‘Forensics teaches you the importance of your words’

This story was originally published in the Jan. 29 newsmagazine.
Kirsten Eversmann, a sophomore criminology and sociology major, preforms an “after dinner speech” in which she preformed a comedic informative speech about women’s voices and silencing them, during the Forensics “Meet The Team Show- case” at the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center Recital Hall in fall 2023.
Kirsten Eversmann, a sophomore criminology and sociology major, preforms an “after dinner speech” in which she preformed a comedic informative speech about women’s voices and silencing them, during the Forensics “Meet The Team Show- case” at the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center Recital Hall in fall 2023.
Ian Pitchford

The Forensics Team is the oldest program on WKU’s campus, and continues to be one of the most successful.

Since being established, the WKU Forensics Team has dominated the collegiate circuit. The team has won 42 National Championships since 1996. It is the only team to ever win the American Forensics Association NST, the NFA IE and the NFA LD Team Sweep- stakes Championships in the same season. In 2021, WKU accomplished this feat for the ninth time since 2004.

In 2021, WKU also won the National Forensics Association Individual Events Team Championship by the largest point total ever recorded at any of these national competitions in the history of collegiate forensics, according to the team’s website.

Ganer Newman, director of the WKU Forensics Team, discussed what he thinks is the “most important ingredient” to the program’s success and legacy.

“It is a combination of university institutional support, the legacy of the excellence of the various coaches who have contributed to what we designed as our process … and then the passion of every individual student that comes aboard, that come from all over the country and they come to the Hill to share something that is really important to them,” Newman said.

Newman expressed how he has seen the Forensics Team make a change in the world. He described the difference it has made not just in the students but in audience members as well.

“It is important to understand that these differences materially change the lived experiences of different people and what I love about the activity is that when someone is speaking to you, they are saying something very true and they are encouraging you to engage in some kind of change, or engage in some kind of awareness,” Newman said.

There are currently 35 active members on the team, each member with their own ideas and passions. Newman further described how the various speeches and performances can deeply influence how audience members understand the world.

“What’s amazing is to see the light bulbs go off in everybody in that room’s mind where they really do understand the world in a deeper way than they did be- fore they entered this room, and that’s the magic of the activity,” Newman said.

Christian Butterfield is a junior creative writing and international affairs major and a participating member on the team. Butterfield described the importance of the team and how being involved has given people the opportunity to be an advocate for specific ideologies.

Christian Butterfield, a junior creative writing and international affairs major, prepares his 5 minute impromptu speech on a topic he was given moments before, during the Forensics “Meet The Team Showcase” at the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center Recital Hall in fall 2023. (Ian Pitchford)

“One thing that I think is really important is to view speech less as a competition, but more as practicing getting to advocate in the real world about issues, learning how to communicate with people, learning how to stand up for what you believe in …,” Butterfield said.

Throughout each debate, teams are scored on individual team members presentations and given a final score of everyone’s combined totals. Team members are able to compete in four different genres: interpretation, speech limited preparation and debate. Each genre has a list of events that utilize various speech types, giving members of the team the ability to express themselves in multiple different ways.

“I find that almost every person on the team, their pieces, they are really really invested in the argument behind it, it is a source of advocacy and they know what changes they want to make in the world and they use their speeches in order to make that change,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield said he has used his speeches to advocate for autism acceptance. Throughout his speeches, he has tackled many different topics such as the link between queerness and autism, autism liberation, ADHD diagnoses and the harms of Applied Behavioral Analysis.

In an interpretation event called program oral interpretation, or POI, he read and performed a blog about mothers whose children have autism. Part of this performance was a reading from his own mother’s blog about him as a young child. Butterfield has been able to overcome stereotypical ideas about autism and find his own identity in autism through his involvement on the team.

“The really great part about speech is that not only does it show me how to talk about autism and advocate for my own identity with having autism myself, but in a lot of different ways … It has also really given me the strength to talk openly in not only disclosing my own autistic identity but being comfortable helping other people who might be on the spectrum and normalizing it,” Butterfield said.

Cece Alali, another member of the team, is currently in her junior year working on her public relations degree. Alali expressed her thoughts on why the team has been successful throughout the years.

“Speech and debate depends on its coaches,” Alali said. “WKU’s coaching staff are not just random people, they are hand picked from across the nation to coach the best team in the nation.”

Alali proceeded to express her gratitude to the coaching staff and explained how they have not only affected her, but her speeches as well.

“From my experience, every single session with my coaches becomes an opportunity to express yourself and to talk about what you want to talk about … an opportunity to talk about what is hidden inside yourself,” Alali said.

Alali has also involved advocacy in her speeches. She recently performed a speech on diasporic trauma in children from immigrant families and explained when coming to America, parents see it as living the American dream, but their children who are born and raised here are still put under oppression by society.

She explained how difficult it is to express this to parents because they wear “rose colored glasses” and only want to see the best. She expressed her own challenges through this and how important debates are for other people to be able to hear and understand different perspectives.

“I think it would benefit anyone to watch at least one speech to see a perspective you didn’t know that there was a perspective on,” Alali said.

Both Alali and Butterfield continuously expressed their thankfulness for the Forensics team and how being involved in it has grown their confidence and helped them to talk about opinions not regularly expressed.

“Forensics teaches you the importance of your words and how to use them for good and how to use them wisely,” Alali said.

News Reporter Carrington Coppinger can be reached at [email protected]