Forensics team finds truth, not murderers
October 10, 2008 5:48 PM
A forensics team may conjure images of police analyzing blood stains at murder scenes, but SF State’s forensic team is interested in finding something much more difficult: the truth.
“The term ‘forensics’ means ‘to search for the truth,’ and we do that through argumentation and speech,” said Vince Alvarez, a 23-year-old graduate student in communication studies. The forensics team is broken up into two separate groups: the debate team, which Alvarez volunteers for as an assistant coach, and the speech team, also known as the Individual Event Squad.
Both teams—which make and present arguments against schools like Harvard and Dartmouth—will be participating in two tournaments next weekend. One will be at Pepperdine University and the other at Azusa Pacific.
The debate team is more adversarial than the speech team, who do not argue directly with an opponent. Competitions are a lot like the recent presidential and vice presidential debates, except students have a partner, as well as only one debate topic that gets recycled throughout the year.
“When we go into a debate, we know exactly who our opponent is, and hopefully what they’re going to say, and how we’re going to respond,” Alvarez said.
The speech team chooses from 11 different events. One event called “After Dinner Speaking,” is a speech that doesn’t literally involve food, but borrows a casual post-meal tone using humor to explain, inform, or inspire a topic of the speaker’s choosing. There is also “Limited Preparation Speaking,” where students are given a topic just two minutes before speech time. There are also “Interpretation” events—which assistant coach Brandi Lawless compared to acting— where competitors perform poetry or prose in front of a judge without the use of props.
“Some people might be competing in drama or prose, which calls for them to have a character that is pulling at heart strings and making people cry,” Lawless said. “At the very next moment, they’ll go to an after-dinner speaking round, trying to make people laugh as much as they can. Those are two totally different emotions and characters. Often times, it’s difficult to switch between those two, but that’s part of being a good speaker.”
Becoming a good speaker, as Lawless describes, is a massive time commitment. Alvarez said top SF State team members spend 20-30 hours a week researching and rehearsing for upcoming competitions.
“A top level competitor will do as much research in a debate season as a graduate student on a thesis,” Alvarez said.
The debate and speech tournaments fall on weekends, creating schedule difficulties for competitors with jobs. Stephanie Eisenberg, a senior member of the debate team, said the constant weekend traveling makes money tight for her and her competition partner, Jessica Whittle. One time, Eisenberg and Whittle had to leave a competition early because Whittle couldn’t get her shift covered at the 21st Amendment, a brewery and restaurant in San Francisco.
“You can’t cook at home, and you can’t work all weekend,” said Eisenberg. She said while travel-fare is provided by the university, food isn’t always covered. Eisenberg’s meals range from packages of trail mix and ginger candies, to a fully-catered barbecue, depending on the amount of money the hosting campus can spend.
The debate team has tournaments scheduled almost every weekend this semester, though not every member can attend due to travel costs.
Besides working 20-30 hours a week at the brewery, Whittle is taking 16 units at SF State, and participating in the Urban Debate League, an after school program that teaches kids in poor areas about argumentation. Whittle, who sleeps only six hours a night on average, has no idea how she gets it all done.
“I don’t know—coffee,” Whittle said. “Lots and lots of coffee.”
Both teams require a lot of time, but the rewards far outweigh the detriments, Lawless said.
Lawless also noted that forensics gives students an edge in a highly competitive job market and that graduate programs and law schools see forensics experience as evidence of dedication and hard work.
“There is no greater skill than knowing how to be a passionate advocate of something,” Alvarez said, “which is what I think debate teaches you.”
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