Ancient art of speaking persists in SDSU’s Forensic Team


Though the name tends to trick most into believing the Forensics Team consists of CSI agents analyzing tissue samples in a laboratory, the South Dakota State University Forensics team is filled with student members ranging from all majors who devote their weekends to traveling across the Midwest attending public speaking tournaments.

 he Forensics team derives its name from the Latin term “for ensis” closely related to forum, according to the American Forensic Association. The Greeks organized contests for speakers because their society recognized speaking as a pertinent component of a democracy. These contests included the development of evidence, so the term forensic became associated with the art and science of legal evidence and argument.

 ndrea Carlile, the director of forensics at SDSU and an instructor of communication studies and theatre, believes that public speaking is just as important today in our society as it was for the Greeks.

 “One thing that every human being has to do at one point in their life, or something in the society that we live in, is that they have to speak and it’s a foundational right for us in the United States to speak,” Carlile said. “I take such great pride in teaching students how to find their voice, how to speak their passions, how to fight for what they believe in. … It’s a venue and a vehicle for people to assert themselves in this world.”

 arlile has been the director of forensics for approximately three years, and keeps the teams original goals in mind.

 “My biggest priority and goal is to strengthen our core and to establish a code of excellence for our team and to try to tie back to our traditions,” Carlile said.

 ne member of the team, Michael Maxwell, a junior double majoring in advertising and speech communication, finds that the Forensics Team has enriched his college career.

 “I think it gives me such a sense of purpose here and … my time with the forensics team has affected all of my other class work,” Maxwell said. “I look forward to class presentations now. … The comfort and the confidence … you get because you have practiced – it’s not this unqualified confidence. You have this confidence because you put in the work with Forensics so you are able to be confident when you have to speak for a class.” Last month, Maxwell took home numerous awards from the North and South Dakota collegiate state tournament including first individual sweepstakes, first debate speaker, first extemporaneous speaking, first broadcast journalism, second persuasion, second impromptu and fourth after dinner speaking. Maxwell qualified for the Interstate Oratory Contest, a national contest held in Georgia over April 24 and 25. In all, the Jackrabbit Forensics Team took home 22 awards and a second place team sweepstakes from the state competition. 

Danielle Duxbury, a senior speech communication major, also took home a number of awards at the North and South Dakota collegiate state tournament such as first duo, second drama, third after dinner speaking and fourth prose. Duxbury finds that her involvement in the Forensics team has made an impact on her college career as well. “I really enjoy the relationship you make with your team and coaches. It helps your speaking and performing abilities a lot,” Duxbury said. “We’re a small team and kind of unknown on campus, but it’s actually a really fulfilling activity and I wish more people would know about it.” The current team stands with a little less than 10 students on the team, but Carlile hopes that the team can grow to 20 in the future. “Forensics team is for those people that like to be interested in the world around them, so I think it certainly requires a level of intellectual curiosity about the world in which they live,” Carlile said. “It’s for that person who likes to look at the world in a slightly different lens and it’s really such an academic activity. … So it’s for a student who maybe likes a challenge, who maybe enjoys work that they can immerse themselves in.” The Forensics team spans the majority of the academic year from September to April. Carlile said that throughout this time period students work on their pieces as if it were “one big research paper that you work on over and over and over again and you revise until you perfect it.” Although forensics is considered an individual event, the forensics team is nonetheless dependent on eachother. Carlile considers it similar to track events with individual events but points adding up to a team effort. “Forensics is definitely a team activity, and I need my teammates to do any of the things that I do because if I were going to these tournaments alone I would not perform as well and that’s because we practice as teammates, we watch each other as teammates and critique each other as teammates and at tournaments we support each other,” Maxwell said. “We’re at each other’s events, we’re in the hallways, we’re there passing by, asking how it was and so there’s that level where we build each other up that I think is great.” The team recently traveled to Ohio University at the beginning of spring break for the national Pi Kappa Delta tournament and three members of the team qualified for the American Forensic Association National Individual Events tournament held in Portland, Ore. from April 3 to 7. Forensics team member Samantha Blum qualified for dramatic interpretation, Allison Christenson for poetry and Viraj Patel for impromptu speaking. Overall, Carlile is proud of how the team performed this year. “I think our team in particular this year is a remarkable group of individuals who I think this spring semester committed to each other and who committed to the process to achieve great things with a limited number of people, but they were all committed to doing well and putting in the time it takes,” