BY PAUL KIM
Sirens, shouts, and intermittent gunfire break the silence of night in Bridgeport’s east side. People there live with the knowledge that danger could be around any corner; they are numb to fear.
Greenwich nights are punctuated by laughter over a glass of wine from a patio, and the occasional sound of new tires gliding over freshly paved asphalt. In Greenwich, it would never occur to someone that a crime could be just moments away. And why should it? They are safe.
Within the past six months, nine residents of Bridgeport’s east side were gunned down, four of those younger than 16. Murders have steadily been on the rise since the early 2000s and there is no sign of revival in the city that once dominated America’s textile industry. This is Fairfield County, Connecticut; America’s richest metropolitan area, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, but also its most inequal. Less than thirty miles south of Bridgeport lies the city of Greenwich, which CNN rated as the number one place to live in the United States. It is home to numerous hedge funds and corporations that help solidify its status as the richest city in America. But the social implications run far deeper than the material income inequality that divides these cities.
Greenwich and Bridgeport are two examples of a theme present all over Connecticut. On a large scale, the rich, predominantly white towns keep to themselves, while the poor black cities are left to flounder alone in a state where industry is limited and opportunity is bleak.
When this divide is condensed to the very small scope of high school debate, haunting truths come to light. The Connecticut Debate Association, or CDA, is dominated by rich white towns. Fairfield County’s three largest cities, Danbury, Norwalk, and Bridgeport – three cities with multiple high schools and thousands of students – yielded not a single varsity speaker that placed within the top one hundred debaters at State Finals last year. These high schools can not afford coaches and so the debate teams at these schools are student lead, and poorly administered, rarely holding practices and often missing tournaments. In last year’s POI rankings not a single Fairfield County city was represented, while much smaller and wealthier Fairfield towns could be found up and down the list. In monthly tournaments, not a single trophy was won by a debater from Fairfield County’s three largest cities.
Why does this happen? How is such inequality possible? To answer these questions, one must first ask why it wouldn’t happen. When nothing is done to balance great poverty with great prosperity, the inequality will seep into all aspects of life, certainly including debate.
In the CDA, many high schools compete without a coach. Coaches must be provided by each school individually, which quickly becomes expensive. This makes it impossible for poor schools to succeed. And since the CDA refuses to lift a finger in the effort to aid disadvantaged debaters, it’s no wonder that the Connecticut debate circuit is rife with unfairness. Action must be taken in order to evoke meaningful change, something that is clearly either lost on CDA officials or ignored by them.
What the Connecticut community, the debate community, needs, are measures taken to ensure balance. A program should be implemented to discount yearly fees for high schools with student run teams, and completely waive fees for first year teams similar to those employed by some debate leagues around the country. Dress codes should be more relaxed, if not dropped entirely: a suit and tie is not only expensive, but a large commitment for first time debaters with less money to rely on. Workshops should be provided to students on teams without coaching on a semiannual basis: though extremely far off from the weekly practices that teams with coaches receive, this would allow debaters to be exposed to formal coaching for the first time where more advanced theory and ideas can be taught. In essence, the goal of these programs is to reduce the amount of impediments in poorer areas. Only when a system is in place to provide equal opportunity to all participants will debate truly be the experience it is intended to be – an intellectual representation of all perspectives, designed to expose teens to new, broader ideas.