Traveling through life with a timer and sneakers


Why Marriott’s response to racism in their hotels matters

Stepping away from weight-loss for a post and addressing an issue pertinent to some of the other themes of my blog. Something that has been bothering me for awhile but was magnified in recent months by an issue that occurred at the Walnut Creek Marriott in February as well as the response from the parties involved.

Before I begin, I should probably disclose that I am a white woman in my early to mid-thirties. My husband is black. Honestly, being part of a mixed race couple was never something that seemed out of place to me growing up in California. Maybe I am just lucky to have awesome parents who took every opportunity they could to educate me about racial, gender, and cultural sensitivity. Obviously it’s also because I am not a minority, but I never realized just how much microracism existed in our society until I started dating my husband.

When I first learned about the female Marriott employee ignoring the black high school students and educators on the elevator, I was frustrated and upset. I was angry that someone had made my husband and colleagues as well as high school students feel like they were second class citizens. That they were not worthy of a friendly smile and greeting by a member of the hospitality industry.

Here’s how this situation SHOULD have worked out. The woman, when faced with what happened and how it made people feel, should have acknowledged that what she did excluded people of a racial minority. She should have verbally acknowledged that her actions were hurtful. She should have sincerely apologized for the action and the emotional response it caused. What I have learned over nine years is that micro racism isn’t always intentional and even someone with good intentions most of the time can still be a perpetrator of micro racism. I am willing to admit that I too have at some point committed an act of micro aggression and may not have even realized it at the time. This “more subtle, casual form of bigotry” occurs daily and is sometimes so subverted that neither party is aware until the damage is done.

The problem is that the employee didn’t seem to think what she did was wrong. Based on the reactions from management, neither did they. My husband was stopped in an open lobby when it was convenient for management but then not allowed to have the conversation where he had been stopped. He felt confronted publicly but then could not react publicly per management. And in other moves, rather than attempting to arrange an actual meeting about the situation with the black coaches and students, management went to the white organizers to arrange a meeting, bringing another act of micro aggression into the mix.

The problem is escalated and the entire process drawn out, each step another reminder of the otherization committed by this employee. However at every step, no one at Marriott appears to acknowledge how the actions of the employee left their guests feeling.

The denial of racism by Marriott is racism. It is the refusal to recognize the feelings of customers. It is ignorance of how microracism is just as racist and perhaps more damaging than overt racism. And it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of all who learn that the customer isn’t always right if the customer has dark skin.

Because education is important to me, let’s examine some responses that Marriott could have made in addition to the individual employee. First is by going back to corporate roots. According to a letter sent to my husband, Marriott has a long history in dealing with diversity. It sounds like this individual employee (and then the management) should get some retraining. If the member of management had apologized, offered his contact information for follow up, and then acknowledged the stresses and emotional otherization along with arranging for follow-up training for the employee, I am certain in speaking to victims that this would have served as a more appropriate reaction.

When management failed, corporate could have taken similar steps to examine the incident and rather than dismiss the customers, examine the training being given at a corporate level regarding microracism. If employees and management don’t think it’s a “big deal” then there is something more that is wrong that just the initial incident. And then let the customers know that you are following up on the review of the training.

A hospitality company that fails to recognize the emotional harm inflicted by an employee is one that does not care about it’s guests. That’s not the message Marriott probably wants to send to it’s customer base. But when micro aggression goes unchecked and otherization of guests occurs by all levels of the organization, it is unfortunately the one we are left with.



Production versus Consumption. Chicken? or Egg?

As per usual, this isn’t meant to be a topic analysis. Just some quick thoughts when I read the 2012 NCFL topic this morning.

Resolved:  Increasing US energy production should take precedence over protecting the environment.

First, I think that the question has to be answered as to what type of energy production that needs to be increased. It would be hard to argue that the US isn’t in need of increased energy with an increase in population. Especially since the topic doesn’t say you get to increase conservation efforts if you vote Con.

Obviously the debate wants to be focused on drilling and fracking for oil and building up nuclear plants, both controversial but known sources of energy. Perhaps coal will also be debated. However, I think that a good Pro team would not limit themselves to these sources. In fact, I would keep all energy sources in mind when framing the case and instead shift the burden to the neg to show that in general, over-protection of the environment is stopping energy development. I don’t know if this is true outside of these primary energy production means.

