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Author Topic: A sad goodbye and my thoughts about what could have been different.  (Read 5607 times)
Block
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« on: June 16, 2012, 02:45:41 PM »

Many of you don't know me and now many of you never will.  I never thought that the summer before becoming a senior in college I would decide to quit debating in college.  However, that day has come.  I have had a great time and have made some friends that I will never forget.  The decision has been made in large part due to my last round ever.  I will start with some background information, I have struggled with depression for about 14 years.  I had been able to utilize debate as a form of escapism which was critical to my development as a person, student, etc. However, that escapism was no longer possible in my last round.  The debate was centered on the issue of sexual assault (the event which caused my depression to start those many years ago).  I very rarely discuss this issue even with the closest of friends however I think it is necessary for the community to realize that when things are not based on things which are detached from most people's personal lives (note that I say most because it is impossible to remove all human involvement and personal views within debate or else no topic could ever be formed or debated).  However, in this specific round I felt pressured to self-disclose some of the things that had happened to me low those many years ago.  Having already been depressed because of class troubles and social problems, this was beyond too much for me to handle.  I then withdrew from the tournament, flew home and was then admitted to an inpatient psychiatric ward upon my return.  This kind of thing would be very unlikely to happen if the debate community does not encourage or allow people to utilize personal stories as a form of argument. I wish I had the strength to discuss what had happened to me as openly as my opponent was.  I tried to explain my story and just broke down for the rest of the round just burying my face in my hoodie.  If this practice were less widespread or accepted I would not have been in a position where i felt obliged to let it be known what had happened to me etc and possibly this event could have been avoided.  Again, I am very sad to leave this activity because it has been such a great part of my life for many years.  However, I must make my health a priority and I am afraid that if debating is going to make me suicidal (even once) then there is a chance that it might again and I can't continue in good conscious.  And this isnt just about one specific aff although my example does discuss a single round, if you look many affs that discuss personal experiences to be evaluated by a judge, many of these will hit a soft spot with many people.  Whether it be drug use, sexual abuse, shootings, anything not related to the topic, has the chance to cause horrific outcomes because you can't know your audience/your opponent and the only thing that they agreed to debate/discuss was not something like sexual assault.  I just hope that people will recognize that words have unintended consequences and that often your advocacy has a very undesirable effect not just for your opponents but for the community as a whole.   I just think that its a shame that the end of my debate career is going to be this way but I just refuse to put myself in a position where I could feel pressured enough to bring up enough bad things in my past to make me suicidal.  I hope I haven't upset anyone with my thoughts and whatnot and I hope you all the best in all that you do!   ~John Block
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JonZ
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« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2012, 01:19:29 PM »

Really powerful read, and I'm sorry to hear this happened to you.  It also makes me wonder how many other people have had similar experiences, but can't even bring themselves to post about it on here, or talk with other debaters or coaches.
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Block
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2012, 03:03:21 PM »

@JonZ, this was a large motivation for this post.  It would be naive of me to think that I am the only one who has had an experience like this.  If I had decided to debate next year I am positive that this post would have never been created and that a very select few would have heard about it from me.  I think that bringing this to the attention of the community is necessary for future preventative action to be taken so that members of the community feel comfortable and welcome at tournaments. I want everyone who may be struggling with depression or anything of the sort to know that you are not alone and that I am always willing to listen and do my best to help you with whatever you are dealing with.  That's all for now
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Randall.Martinez
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2012, 07:14:06 PM »

John,

Thank you for sharing your story. It's ashame that debate has created such a traumatic experience for you. I am currently researching this topic pretty heavily and would like to discuss your experience off the forum if possible. Please email me if you are interested in sharing and I will gladly share my research with you. You are not alone in feeling this way. There are other debaters, former and current, that have shared similar experiences. I hope everything works out for you.

Randall Martinez
Assistant Debate Coach - University of Miami
Debatemartinez@gmail.com
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bk2nocal
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« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2012, 08:00:35 PM »

Just wanted to say thank you for being willing to post this.  And I'm sorry that we are losing you from the community, but hopefully something good can come from your willingness to share your experience (in a non-confrontational and very positive way I might add - which did not have to be the case).  I wish there were more that I could do or say...

Sue Peterson
CSU Chico
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ChristopherThomas
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« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2012, 02:20:28 PM »

Reading your post John was heart-breaking to say the least. I have had the honor and privilege to judge you and greatly enjoyed seeing you grow as a debater. I am incredibly sorry for whatever happen to you prior to that debate, what happened in that debate, and all that came after. I don't know the specifics, but it is always a travesty when someone walks away from this activity. I don't think anyone who is a part of this activity wants to see someone with drive and intelligence leave. In fact, your story is a reminder to all that we can't always think of ourselves but instead must constantly be aware of the way our words and actions e/affects other people.

