Discussions in recent months by members and former members of the NPTE and NPDA communities that bring attention to experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault are of significant concern to both organizations. Both organizations treat allegations and instances of violence in any form as matters of utmost importance. As these discussions have developed, we have been deliberating across organizations, in consultation with independent legal counsel, with an eye toward additional measures we can take to improve the inclusivity and safety of all attendees for our tournaments.
One immediate step that was taken by both organizations included a Title IX training session prior to both national tournaments. Additionally, in March, the NPDA passed a bylaw amendment requiring that all participants in NPDA tournaments (during the regular season and the national tournament) receive Title IX training either from their home institution or from an NPDA-created online training module. The NPTE is currently considering policy changes that would mirror the NPDA changes. The online training module is currently under development (in consultation with both independent legal counsel and Title IX officials at the home institutions of NPDA officers) and will be available as the 2016-17 season begins.
While mandatory training is one proactive measure that we hope will offer a valuable resource and contribute to a reduction in the experiences with sexual harassment and/or violence experienced by members, we recognize that training must be coupled with robust policies that enforce meaningful consequences and promote safety in the event members do experience sexual harassment and/or violence. Up to this point, the sexual harassment and assault policies ratified by NPDA membership and implemented by the NPTE Executive Council have limited the scope of their authority to actions that occur at the organizations’ national tournaments themselves. We have interpreted this policy to include all times from when the tournaments begin to when the tournaments end, including all actions that occur at secondary locations, e.g., tournament hotels, and other locations outside the host campus. Each organization has a sexual harassment officer who can hear complaints and take immediate action in order to address events that occur at their respective tournaments. This is the extent of our current investigatory power- to respond to events that could cause an immediate lack of safety for participants at the tournament.
It would be improper and implausible for us to conduct an investigation for each event that occurs outside of our tournaments, such as during invitational tournaments or in encounters outside of debate events themselves. At the same time, we recognize that our lack of investigative authority in such matters does not eliminate the opportunity to act in ways that respond to concerns in those contexts and to do so in an effort to promote the inclusivity and safety of participants in parliamentary debate. That many of the experiences shared over recent months occurred outside the context of the national tournaments that are addressed by our current policy underscores that a policy review/revision can and should be undertaken. We also believe that programs must be accountable for the individuals they bring to tournaments, as home institutions have both the means to investigate allegations and the authority to make determinations of an individual’s fitness to represent their institution.
In recognition of these realities, the presidents of the NPDA (Michael Middleton) and the NPTE (Joe Gantt) plan to present a policy revision in the coming weeks. While the policy itself is in the drafting stages, we expect that it will build on the above principles to allow us to respond to complaints in a manner which promotes safety for our participants and program accountability while maintaining the primacy of the home institution’s investigatory power.
For NPTE, this policy will be proposed to the NPTE Board; for NPDA, this policy will be presented to the ad hoc committee on Sexual Harassment Policy to hopefully be ratified by the NPDA membership. In both cases, this policy will be vetted by these groups, as well as legal counsel retained by both organizations. We will also be requesting that legal counsel at several member institutions review the policy. These reviews are aimed at helping to ensure compliance with the law and to ensure the efficiency of the policy in the event we require member institutions to cooperate with our efforts to enforce the policy.
Additionally, we are asking the community for your comments as well. Our goal is to have a draft policy revision to the community by July 1 for a period of review and commentary. Please email any comments you have to either Joe (email@example.com) or Michael (firstname.lastname@example.org). Email is both the preferred medium for your feedback and is the forum where both organizations conduct official business. While we encourage a healthy discussion about our organizations’ policies in any forum, including social media, we must ensure that official correspondence and the business of both organizations occurs in a forum where individuals can communicate in a way that respects the confidentiality of the correspondence if so desired and where the risk that communication from members will not be missed because of one’s (non)participation in a particular format of social media.
We are grateful for the efforts by members of the both organizations to bring greater attention to this issue. We hope that the membership of both organizations will continue to take an active role in improving the quality of the experience had by those who participate in parliamentary debate. If there are other concerns related to the well-being of the community, or other aspects of the activity, that you believe deserve the attention of both or either organization, we hope that you will contact us as indicated above. In the meantime, we hope the all of you have a restful and enjoyable summer vacation.
Joe Gantt, President, National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence
Michael Middleton, President, National Parliamentary Debate Association