Equity & Inclusion

This page includes a number of resources for Congressional Debaters to be more equitable and foster a sense of belonging among students of myriad identities in our debate community.

Intentionally Inclusive Language: Guide and Best Practices

Every single Congress round has a different mix of identities (race, gender, LGBTQ+, etc) and life circumstances (socioeconomic status, housing status, family status, etc.) represented within it. Everyone brings their identities and life circumstances into the chamber with them and that’s important for us all to remember.

So many of us have found a home in this activity and we know how important it is to feel included while in chamber. One of the best ways we can do that is by being intentionally inclusive in how we talk about people, especially groups or communities to which we do not belong.

There are three general principles to this and if we all follow them, we’ll make sure that our language is as inclusive as possible.

1. Speak Like They’re in the Room

We should always speak about a group of people as if they are present in the room with us. Phrases like “these people” and “those people” make it sound like no member of that group could possibly be represented around us. Imagine what that might feel like, to hear other people talk about you like you aren’t in the room, even though you can see and hear them clearly. It might make you feel like you don’t belong in there.

2. Drop Definite Articles in Front of Group Names

When we put “the” in front of the description of a group of people, it has a similar effect to “these people” and “those people.” It can make people feel like they don’t belong and that can be traumatic, especially when it comes to matters of identity. There’s a big difference between saying “the people living through poverty” and “people living through poverty.” The first makes it sound like no one who is living though poverty could be in the room while the second avoids that problem.

3. Center the Person, Not Their Life Circumstances

It’s very easy to talk about “the poor”, “the homeless”, or “undocumented immigrants” because we see it everywhere: articles in newspapers and magazines, the evening news, and throughout popular culture. When we do this, we are reducing a group of people to their life circumstances and people are far more than their life circumstances. “The poor” becomes “people living through poverty” or “people experiencing poverty.” “The homeless” becomes “people experiencing homelessness” or “people without housing.” “Undocumented immigrants” becomes “immigrants without legal status” or “immigrants without documentation.” By centering the person and not their life conditions, we avoid making a life circumstance into an identity.

© Dr. Becky Chabot and Dr. Keith Bistodeau, February 2022
For more information or to schedule a training session for your team, please email Becky.chabot - AT - gmail.com.

< Learn more from the Inclusive Language Guide from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

< Learn more from the Conscious Style Guide, a resource covering terminology for various communities.