Let me offer my own story, I suppose. It is the easiest way to get across what I am feeling.
Struggling with my sexual identity has been a challenge since I was young. Tormented in high school, beaten up by school mates, called countless name, made to feel excluded, unliked and unwanted in numerous situations. Some of those were by strangers, some by friends and other by people I truly trusted and loved. I found debate in high school by complete accident, still in the closet and still ashamed of my feelings and orientation. Growing up in Kansas was not always easy, yet debate challenged me in ways i never thought possible. It was not till college debate, and in reality not until my 3rd or 4th year into college debate, that I discovered something. Debate gave me a space to speak. To use what I have been given, with the means provided to me by my coaches and debate partner to speak about my sexuality, my struggles and all that has happened to me. A forum to speak about these things helped me overcome years of depression, isolation, and shame over who I was. In some rounds I know I made people feel uncomfortable. And to be honest, I don't know if what happened to you happened to someone else because of my choices. I'd like to think I found creative, interesting and safe ways to discuss my identity and its importance in a larger socio-political context. I do know that in my last debate ever, in the most heated of any debate I have ever been apart of, I still felt excluded and unwanted by our community. I constantly struggle every day with feelings of guilt, depression, and isolation because of who I am or choices that I have made - losing family members, friends, jobs and opportunities because I chose to be open about my sexuality. Debate, for me, provides that critical space (literally and metaphorically) to talk....well..to be me. I can only speak from my own experience, and for sure my experience cannot be compared or weighed against your's (or anyone's for that matter), but I think that alternative narratives should be shared in this incredibly important discussion regarding our community. I certainly don't want this to appear as thought I am say your experience was not authentic or legitimate. Likewise, I don't want my statements to be taken in any way to seem to be arguing with you. I think your post fostered a opening in our community's dialogue that must be taken advantage of. It isn't about who's narrative is more truthful or should be given more credibility. Rather we need to look at these narratives and learn, adapt, and change. I am not entirely sure how to do this...really.. I have no clue. I wish our community came together more often to figure it out rather than using divisive politics and hurtful words.

Do I think the personalization of debate gets out of hand? certainly. I don't think people should be forced to speak about their lives or experiences if they chose not to and I certainly do not think that people should lose a debate round because they do not want to share those experiences. But what I am saying is that while a more "personalized" debate (for some) can have terrible, terrible consequences...I struggle with thinking that the debate space should restrict debaters from ever talking about their experiences, social location and identity. At least for me, it literally saved my life.

I only wish the best for you John. I truly hope you get better because no one should ever be made to feel excluded in the way(s) you did. And I really hope our community takes notice of your story - not to reject other debaters who chose to talk about their own identity, or even to reject debaters who reject those who talk about their own identity. But rather to find ways that we can create safe spaces for people to talk, converse, and even debate about real life occurrences and events as it may relate to large political, social and economic issues.

I'm so sorry John. I hope only the best for you.
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Block
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« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2012, 03:07:51 PM »

Chris, thank you for your interest in continuing this important dialogue.

I by no means am trying to say that personalization of debate should be left by the wayside and if that is the impression that you received after reading my initial post then I am sorry; that was not my intention by any means.  In this round I was not asked to disclose directly by anyone.  I just falsely believed in this round that I had the strength to discuss my story in an open and hopefully productive way with the other competitors etc.   I couldn't have been further from the truth.  I am simply afraid that when other people are put in similar situations that I was in there will be 3 (maybe more) outcomes.  At least in my situation these are the outcomes I could envision A. I had a false belief in the amount of strength I possessed when it came to the discussion of these events in my past, I self disclose and become miserable.  B.  I could have decided to simply silence my opinions and not discuss any of my personal experiences as they related to these things and extended the generic case arguments against these types of affs. I think that this probably would have been more healthy for myself in the short-term but it would have been far more detrimental than the decision that I made was in the long run.   This would have simply continued my silence on this issue and my unwillingness to discuss it in an open way which (according to the majority of help I have received over the years in trying to deal with these problems) is the opposite of what should be done when someone is faced with confronting a traumatic issue in their past.  Or C.  the person could have shared and actually possessed the strength to discuss these things in an open way without an awful impact on their personal well being. 

Obviously every party involved would prefer that C would be the option which most debaters would like to see people take.  However, this cannot be the case for every debater.  I agree that having a place to discuss these things is critically important to the development of people.  I only see a problem whenever this creation of a public space for people to discuss things creates a negative impact on others.  I do not simply mean that someone would feel slightly uncomfortable for a round.  I mean what my immediate response was when I got back to my hotel room (what's the best way to get out of tomorrow's rounds; do I jump into traffic in front of the hotel, do I shatter my right hand so I can't flow, do I go to a high floor in this hotel and see if I can break through the window if I run into it quick enough).  Obviously this is not a logical reaction.  The problem is that when people are confronted with deeply traumatic and troubling events of their past, logic is often checked at the door. 

I have been very blessed to be a member of this community and to meet the people which I have met over the years. 

I think that the largest problem that the community should be trying to spearhead an effort to resolve is what you mentioned, the feelings of exclusion within the community.  Depression is more widespread in the US and in our community than many of us realize or want to realize.  I think that granted this, the community should be making concentrated efforts to ensure that other members of the community are never placed in a situation in which they feel even more out of place/excluded than they do regularly.  How this should be done I don't have a great answer to, I don't think that any individual does.  I think it will require a community-wide effort aimed at ensuring that the debate community is a place where everyone feels safe at all times. 

