Alumna, tournament foster women's inclusion

Mariel Golden’s connection to UVM’s top-flight debate program was sparked even before she stepped onto campus as a student. And now, as a Class of 2015 alumna, that connection remains strong, demonstrated by her return as a judge for the recent 2018 North American Women’s and Gender Minorities Debate Championships.

The summer before Golden’s first semester, her mother came across a story on the university’s website that featured Sam Natale ’10, focused on his participation in the World Debating Championship, held in Botswana. As parents of fledgling college students will do, mom suggested that this UVM debate might be worth a look.

A week later, on campus for orientation, Golden happened to meet Professor Tuna Snider, the late legendary leader of UVM debate. Snider, of course, knew a thing or two about convincing arguments and made the case for joining the university’s Lawrence Debate Union. “He told me I could be the next person traveling the world for debate,” Golden recalls. “I went to my first practice and never turned back. I fell in love with it.”

England, Slovenia, Germany, India, Cameroon, South Africa, to name just a few, UVM Debate, supported by a healthy endowment funding international competition, took Golden around the world. And she excelled — North American finalist, U.S. National semi-finalist, quarter-finalist at Yale and Oxford tournaments.

Looking back, Golden says, “Beyond the travel and competitive success, the most influential aspect was the debate community at UVM and beyond. I gained a family and support network.”

The welcoming community that was, by and large, Golden’s experience is not necessarily the norm in college debate, where “Boys’ Club” behavior, sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination too often damage and discourage women’s participation. This unfortunate truth led to the establishment of the North American Women’s and Gender Minorities Debate Championships, fostering broader participation in a safe environment.

Golden was instrumental in bringing the event, which originated in Canada, to the United States for the first time in 2015 when UVM hosted. “The tournament not only showcases female talent, but creates a place where women can come together and talk about the issues that they’re feeling they face in the debate community,” Golden says.

As UVM strives to shift debate culture with the tournament, the legacy of talented women debaters in the Lawrence Debate Union, currently coached by one of them, Helen Morgan Parmett ’00, provides a role model for the teams competing in Burlington.

Beyond her return to UVM for the tournament, debate remains a force and a focus in Mariel Golden’s life. A political science grad working with Teach for America in Baltimore, she also coaches a Palestinian debate team “as a means to spread debate opportunities to those who don’t traditionally have them,” Golden says. “UVM Debate has opened the world to me. I’m a different and better person because of it, and I feel like I need to keep giving back as a thank you.”


Thomas James Weaver