Meet the Team – Rosie Washington
So begins a speech delivered by one of the most powerful public speakers to ever compete with the University of Louisville Malcolm X Debate Team—Rosie Washington. A senior Political Science major, Rosie infuses every speech she gives with her politics and personal identity.
Rosie discovered debate while attending Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, MO. Her training as a traditional debater was furthered in high school debate camps. It was there that she received instruction and experience in an educational game that demanded she set aside her identity in favor of impacts, evidence, and other elements of argumentation incomprehensible to those outside the community.
For Rosie, debate was forever changed when she accepted a scholarship from the University of Louisville Malcolm X Debate Team. Rather than pretend to be an empty vessel without opinions or experiences, she was expected to discover her identity and use it to establish her credibility to advocate for others. Then she learned about systems of oppression that sought to erase her, and how the debate community perpetuated those systems by privileging aloof detachment over individual identity.
Sadly, Rosie learned that the debate community wasn’t interested in her identity; they only cared for arguments that were disconnected from human cost. In response to the pain she felt at being rendered powerless by privilege and invisible as an individual, she wrote an open letter to the community, excerpted below:Dear Debate, Dehumanization through a supposedly educational activity is far from expected or natural; it is, in fact, antithetical to what education is about. As I reveled in the ability to share me with you, you in turn despised the responsibility it created for you. You’ve looked into my eyes with tears in your own and told me that it was my words that made you realize that you were an oppressor and…still concluded that I have to give the win to “them’ in order to protect the future of my debate program.
Despite these hurts, Rosie found that the old axiom is true—there is no gain without pain. Competing with the UofL squad and challenging the privilege embedded in the debate community was hard, but the rewards were great. Rosie arrived at UofL blind to the realities of life that shaped her destiny, but Dr. Ede Warner’s program opened her eyes. Through her college debate experiences, Rosie found her purpose, that of reshaping public school curricula for African American students. Although it was painful, debate at UofL has been an enriching experience that has enhanced her life in ways that would not have been possible with another squad at another school. And isn’t that something worth fighting for?By Mary C. Mudd Program Assistant Malcolm X Debate Society/Staff Advisor Common Ground, both at the University of Louisville.