The Story of the WDI

 Jeff Shaw Returned to the WDI in 2014 and Reflected on His Experience

I started debate in 1989 at Canby HighSchool in Oregon. Debate taught me to think, to work hard, and to listen to other people. For a lot of other debaters, this turns them into lawyers. Me, it turned me into a journalist and, later, a public relations person for social justice causes (among other things). If there is a common thread to my delightfully odd life, it comesfrom debate: you identify a problem. You think about what you can do to help, listening to the smartest folks you can find along the way. And you do what you can.

That’s more or less how WDI started. When I was coaching high school debate in Washington, we had amazing female debaters in the state … and they almost all quit debate after a few days, or weeks, or months. I thought about that human potential and how valuable debate could have been for these folks that were, for one reason or another, leaving the activity in droves. I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember (being the only male child of a single mom should do that to you), and it seemed like a crime to let this keep happening.

That was in 2000. Almost 15 years later, a bunch of fantastic people have helped WDI grow beyond my wildest dreams. Improvements I couldn’t possibly have envisioned, other folks made happen. The lesson, for me: No one of us is as smart as all of us. No individual is capable of what we’re capable of together.

I’ve been really lucky over the course of my 40 years on this planet: I’ve lived and worked in incredible places and met a ton of wonderful people, people I’m in awe of. But WDI is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life, and it’s populated with some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, and I’m proud to still be a small part of it.

Most of all, I’m glad you’re part of it. Have an amazing time and welcome to the WDI community. (Source: Our Community Quarterly, Vol. 4, Issue II, Summer 2014)

A Note from Leah Castella – Board Co-Chair

The WDI is about debate, but it’s not just about the winning rounds and cutting cards part of debate. It’s about celebrating and cultivating in young women the traits that brought them to debate in the first place. Debate gives you a voice. It taught me to use that voice, and that it was okay to be a confident, opinionated, outspoken woman. These are traits that I value in myself, and I’m lucky enough to have colleagues and friends who value those traits in me. But every day, I go out into the world and encounter people who don’t value these traits in women. Those people think I’m overconfident and aggressive and they believe that those traits are unbecoming in a woman. Sometimes, these attitudes can be exhausting and discouraging. When I am most discouraged, I think about the WDI. At the WDI, being a confident, opinionated, outspoken woman is the norm, not the exception. The young women who attend the camp are taught by example that they too can, and should, be confident, opinionated, and outspoken. That makes those young women better debaters. More importantly, it shows those young women that there is a whole community of amazing women who, like them, speak their minds. (Source: Our Community Quarterly, Vol. 3, Issue I, Fall 2012).