiative: Revisiting Walter Swift's "The Hygiene of the Voice Before Debates"

Jarrod Atchison, Sherry Hall


Dr. Walter Swift published the essay, "The Hygiene of the Voice before Debates" in the second volume of the Quarterly Journal of Speech Education.  As a physician, Dr. Swift had noticed that the practice of intercollegiate debate had tremendous intellectual and social rewards, but worried that the debaters were sacrificing too much in the name of competition. He stressed the importance of diet, rest, and a variety of other initiatives designed to improve the health of the debaters involved in the rigors of intercollegiate debate. This essay will examine how the intercollegiate debate community continues to struggle with the balance between the demands of competition and the health of the participants. In the century since Dr. Swift's essay, medical research has demonstrated that many of his claims were correct. This essay, however, will expand the scope beyond the debaters to examine the intercollegiate practices that put our debaters, coaches, and directors at risk of burnout and/or long term health problems. The fact that Dr. Swift's essay is still relevant nearly one-hundred years later suggests that there are no easy solutions, but ignoring the topic (especially in light of the medical research) does a disservice to everyone involved in intercollegiate debate.

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