What is forensics?

by Chrissy Roach

Forensics refers to the search for truth. So on TV, you see all these forensic shows where people are digging up dead bodies looking for scientific evidence that points to truth. Somebody killed somebody. Rhetoric is the search for the best argument; it’s the search for truth. So on the forensics team, we compete in both debate and in individual speaking events (referred to as IE). Probably the best parallel is to think about track and field — you may have people on the track team who just run the 100-meter, you might have people who run the 100, the 400 and throw the javelin. So, on the forensics team, you have people doing two or three or four different speeches, and most, but not all of them, engaged in debate.

What kind of Individual Events are there?

They fall into three broad categories: The first category is public address. We have a speech to inform, we have a speech to persuade and we have a speech to entertain (that is, to be a persuasive speech using humor).

The second category is called limited preparation. So, there are two events there where students receive a quotation, they have two minutes to prepare, and they give a five-minute speech about the quotation.

There’s also a category called extemporaneous speaking (or extemp for short). Students get a question about a current event (such as, “Will Romney be the next president?”), they have 30 minutes to prepare, then they give a five to seven minute speech.

The third category is the oral interpretation of literature, and there are four or five subcategories where essentially students find poetry, or a cutting from a play, or an excerpt from short story and they interpret that with voices and characters. It’s not quite acting; they don’t move, but they do it all with their face and with their voice.

When was the last forensics team?

We’ve had a checkered history. There was a team in the ‘60s and then it died sometime in the early ‘70s. Then, in 1988, I was hired to launch the program. And so, we competed from ’88 to ’97 in the Northwest Forensics Conference (a group of about 30 schools across five states). We were consistently one of the top five schools, and that’s not segregated by school size. That’s against schools like Oregon State, University of Washington, and everybody. In 1995, we were 10th in the nation in the National Parliamentary Debate Association.

What happened to the forensics team?

There were budget difficulties, so in 1997, the program went away. It was sad and tragic, in my view. And then there were efforts for a long time to try and lobby to bring it back. And to bring it back in an appropriate way. That is, if we’re going to compete, let’s travel to the same number of tournaments that our peers are. We were handicapped back in the old days by short budgets, so Dr. LeRoy had a great vision for that and worked to provide appropriate funding for the program and for scholarships. And so, starting this fall, we came back.

Why is it important to have a forensics team?

Because it’s about recruiting and rewarding high academic achievers. If you look at forensics programs across the country, they tend to involve people who are bright, people who want more academic challenge, people who want to measure against the best of the best, so you tend to have people who are leaders and who have high GPAs and who are well spoken. They are the kind of students that institutions like to have. And we have a number of those on campus already, and so it gives them a platform to compete academically. With forensics, it’s a way to say we compete regionally and nationally, and our brain power is nationally competitive. I talk about competitive a lot, but it’s not all about trophies. In terms of a measurement standard, I think a trophy and awards help demonstrate that not only is it worth having, but we’ve done that well. The model of competition helps people improve. Our debaters become sharper thinkers and speakers than simply having the same discussion in public speaking every day.

It’s about developing the whole student. We had a team then, we have a team now that is full of supportive people who care about each other as human beings, as teammates, as friends and that is really valuable to me.

What hopes do you have for the future of the forensics team?

First, we’d like to have more students. Ultimately, we’d like to have a team of 20. That would be helpful to have students involved in all of the events and for us to be regionally competitive. Second, we’d like to win more awards. I tell students, “Trophies represent what other people see in you what I see in you.” Working with students consistently, I get to see their development as a speaker. And when we travel to a tournament, and when some other professor sees them as a good speaker and a persuasive debater, that blesses me. It’s not that we’re collecting hardware, but it’s that other people see the development and abilities of our students.

Forensics represents the best of a liberal arts education. People learn to increase their communication abilities and their thinking skills. They bring what they learn from all of their studies together into debating and speaking.

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