The Morehouse College debate team withdrew from its last tournament of the season after receiving racist taunts from other school’s team. According to a report by The Undefeated, members of other schools mocked the Morehouse team during a round of the US Universities Debating Championship earlier this month using racist mimicking of the men’s voices.
Members of the University of Hawai'i also allegedly violated debate rules by turning on their cameras during Morehouse’s speaking time, which was prohibited in the virtual set up of the competition. According to the report, the students rolled their eyes and laughed while the Morehouse team spoke.
On top of the taunts, the team felt their arguments weren’t being heard as a result of the other school’s actions, and were fed up after other schools were awarded points. The team alerted the competition’s equity board who is supposed to ensure discrimination is not present in the competition. The board said they would address the issues before the start of the next round, but didn’t.
“It’s not that the action of mocking me was that significant,” one of the Morehouse debaters, Caleb Strickland, told The Undefeated. “It’s six years of being discounted in rounds and watching debaters who are non-Black use Black experiences as just a point to win a game.”
“This isn’t a game for us,” Strickland added. “The debate is about real social and political policies and implications, and those things do affect us.”
As a result of the mocking and failure on the equity board, the team’s coach, Kenneth Newby, said his students felt like what they experienced was unacceptable and decided to withdraw from the competition, an action The Undefeated said led to other schools, including Spelman College, Clemson University, and Vanderbilt, withdrawing and the whole competition being cancelled.
“This issue is important enough and significant enough that you should address it now, and more importantly, you told my students you would address it now,” Newby told The Undefeated. “To have integrity means that you do what you say you are going to do when you said you are going to do it.”
Newby told the outlet it isn’t the first time they’ve had these issues. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also spoke with Newby who said his team has experienced microaggressions at debate competitions like people clutching their purses and other schools moving away from them during the competition. It’s not rare that the Morehouse debate team is often the only one with Black members at a competition.
So far, Newby said other coaches have reached out to try and fix the issues. “I think this is a moment that could start a movement for change,” he said.
The University of Hawai’i released a statement to its community stating that their Office of Student Conduct is investigating the matter and that its provost, Michael Bruno, is reaching out to the provost of Morehouse College.
“We may be one of the most diverse campuses in the country, but we are not immune from racism or its impact,” Bruno wrote in the statement.
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