Morehouse debate team leaves tournament over ‘anti-Black’ taunts

“You will hear some crazy s— at a debate,” said a student. “And it’s usually going to be racist”

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The men of Morehouse College have decided to withdraw from a debate tournament due to racist taunts.

The group’s A-team made the decision to leave the Penn United States Universities Debating Championship (USUDC) earlier this month due to racist taunts from opposing teams, per The Undefeated.

Senior Daniel Edwards and sophomore Caleb Strickland said they were mocked by the rival teams and students from the University of Hawaii. The students say during the 5th round, a Morehouse student’s voice was mocked by others when they would answer questions and other teams would roll their eyes and laugh when they spoke. Other teams would also turn their cameras on when it was Morehouse’s turn to speak which is prohibited during the virtual debate.

Morehouse Debate
(Credit: Morehouse Debate Team)

But the final straw was when judges dismissed Morehouse’s complaints and gave points to the opposing team instead. The students also say there was bias around the debate topics.

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“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,” Strickland said.

The Morehouse men brought their issue to the tournament’s equity team for assistance. They promised to address it before the next round but it never happened.

“This issue is important enough and significant enough that you should address it now, and more importantly, you told my students that you would address it now,” said the Morehouse debate coach Kenneth Newby to The Undefeated. “To have integrity means that you do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.”

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Morehouse Debate
(Credit: Kenneth Newby)

He added:It would be a mistake to say this was about one round and one team,” said Newby. “It was about anti-Blackness issues within the British Parliamentary debate space.”

Clemson, Spelman College, and Vanderbilt also pulled out causing the tournament to come to an end and prompting a discussion between students and judges so they could share instances of racism during the debate experience.

“You will hear some crazy s— at a debate,” Edwards said. “And it’s usually going to be racist.”

The University of Hawaii “takes these types of matters very seriously. As a higher education institution dedicated to the inclusion and advancement of all peoples, UH condemns all acts of racism, discrimination, bigotry and hate,” per a statement by Dan Meisenzahl, a University of Hawaii spokesman.

“The group involved is not officially part of any UH school or department, is not a registered student organization and does not have a faculty adviser. The Office of Student Conduct is determining if there were violations of the campus conduct code, which could lead to suspension or expulsion.”

Morehouse College
Morehouse College (Credit: Morehouse College)

The award winning Morehouse team believes they had a good chance at winning the tournament.

“It was either take a formative stand or I could deal with putting my partner through it and slugging it out for another three rounds knowing that it’s likely going to happen again,” Edwards said. “So the best option is to pull out, but if we pull out, it is significant so that the issues are addressed.”

Strickland added the completion does not value the Black experience.

“It’s not that the action of mocking me was that significant,” Strickland said. “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.”

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