Debate Team hosts ‘Politics and Pizza’

Team members prepare to discuss #MeToo movement

Edward Frankonis, Crier staff

A full auditorium greeted the members of the Saint Anselm College Debate Team as they prepared to discuss the #MeToo movement inside the prestigious NHIOP on Nov. 15. After 50 hours of preparing an academic debate surrounding the #MeToo movement, the four debaters for the night were ready to display their debate skills.

For the past few years, the debate team has hosted public debates on a wide variety of topics in order to better inform the public discourse. Past debates have taken place as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Program, and with the IR Club, Green Team, and the Geisel Library.

Debate team Coach David Trumble introduced the topic for the night, “Has the #MeToo movement gone too far?” Coach Trumble made it clear that the team stood with survivors of sexual assault. Coach Trumble also stated that conversations about sexual assault can be highly uncomfortable for some, and people in the audience were free to step out of the room if they needed to at any point in time and that resources are available both on and off campus, with information cards provided by Amada Casali, the college’s OVW Program Coordinator.

The debate began with Margaret McSherry, a junior politics major, stating her case for the Affirmative. Her most poignant contentions argued that the #MeToo movement actually harmed women, as it made men in large companies more afraid of interacting with women. McSherry highlighted an example of a Silicon Valley executive, when asking what he could do to combat sexual misconduct, was told by the company’s Human Resources department that employees should stop having dinner with women.

McSherry then concluded with a quote from the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, who stated that too many issues were being placed under the #MeToo umbrella, weighing it down.

Drew Collins, a senior history major, took up the mantle of the first Negative speech. Collins argued that #MeToo was having an enormously positive impact, and demonstrated the claim with a poll stating 69% of Americans believed #MeToo was helpful. Collins then argued that the “specter” of false allegations, which are 2-6% of all allegations, deviated critical attention from true cases (which are a vast majority).

Collins then argued that social movements, like those supporting gay marriage and civil rights, are often crucial to resolving social issues in American society. Collins concluded by demonstrating examples of the #MeToo movement pressuring state lawmakers around the country to enact reforms to help sexual assault survivors (like extending the statute of limitations).

Jacob Halterman, a sophomore International Relations major, began the second Affirmative speech by stating that it is important for women to be able to speak out against those who have wronged them. Halterman then argued that the #MeToo movement had become so “politicized” that it could no longer serve its original purpose. Halterman contested that the #MeToo movement had contributed to a climate where men are afraid of giving lifesaving CPR techniques to women out of fear of being accused of sexual assault. Halterman then reiterated that the founder of the movement had thought #MeToo had grown too big to serve its original goal, and that even if only 6% of accusations are false, that can devastate those innocent lives.

Senior International Relations major, Cassie Moran, presented the final Negative speech by arguing that #MeToo has helped start important conversations (like the debate held that night). Moran highlighted how similar movements, like women’s suffrage, needed to become politicized to enact important legal changes. Moran then jumped on the 6% statistic by pointing out how deficiencies in law enforcement training are responsible for inflating the number of false accusations.

Moran reinforced the argument that #MeToo was creating momentum for change and was also making companies re-evaluate their approach to solving other women’s issues (such as low wages). Moran concluded that the overstated fears of false allegations could only be solved by a social movement like #MeToo.

Both sides then closed on polite terms, with the Affirmative citing bipartisanship as a reason the movement might fail, while the Negative paraphrased King’s Birmingham Jail Letters by stating that “later equals never” and that we are morally obligated to do as much as we can right now.

The debate received extensive audience feedback, with one student commenting that the founder of the movement wasn’t decrying #MeToo, but was stressing the need for clarity in social movements. Another audience member, who works as a prosecutor, raised questions about what kind of due process there is on social media when accusations come to light. Given that many Americans avoid talking politics with those who disagree (particularly during Thanksgiving), the civil debate presented by the team was instructive on how we can all have constructive conversations on passionate issues of public interest.

The Saint Anselm College Debate Team, approaching its 72nd anniversary, is always open to topic suggestions from students for the next public debate. The debate team would also like to note that Health Services has an on-call hotline for students in need of support at 641-7000.