After saying they experienced multiple incidents of anti-Blackness at the virtual United States Universities Debating Championship (USUDC) this month, Morehouse College debate team announced in a statement that they’d be parting ways with the event.
According to Undefeated, debate team member and Morehouse senior, Daniel Edwards, and sophomore, Caleb Strickland, were subject to racial slurs and mockery from students at the University of Hawaii during the Penn USUDC 2021 debate in early April.
During the fifth round of the USUDC, members from competing debate teams, could be heard taunting Morehouse students as they spoke. Members on those teams are also said to have laughed and rolled their eyes with one person even doing a racist impersonation of the Morehouse students’ voices.
During one particular segment on storytelling, Strickland said preference was given to Western stories like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid rather than African stories his team studied such the Epic of Mwindo.
When Morehouse brought the incident to the tournament’s equity team, it failed to release the statement it had initially promised after ensuring that discrimination did not occur. The organizing committee and equity team finally did release a statement later in the week, apologizing for the incident.
Newby said the committee should have acknowledged their team’s concerns much earlier.
“To have integrity means that you do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it,” he told Undefeated.
Newby said that for a team with such a track record of success, the racial taunting just further exposes the “anti-Blackness issues” that exist “within the British Parliamentary date space.”
“It would be a mistake to say this was about one round and one team,” the Morehouse debate coach continued.
Newby told 11Alive that the incident was the “last straw.”
“The more people heard from the students giving their stories and giving their experiences, the more people understood that these issues that Morehouse may have initiated the discussion about were much bigger than one round and one school and needed to be addressed,” he told the news outlet.
Robert Brown, Spelman College debate coach, echoed Newby’s sentiment.
“I don’t want you to think this is an isolated experience,” Brown told Undefeated. “But when white people get in this space, they microagress Black people.”
Fellow HBCU and Morehouse “sister school,” Spelman College also pulled out of the tournament, with Clemson and Vanderbilt following suit. The virtual tournament was canceled.
Morehouse was eventually notified by tournament leadership that the cause of a delay in addressing the incidents was because of a separate issue concerning other judges. The school chose not to believe such sentiments, and rightfully so.
“It’s not that the action of mocking me was that significant,” Strickland said, vowing to pull out for good. “It’s six years of being discounted in rounds and seeing Black experiences being discounted in rounds and watching debaters who are non-Black use Black experiences as just a point to win a game.”
The national tournament, which adheres to the British Parliamentary style of debate, brings into question why Eurocentric dominating ideals continue to take precedence in academic spaces. Thus, forcing non-white students, specifically Black students, to conform to white supremacy.
Established in 1906, the Morehouse debate team has been recognized by the National Parliamentary Debate Association and British Parliamentary according to its site. Former members include notable figures like Martin Luther King, Jr.