In a lot of ways, I think this is going to be a very circular debate. Almost a “chicken or egg” line of argument. Those on the Pro will say we can’t have productivity and economic growth/stability without internal energy production while those on the Con will contend we need to focus on creating energy efficient products and lifestyles in order to have economic growth/stability. My head hurts just thinking about it.

Here are some interesting articles that may, or may not, be useful:

Draw a line for the judge: Current debates and why judges are intervening.

As I judge debates on the April PF topic (Resolved: State mandated administration of childhood vaccinations is justified.), I am noticing a common and disturbing set of trends. And these trends are allowing both sides to “win” their side of the debate while in the end leaving it entirely up to the judge to pick what side they like best.

1. Debaters use generic philosophical jargon without understanding the philosophy.

This is problematic for several reasons. First, they aren’t able to fully articulate their own arguments so they are in line with the philosophical view they use to justify, or weigh, their side of the round. This leads to arguments that contradict each other within a case.

Second, because they learn the generic wikipedia level of the philosophical viewpoints, they also don’t understand or see the contradictions their opponents make. Nor are they able to address the arguments from a philosophical view point. Why use these weighing mechanisms and justifications if you can’t really use them?

Ultimately, the judge has two competing, underdeveloped frameworks, with arguments that contradict all over the flow. Super useful in making a decision, right?

2. Lacking a bright line.

This is probably the most frustrating part of the debates I have seen. Both sides fail to show when mandates cause their impacts to happen without the impacts of the other side happening. If mandates cause a loss of autonomy, why doesn’t bans on doing drugs? Where is the line that is drawn between these two regulations? And on the opposite side, why does a government protecting people stop at mandates on vaccines? Why can’t they also mandate what job field we go into so the nation fills every open job? Where does regulation stop and free will begin?

Debaters who lack a bright line are asking the judge to draw one for them. Debaters should hold that pen… don’t give us artistic freedom on the ballot…

3. Missing the forest for the trees.

One of the problems with Public Forum in general, but also true on this topic, is that debaters are attempting to get too line-by-line and run too many sub-points. This leads to underdevelopment, quick pace, and dropped comparative analysis due to time. On this topic, debaters are getting too specific on public opinion polls and specifics on what a mandate would look like rather than discuss the larger questions of the resolution. C’mon folks… you only have 33 minutes!

So in the end of the round we as the judges have a bunch of competing arguments that we get to weigh. What do we think is most important? Or in some cases, what did we understand more clearly? A case that looks at the forest and links the couple highlighted trees to the forest will win almost every time when competing against a team talking about every individual tree. But when everyone is looking at individual trees… well it’s like taking the extended family out shopping for the perfect Christmas tree! No one walks away happy.

Ultimately, watching these debates continues to cause me to question where is PF, what is it’s purpose, and where is it going. But more on that later.


January PF Topic Research

Resolved: The costs of a college education outweigh the benefits.

Some useful links on the January Public Forum Topic. You can find more by searching through government databases. And it’s all free!






(I love that the stats for this blog entry show people got here by googling the exact words of the resolution… dear students, I promise there are better ways to do research! I’ll write some helpful blog posts about it soon!)

There is something to be said for the “All or Nothing” attitude

I committed to blogging every day. In my mind it meant I had to blog every day. And once I missed a day, I said I would write two blogs the next day. And when that didn’t happen…

Well you can see where this went for about a month. When I realized it was now or never. If I didn’t start blogging again then my fabulous idea of documenting a year of coaching would gather cyber-dust. And that would be silly since I paid for the domain name!

Clearly life is stressful and frustrating. We all have plans and sometimes those plans don’t work out. We can either give up, or dust off that cyber dust and hop back into the game. So I am back. And while I hope I will blog every day, if I miss a day I won’t kick myself for it.

It reminds me of my students. Many times I ask if they are ready for a practice debate and they tell me that their cases aren’t ready yet. Often times it is because their cases aren’t “perfect” and they don’t want to “lose” the practice debate. However, this all or nothing attitude prevents them from getting in the early practice rounds and they miss opportunities to find ways to strengthen their cases or create unique blocks to their opponents cases. Things that can only be discovered through actual practice rounds. By putting it off and off and off, they miss out. By putting off blogging until I can catch up on the daily posts, I miss an opportunity to capture my thoughts and actions. Which means I get the “nothing” end of the all or nothing mindset, and that just sounds like a waste of a domain name.