I was happy to read that debate was able to help rid you of the years of depression and it helped you grow and mature in ways I will never be able to recognize.  I am simply trying to create a discussion of what can happen (whether it comes to the realization of the community or not is another question) when the opposite happens.  I think that while rounds such as the one I was in have probably helped the team that I was debating come to terms with a lot of what they have struggled with that often there is a detrimental effect on the other team which may or may not outweigh the positive impact for the other team.  Granted this; what should the response be?  Again, I don't have an answer but instead think that we should try to involve more of the community in trying to create a widespread form of response to these things and find a way that will be amicable to all parties involved. 

I again, hope that this post is not seen in any way as a creation of an argument or anything of the sort.  I think we all want this post to help create a space in which we can try to create the best way to incorporate personal experiences into the debate space which is necessary for personal development while at the same time providing some amount of protection for other members of the debate community who may not be as willing or able to discuss their personal experiences with others. 

I hope you've been well Chris and I hope you have a fantastic summer!
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misslindsayv
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« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2012, 03:27:43 PM »

I have been hesitant to respond to this post, considering I was a participant in this round. This thread has kind of devastated my psyche for the past several days since it was originally posted. I am so incredibly sorry. It pains me to know that some of the things I said had such a profound negative effect on you, but more than that, I hate that members of our community have been through such terrible, awful things. It was never my intention, or the intention of the argument itself, to make others feel pressured to speak about their own experiences, which is why Andy and I only ever explicitly talked about ourselves and our own relationships to the gendered aspects of debate.

That being said, I still think that discussing sexual violence as a community is something very valuable. All of the things you said about depression in your last post you could literally replace the word "depression" with "sexual violence" and it would all still be true, i.e. "[Sexual violence] is more widespread in the US and in our community than many of us realize or want to realize.  I think that granted this, the community should be making concentrated efforts to ensure that other members of the community are never placed in a situation in which they feel even more out of place/excluded than they do regularly [or sexually assaulted]." This is not to downplay depression, because obviously it's an incredibly important discussion to be had.

And I think you're right, you can't know your audience, but that's what makes ALL forms of debate, not just the ones that are "personal," have the potential for violence. Not all triggers regarding trauma are the same for everyone. For a portion of our community, those things are the things that we think of as depersonalized or even what we consider the topic to be about holds trauma for people, like when George talked about how imperialism debates affect him in the finals of the Kentucky tournament this year. Or every time somebody discussed rape as a tactic Libya had used to repress its people, it had that effect on me. Some of the actions that we consider normal as debaters even outside of the things that we say can hold the same kind of traumatic effect, such as standing behind someone reading over their shoulder while they're reading cards.

These triggers aren't even unique to the debate community. I don't think that debate and the world at large are very distinct from one another. I wish that debate was a place where the escapism that was possible for you was also possible for me. Unfortunately, my circumstances didn't make it possible. The fact that I'd been assaulted by a member of this activity made it so that I was forced to confront it every time I was at a tournament. It was violent NOT to talk about it when it was always in front of me.

Ultimately, I am glad you had the courage to discuss your feelings about this with the community.
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Jrh822
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« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2012, 03:10:43 PM »

Block, I'm one of the people who you will probably never know you. I'm a KU Junior and we have never had the pleasure of debating each other, but I heard wonderful things about you and am sad to see someone leave the debate community, especially under these circumstances. I applaud your decision to protect yourself as I know it was a difficult decision to make. I am in awe of how courageous you are posting on here, and sharing your experience with these types of debates and the real impact they can have.

This past season I debated a team that attempted to force me to talk about my identity and my sexuality. The feeling is like none other I have ever experienced in a debate round. The team spent the entire round trying to get me to expose myself and then attacked me when I didn't. I couldn't take it. The worst part is that when the round was over, and we won they walked straight out of the room; proving to me that it was all just an argument and they didn't give a damn about what I had experienced or been through. I want the debate space to be open for everyone, but it's important that everyone realize that not everyone is ready or even wants to disclose personal details about themselves. I never want to be put in the position that I was in again, and I hope that no one else is forced to disclose something they are not ready to. It has damaging and long lasting impacts.


I hope that you do well in whatever you decide to do from here, and I thank you for sharing because it really does give others the strength to do the same.

-jyleesa
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yoursystemsucks
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2012, 05:24:38 PM »

womp womp womp.

read topicality.

solves 100%
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Block
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« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2012, 09:34:23 PM »

Yoursystemsucks, I hope you all the best in everything you do; however, I don't want this forum to devolve into namecalling and trying to belittle others.  So, if you don't have anything productive to say, please just keep it to yourself.
« Last Edit: July 06, 2012, 09:38:34 PM by Block » Logged
Jrh822
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« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2012, 01:29:59 PM »

Christina,

Regardless of how you feel about what "he should read", this post I don't believe is necessarily addressing that subject. Please be respectful this thread as it took a lot of courageous for Block to share his story.


Thank you

-jay
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