The Jackrabbit Forensics team competes all across the Midwest. No, this is not a CSI criminal forensics team; it’s South Dakota State’s competitive speech and debate team.
Lauren Buisker, junior communications studies and political science major, said there are three main categories students compete under: oral interpretation, public address and limited preparation.
The team’s season begins with auditions, but students do not need previous public speaking experience.
“If someone has a good work ethic and a good attitude, even if they’ve never done it before, I’m always willing to work with them,” said Andrea Carlile, Jackrabbit Forensics director and coach.
The purpose of auditions is to get a feel for what issues students want to talk about, and figure out their writing and speaking style, she said.
“I certainly allow the students to choose which events they want to do, but I also push them to be successful. That’s my job, to help them be the best versions of themselves,” Carlile said.
The Jackrabbit Forensics season runs from October to April, during which they compete in tournaments two to three times a month all over the Midwest, mostly within a six-hour drive to surrounding states, sometimes even as far as Illinois.
“I love getting to travel and share new ideas with people all across the Midwest,” said Taylor Gilmore, junior dairy production and agricultural communications double major. Gilmore has two years of experience on the forensics team.
Carlile said they have had a pretty good season and a strong spring semester, where the team has been consistently placing. Most notably, the Jackrabbit Forensics team just reclaimed its title as Champions of the Dakotas, beating all of the college programs from North and South Dakota at the Interstate Tournament.
“The road to becoming a national champion does not happen overnight,” Carlile said. “It happens in increments.”
She encourages students to trust the process and practice often. Carlile meets with members of the Jackrabbit Forensics team once a week for half-hour coaching sessions to focus on certain parts of their pieces. The team also practices together to give each other feedback.
In addition to structured practices, Carlile encourages individual practice, such as practicing in front of a mirror and recording it.
“We can learn so much from watching and dissecting, just like with any sport,” Carlile said.
While the Jackrabbit Forensics team has had many accomplishments this season, team members are also developing and growing.
“Being on the team has helped me become a critical thinker about the world around me,” Buisker said.
Being in forensics taught her how to take criticism as well, reflect on it and make changes to her speeches accordingly, she said.
“What we are doing isn’t just about winning trophies, but about expanding our horizons and perspectives while reaching a multitude of audiences,” Carlile said.
Gilmore said competitive speech and debate also gives individuals a chance to be heard by through competing in tournaments.
“Every single person has a unique situation and a unique story and they all deserve to be equally heard and equally valued,” Gilmore said.
The Jackrabbit Forensics team uses their motto, “Speak your passions” by speaking about personal topics that are important to them.
“The power of one speech can change someone’s life,” Carlile said.