What is Plea Bargaining?

Some helpful links to get you started on the January topic:

ExpertLaw Backgrounder on Plea Bargaining

An interesting book, this link takes you to a discussion about plea bargaining in Criminal Justice Ethics: Theory and Practice by Cyndi Banks.

Some Pros and Cons about Plea Bargaining from Larry J. Siegel’s Introduction to Criminal Justice textbook.

Finally, some possibly useful impacts to plea bargaining in Plea Bargaining’s Triumph: A History of Plea Bargaining in America by George Fisher.

Resolved: In the United States, plea bargaining undermines the criminal justice system.

Welp, let’s see how January plays out! Leaving for the first tournament in 15 days!

Public Forum Debate Forums

I am not sure how you found my site, but if you are interested in checking out what seems to be a growing forum for Public Forum debate, I would encourage you to check out PFDebate where there is a blog, wiki, and forums. While I always take the general populations comments with a grain of salt, I think Bob, the owner of PFDebate, is doing a huge community service by hosting and maintaining the site. It is always interesting to see what happens when a community forum is made available to a national audience of high school academics. Enjoy!

Musings on the January PF Topic Vote

While we haven’t received an email from the National Forensics League, the three Public Forum topics are up for voting for January. And the choices are…

  • Resolved: The United States fed­eral gov­ern­ment should legal­ize marijuana.
  • Resolved: In the United States, elec­tions for fed­eral office should be financed exclu­sively with pub­lic funding.
  • Resolved: In the United States, plea bar­gain­ing under­mines the crim­i­nal jus­tice system.

I was beginning to do research on the topics and write out my deliberations before voting and then realized I could write them out here just as easily as on a piece of paper (and maybe save a tree in the process?).

The first thing I can do is rule out the marijuana topic. I recognize kids may want to debate it. We wanted to debate it 12-15 years ago when I was a high school debater. It was worn out then and the debate really hasn’t evolved much. The research is still skewed, there are still lots of biased sources around. For selfish reasons, I would love to see a more unique topic proposed. Additionally, having seen a number of PF rounds this year, I could easily see students turning this into a medical merijuana debate which isn’t what the broad topic proposes but is an easy way out of a fair number of arguments. And the medicinal debate has been beaten to death.

Let’s move on to the Plea Bargaining topic. I think this topic is pretty interesting. However, it is a rehash of a 2007 Lincoln-Douglas debate topic and let’s be honest, how many debaters are going to complain about that. Because heaven forbid we ever see a topic repeat in our history. There definitely have never been political battles about similar topics, or wars over similar… oh wait….

But on a serious note, I do worry the topic is a bit broad for a 37 minute debate. The criminal justice system is pretty huge. Which means we will probably have lots of counterexample wars where winning arguments on both sides lack comparable quantifications and pass by each other like ships in the night, forcing judges to cherry-pick what they want to vote on.

I recognize the complaints from people who think the public funding for elections smells like the lobbying topic. I think some of those arguments could be made here (see above sarcasm as to why I don’t care about that argument), however I also think this resolution poses some real world, real time questions. This is especially true with the mid-term elections just ending and the run for the 2012 presidential campaigns getting heated up.

You can guess how I voted. Now I can only hope that in the month my team debates multiple tournaments every weekend, that I get to see some amazing debates!

At the end of the weekend…

Starbucks. You should probably buy some stock in it.

This will be the first of many odes to one of my biggest vices. But as the first day of competition at the Glenbrooks wraps up and I desperately seek some sleep, I wanted to pay homage to the over priced frilly beverages that brighten my debate-ridden days.

green and white paper cup

filled with joy, sugar, soy, and love

you kept me sane today

Seriously. The baristas at the Starbucks near campus know me. In one day. Because only a debate coach makes multiple (*cough* three *cough* plus one someone offered to do for me *cough*) trips in one day. It’s a bad habit. But probably not the worst habit I could have.

Drinks I had today:

  • Venti Unsweetened Passion Iced Tea (2 times)
  • Venti Iced Soy Latte
  • Venti Coffee Frappuccino Light with Soy Milk and 1 pump Mocha and 2 pumps Peppermint
  • Tall Iced Soy Pumpkin Latte

Now to get some sleep because tomorrow will be another long day!

