Morehouse College Debate Team Withdrew From National Tournament After Racial Taunts From Other Schools

Spelman College and other debate teams followed suit and withdrew and the tournament was canceled.

Following allegations of racial comments and indications made by white debaters during a tournament on Zoom, the Morehouse College Speech and Debate team reportedly withdrew from the national competition. 

Earlier this month, the HBCU competed in the U.S. Universities Debating Championship (USUDC). According to The Undefeated, the anti-Black remarks and taunts took place during the fifth round of the tournament, as rival teams mocked Morehouse during their turn. 

The virtual format of the tournament required other debate teams to have their cameras and microphones off while other teams spoke. Not following instructions, other teams, including students from the University of Hawaii, laughed and made facial gestures at Morehouse. At one point, use of satire toward a Morehouse student’s voice was used. 

Senior Daniel Edwards and sophomore Caleb Strickland say they were subjected to racist remarks. 

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“It would be a mistake to say this was about one round and one team,” said Morehouse debate coach Kenneth Newby told The Undefeated. “It was about anti-blackness issues within the British Parliamentary debate space.” 

Points were awarded to other teams as judges ignored the arguments that were made by Morehouse during a round. Morehouse says the arguments made during the topic of narrative gentrification were ignored due to the students’ background. 

“The judges said they cared more about the Western stories that were being discussed such as 'Cinderella' and 'The Little Mermaid' as compared to native African stories that we talked about, like the Epic of Mwindo or Cherokee creations,” said Strickland.

After Morehouse brought the issues to the attention of the tournament’s equity team -- a team that ensures no discrimination of any kind -- they promised to release a statement addressing the issue before the next round, but never proceeded to do so. Tournament leadership said they didn’t address the issue immediately due to an isolated issue with certain judges as “trainees.” They decided not to intermingle the two issues. 

Later in the week, the organizing committee of the tournament issued a statement apologizing for the lack of concern and action around the incident. Morehouse doesn’t believe the reasons for why their concerns were put to the side. 

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In a statement to The Undefeated, University of Hawaii spokesperson Meisenzahl said in a statement, “The office of Student Conduct is determining if there were violations of the campus code, which could lead to suspension or expulsion.” 

Spelman College, Clemson, and Vanderbilt all withdrew from the tournament after Morehouse’s decision and the tournament ended up being canceled. 

The incident showcased the “siblinghood” between Spelman and Morehouse, which are both located in the Atlanta University Center Consortium. But it also highlights the recurring racial issues, as Spelman’s debate coach Robert Brown said in a statement. 

“I don’t want you to think this is an isolated experience. But when white people in this space, they microagress black people.”

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