ONE can only assume that the people from the University of Sydney Union responsible for writing and imposing the new gender and diversity quotas on the Debating Society have not met the women that this is supposed to ‘help’.
Women in debating do not need a leg up or your pity. As someone who competed at a state level in high school I found that the most intelligent, engaging and ferocious debaters were quite often female, and had the ability to intimidate even some of the most seasoned of their male counterparts. This infantilisation of women suggests that these masters of rhetoric are unable to be heard due to a dominating male presence, which is both insulting and untrue.
The President of the student union Courtney Thompson told The Australian that“Our quotas for gender and, more recently, for ethnicity and students from non-elite schools, recognise the fact that traditionally, the profile of debating skews overwhelmingly towards affluent, white and privately educated students”. But can Courtney Thompson prove that the predominance of white men in debating is caused by discrimination rather than other factors?
The assumption that because men dominate a field must mean it is due to discrimination is deeply flawed, and it never seems to be applied when females dominate a field. The most likely reason for what male predominance there is in debating is that older male private schools emphasise their debating programs and have developed a culture that encourages it. This is a good thing that should be encouraged in all schools. The Debating Society and the USU would be better off spending time in local public or even regional schools introducing students to debating and encouraging more young people to get involved.
Debating teaches you important life skills such as critical thinking, eloquent speech and the ability to distil an argument to its core. It also exposes you to both sides of an argument, something that is increasingly rare these days. This leads to healthy political debate and could reduce the increasing polarisation we are seeing on campus. The importance of debating and rhetoric for healthy political discourse has been recognised throughout history. Ancient Greeks and Romans were obsessed with the art form, at it also became a core of the curriculum in the earliest universities of the medieval West.
If the USU insists that discrimination is at the heart of this discrepancy what is the source of it? Are debating adjudicator’s racist and sexist? Has the society in the past been caught discriminating against female or ethnic students? A drastic and in essence discriminatory policy such as this should have to provide evidence for the reason of its introduction. Even so, it is difficult to see how further discrimination is a cure to discrimination.
It is true that a diverse team of debaters is a better team, but not diversity of race or gender, those are incidental, but diversity of rhetoric and style. The best teams generally are comprised of a mix of big personalities, all different from each other but gelling together in the core of their argument. Teams like these are also better left to naturally develop and come together on their own, not forced together by quotas. Policies that divide and judge students on race and gender rather than merit are not only wrong and inherently bigoted, but they also are bound to cause tension within the society and could lead to a break down of the camaraderie within the ranks.
The policy uses the term ‘person of colour’ instead of a term like racial minority, which is the term more commonly used in Australia. This use of an Americanism indicates the copy cat like quality of this push, as if the union is trying to mimic the virtue signalling social justice warriors prominent in campuses across the US.
One of the things that is most disturbing about this push is that I cannot think of a field where race, gender, background or any other factor matter less than in debating. It is one of the great equalisers and those who succeed do so through a combination of talent and a lot of hard work. My own public school team wiped the floor with multiple elite private school teams, and on the rare occasion those students did underestimate our team because of our schools reputation, they quickly regretted it. Debating is a meritocracy at its core and those who seek to introduce quotas are insulting that tradition and delegitimising the hard work of those who succeed.