Towson Debate: Welcome to the Slaveship

Korey, whatever you do, listen to me, do not go to Towson. Towson Debate is a sinking ship and it’s going under fast.”

–Nicholas Brady, Doctoral Candidate at UC, Irvine

As I reflect on these words spoken to me by mentor and friend, directly preceding my college decision, I think now more than ever, that I indeed should have listened.

One National Championship, 2 Congressional Resolutions, and a First Round Bid to the National Debate Tournament later, I believe that indeed should have chosen another school.

I hate how this University has treated our team.

I hate how this University pretends to not have significant racial undertones of discrimination.

I hate how this University pretends my Black life doesn’t matter.

I hate how rigid this University’s administration is.

_______
When I first got to Towson Debate, from the onset I could tell that I was stepping onto a modern day slave ship. As a member of the nationally competitive policy debate team, I received a scholarship, a $15,000 scholarship to be exact, to debate at various different tournaments. Just like slaves, we were worked to the limit for every damn penny that we received. Late nights, sexual advances made on behalf of the coaches, harassment, and constant threats made by Stephen Davis (the then Head Debate Coach) and his wife, Jennifer Potter (then Director of Debate). I remember days where we would cry to Jennifer Potter, then director of debate, about how we were being harassed by her husband (the Debate Coach), how we wanted new coaching staff, how we were being sexually harassed, and she did nothing. Even after reporting it to the administration and providing evidence which entailed emails and text conversations, we were still met with force by the university. Despite the fact that the entire Communications Department at Towson University knew and allowed for Jennifer Potter to violate university nepotism policy as well as participate in active neglect of her program. Yet, we were the ones that had to fight for our program.

WE,

The Black kids,

Are the ones that have had to fight for our program.

This article is not about the personally injustices and wrongs that I have suffered at the hands of Towson Debate. While the number grows daily at an exponential rate, I am not here to discuss that. This article is more about how as an institution Towson has been racist to the highest degree since the debate team became a safe space for Brown and Black students, a space where we could and have been excelling.

Towson’s team was largely white for a very long number of years; during those years there was never any threat to the funding or travelling of the team. It was also not competitive in any way, shape or form.

However around 2005, there was a large funneling of African-American debaters from the Baltimore Urban Debate League into Towson University. With the influx of Black students came the influx of hate and racism and disdain the University has had for the team on an institutional level.
In 2008, Dayvon Love and Deven Cooper were the first team of Black men to ever win a National Debate Championship. However, upon winning the CEDA Championship title, the next year Towson University cut the debate team. It took for the Governor to personally call Towson out on a nonsensical decision for the university to reverse the decision.

When Fernando Kirkman and Ben Crossan, two of the most brilliant debate minds in the country, were in their senior year of college and were given a first round bid to the NDT (which signifies that a team is one of the top 16 teams in the country) they were forced to once again fight for the program when it was threatened by the administration.

In 2013, when I along with 3 other students reported Jennifer Potter and Stephen Davis for harassment and violation of university nepotism policy, we again were forced to fight for our program.

Now, here we sit. 2 National Championships, 1 historic CEDA win in 2014 and another directly following with a CEDA win in 2015, 4 Congressional Resolutions, and various different accomplishments later, and we are still fighting for our program. For literally no reason.

The Reasons they have cut travel:

  • Academics
  • Rejuvenation of the Debate Program
  • Institutional Restructure

While all of that may sound credible in the abstract, it makes no sense. So as a debater, I feel the need to do a line-by-line and explain why each of these does not make sense.

  • Academics- Towson as an institution has never cared about our academic prosperity as debaters. I remember watching competitive students of color debate for Towson and not complete their programs or do poorly during a specific semester because coaches did not foster an academically thriving environment. Furthermore, it seems suspicious that all of a sudden Towson is so concerned with making sure its debaters are doing well in their classes. Above all else, many of us meet the GPA requirements of debate, which are a 2.5. That is to say, why would Towson cut the travel of an entire program because some students are not doing well? What sense does that make? I have talked to the administrators about this issue and they said, “Well but you all are a team. So you gotta stick together, right?” This is the most absurd, hypocritical, nonsensical argument that I have ever heard in my entire life. At Towson we currently have many athletic teams, whose players (that don’t meet GPA requirements) get suspended for a semester until they can get their GPA up. They do not suspend the entire Football program or the entire Lacrosse program. They do not cut the travel of the athletic teams, nor do they let one person’s actions or even multiple persons’ actions halt an entire program. Especially because then other students would then get punished for their counterparts. Moreover, not to brag, but the Debate Team has been constantly out performing these programs that have been getting significantly more institutional support. Lastly if this was about our academic standing, then why does the administration still want us to participate in public debates on campus and do work with the Baltimore Urban Debate League (things we already do). If it was solely about our academics, then why would they tell us they want us to participate in the campus community and do public debates and coach an so on and so forth. It does not make sense.
  • Administrators have also informed us that they wish to revitalize the program in various different ways. They have been very unclear of what this definition means. They say they want to recruit more students and change some administrative positions but I am unsure what that has to do with our travel. I am unsure why administrative problems that fall on the side of the institution have to affect us as students. We have begged Towson for 2 years to recruit debaters, we have had multiple debaters contact the coaching staff and administration about debating at Towson and all of them have been struck down by the Dean’s Office of Communications and Fine Arts. For 2 years we have recruited no students despite the pleas of the team, but now all of a sudden they want to “revitalize the program”. We have rising juniors on the team whom have travelled to little to no tournaments. I call foul play! Towson does not care about rejuvenating the program. And why does rejuvenation of the program come at the expense of the debaters on the team? How much sense does it make to stop our travelling only to get more debaters who you are allowing to travel? We were recruited to come here to debate. WE committed to debate. Now an entire year of travel is being taken away from us. We’ve won national championships. We’ve made history. Towson’s response is that they need to rejuvenate the program. Why? Why fix what’s not broken? And if it is broken, whose fault is it that it’s broken? And why are the debaters being punished for the institution being broken? Towson needs to be held responsible.
  • The last reason we were given was that Towson wants to institutionally restructure the program. We are unclear what this means but as debaters we 1) have come up with various different structures that were submitted to the Provost’s office and the Dean of Fine Arts and Communications office (we have documentation of these documents) over a year ago that were completely ignored by the administration and 2) do not understand why we have to suffer because of an institutional hiccup. Furthermore, why couldn’t this have been fixed in the summer? How long does it take to “restructure” a program?

Personally, I think the University is using this as an opportunity to Backlash against students for challenging the institution very publicly over the last few years. With various different initiatives such as,

-The on campus protest which turned into a city wide campus protest that was led by 2 Towson students, one being me whom is an active member of the debate team.

-Speaking out about Jennifer Potter and Stephen Davis harassing us. I think it’s also important to note that Jennifer Potter, even after being removed from the team (while still a professor at Towson) was still being consulted by the University about official team business and making decisions on behalf of the team

-Our affiliation with Towson debate alumni such as Dayvon Love, Adam Jackson and Deverick Murray that have actively and openly spoken out against the debate program at Towson. They even wrote an article in defense of our program, warning other Black and Brown students not to attend the University for the debate program.

Towson has done everything in its might to stop the prosperity of Black and Brown children in this activity. Specifically, students that have signed contracts with the University. When I committed to Towson, I signed a contract that stated that I must keep my GPA above a 2.5, I must attend practice, and I must go to tournaments to receive my scholarship, in response to my completion of these requirements Towson in turn promised to send me to at least 4 tournaments a semester (I will attach this contract in a future post). The University has fallen short on this contractual agreement. Furthermore, this is the third time in my three years of being on this team that despite winning National Championships back to back and making history for our University, we as students have to fight, tooth and nail, for the saving of our program.

We were told exactly 3 weeks before the first tournament of the year that we would not be able to compete, when this decision had been made months prior. Why? Because Towson wanted to maintain the element of surprise, so that the students on the team would have little to no time to respond. None of the members on the debate team were even consulted on the subject matter.

For students that are questioning attending Towson, students that have been sought out for recruitment, please take my advice, DO NOT COME TO TOWSON. There is no institutional support for our debate team whatsoever, especially not for students of color. There is no institutional stability. Towson participates in large amounts of structural racism that not only marginalize the predominantly black team but also punishes the team institutionally when they do not agree with our actions.

Towson has been trying to get rid of the smart Black kids for a while now.

It’s not new.

Nor will it ever be new…

But a question for all the rational thinkers…

Why is it that Jennifer Potter can violate various university policies but get tenure while Black Professors, that are very knowledgeable and are appreciated, such as Tara Bynum and John Bullock do not get tenure.

It is because Towson University is institutionally racist.

Why is it that Jennifer Potter can keep her job despite violating university policy but we have to fight tooth and nail for a nationally ranked and competitive debate program that has won championship titles back-to-back and receiving national recognition from Congress?

It is because Towson University is institutionally racist.

Why is it that we as a debate team have taken semester after semester of our time to advise the administration on what to do with our program and they still have not taken our advice? Why is it that we have begged our institution to recruit, begged our institution to revitalize the program, begged our institution to change the organizational structure of the team (even presenting documentation with possible suggestions, such as a 26 page document we submitted along with Dayvon Love an Andy Ellis) and the University has shot us down? This is not a coincidence. It is convenient for them to shut down our program for an entire year. Why? Because they are tired of the Black kids that cause so much trouble. They are tired of the Black kids that lead peaceful student demonstrations that end up on the front page of magazines. They are tired of the Black kids that are too political for their own good. They are tired of the Black kids that can identify institutional racism when they see it. They are tired of the Black kids that are smart and important.

Well guess what Towson…we too are tired of you.

We too are tired of you.

And to the other Black programs, let this be a message to you, they are coming for you too. They will pick us off one by one.

Why?

Because everyone

EVERYONE

Especially Towson Administration,

Is afraid of intelligent Black kids with a purpose,

And absolutely nothing to lose.

Just like in Slavery,

Once they find out you can “read”,

Once they find out you are an “intelligent negro”

They must eradicate you from the premises.

I am fully in support of letting this program die.

It deserves to die.

It is nothing more than organized chattel slavery.

It is nothing more than a way that structural racism can thrive.

Let it die.

Do not send your Black and Brown children here.

Please.

They will use you, get all of the accolades and take all the credit, keep your trophies (yes they do have our trophies sitting on display in the Media Center), and then throw you away.

Let this program die.

Let this program die.

Let this program die.

Let this program die.

I will no longer fight for the life of this program

Especially when it has done everything to take the life from me.

I will no longer fight for the life of this program

When this institution does not even fight for the life of this program.

Some people reading this will say, “this has nothing to do with race”.

News flash it does.

No,

In this instance…

Our Black lives do not matter

They never did and never will.

Do not come to Towson.

They will lure you here…

To chain up your feet and neck…

Make you work

Flog you to death

And then lynch your lifeless body.

I am a National Debate Champion

I am an activist.

I am a leader.

Yet here I am.

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5 thoughts on “Towson Debate: Welcome to the Slaveship

  1. Wow Korey ! My baby from Poly!
    I’m so sorry that you had to go through something like this !. To be honest I’m not surprised by this situation . It happens in a number of universities , institutions and workplaces … They DONOT want to see us as black people succeed . And if they feel like they doing you a favor they will make you work so hard, taunt you, and try to make you be quiet about it . They think money will control you and it won’t !. You have an awesome mind …that alone with God will pave a way for you! And that’s the harsh reality of it all. With or without them you will prosper ! You are an awesome , intelligent , beautiful woman! Allow God to use you . Once he opens the Door , NO man will be able to close it .
    Much love ,
    Jas

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  2. Are you really surprised enough to be outraged by this? The risk of starting a movement that does not strategize around the oppressor’s reaction to one’s action but rather ignores it until it’s too late is that the oppressor will end up winning yet again. When you go charging headlong into open battle with the evil forces of White Supremacy – forces that have won battle after battle throughout history – don’t be surprised to find yourself losing just as our predecessors have countless times in this war against dehumanizing evil. If racial justice could be achieved and whiteness destroyed by force of conviction, stoutness of heart and sheer will, the race war would have been won by our enslaved ancestors centuries ago. The forces of Whiteness are enormous and honed to a perfected system of oppression. The war for justice is a guerilla war, a strategic war. We must infiltrate the oppressor and weaken them from within. We must outsmart the greatest force for evil the world has ever known This is no trivial task attainable with a few speeches and trophies. Bravery is wasted when it can be laid waste to as easily as the debate program was. When we get up and argue for justice in the way our hearts tell us to – with all of the pain and passion of 200 years of human suffering in our throats – we mark ourselves for elimination, extermination and failure. We have never won this way and never will, it is time to recognize our position vis-a-vis our oppressor and strategize accordingly. Spaces like debate are not safe for the discussions that need to be had and the strategies that must be perfected. As long as debate requires the resources and approval of Supremacists it will never be anything more than a trap with which to ensnare and enslave our most brilliant advocates for justice. A community of the oppressed, by the oppressed and for the oppressed is the only community in which our voices can truly be heard. Whiteness will not sit idly by and it will readily crush those vulnerable havens of safety we have created in plain sight – such as the debate team. The administration’s actions here serve as a reminder that the ‘real world’ face of whiteness is infinitely more hideous, aggressive and violent than that which we have battled (with only marginal success against) in the insular and moderated realm of debate.

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  3. As a white woman who competed in parliamentary debate and individual events for a predominantly white team, I have seen racism across the circuit. Predominantly Black programs often have to struggle for funding and institutional support. The most notable exception is Wiley College. On the circuit, Black competitors are often criticized for using their heritage in a performance. I have seen incredibly talented speakers shot down because they were People of Color. It’s something we all know happens, but we don’t do anything about it. Towson may be a program not worth saving, but debate and forensics as a whole might be. We just have to learn how to accept and embrace diversity in an activity that has a lot to offer.

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