Someone was reading my mind last night…

I started this blog after a number of conversations with coaches in the high school and college community. When I was in college, there were coaches studying and writing about how unhealthy the lifestyle of debate can be on it’s participants. That was almost a decade ago. However, even today there is a push to increase the focus on creating a healthy environment.

While no one may be reading my blog yet, a college debater who knows I am attempting to live healthier, directed me to a college debate forum focused on the Healthy Debater Initiative. To my surprise, I found an email I had written to another coach had been shared with the community about healthy eating tips. How cool is that! While my eating habits have changed (I rarely eat animal products), I still follow most of the guide.

It is good to know that there is a movement at the college level for a healthier debate community. I hope the high school community will take notice and work to improve our environment as well. I am probably on a plane to Chicago as this post is being auto-published. After we check-in to the hotel, my students and I will had to the grocery store. I have a shopping list from my assistant coach who arrives later in the evening and will create my list on the plane. Tomorrow I will share the stash with you, so you can get an idea of what this Healthy Academic is eating.

A Critical Self-Examination of the Health of Competitive Forensics Coaches

You don’t know me, but I wanted to tell you that I am an addict. I spend most weekends feeding my addiction. Most of my friends are addicts as well and often when we get together, our addiction is all we can talk about.

Twenty or more weekends on the road. Summers spent in dorm rooms and classrooms and libraries. Monday through Friday spent with adolescents, discussing research methods, delivery styles, argument structure followed by weekends with those same students at exotic locations like Lexington, Kentucky. Nights spent in chain hotels that all eventually blend together into a home away from home. Addiction. All of it.

If you haven’t figured out what I do by the title of this post, let me explain. I teach high school communication studies courses and coach a debate team. This means that I teach classes all week and then spend most weekends at debate tournaments. Many of these tournaments are located in other time zones which means that my high school students and I are hoping on planes, trains, and automobiles to get to destinations where we play academic mind games all weekend in high school and university classrooms. I spend almost every weekend during the school year at tournaments and during the summer I attend one or two more plus a couple of residential summer debate programs at various universities.

Debate coaches/teachers don’t do it for the money. That’s clear. Don’t ask what my hourly wage would be because I broke it down one year and almost had a breakdown. We do it because we love engaging students in the research and critical thinking that debate requires. We love watching our students discover new arguments for themselves and communicate those ideas and advocacies. Plus our students sometimes win things and that makes us proud. Finally, after awhile, the debate community becomes a part of our extended family and going to tournaments in like a family reunion.

My sane friends, the ones who don’t do debate, and strangers often say, “I don’t know how you do it!” Well after some prodding, I decided I would spend the next year telling you how. This weekend, one of the largest and most well-known high school tournaments in the country will take place in Illinois, and what better time to start a daily blog than right before a high-stress event?

I was hesitant to create this blog. I had a personal blog that didn’t have my name attached. A few students found my blog and I panicked and shut it down. There wasn’t anything too personal, but it was weird and I didn’t like it.

I knew that writing this blog would put me out there. People will read this blog and will know who I am. And I had to make sure I was okay with that. I have decided that the purpose of this blog was more important that the minor discomfort of putting myself in the virtual public eye.

Debate is a competitive activity but a sedentary one. Combine long periods of research and debate rounds with incredibly late nights and early mornings. Fast food, caffeine, travel, lack of sleep and little down time all contribute to a lifestyle that isn’t healthy. I am not the picture of health and I am not alone. While many debate coaches do focus on health, our career path has obstacles built in by it’s very existence.

This summer, a debate coach I knew personally passed away. He wasn’t the first debate coach to die too soon and he probably won’t be the last. But his death was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I began to examine my life. I have made an effort to live a healthier life, taking up running in 2009 before getting injured, and making healthier food choices. However the lifestyle of a debate coach is demanding and the stress of the job means that sometimes I don’t want to prepare a healthy meal or hit the gym. And this stress can snowball into a pattern that is less than stellar.

I won’t make any promises of perfection. This isn’t a “change my life” blog. But rather it is the examination of a communications teacher/debate coach who is trying every day to do the job she loves while protecting her health to the best of her abilities. I recognize my job is a health-hazard. But I don’t think it always has to be. So I have decided to document my life for one year. From the travel to fitness to daily struggles to views on debate topics to just about anything else that life throws at me. You are invited to join my adventure as this coach documents my attempts at improving my health while being the best teacher/coach I can be.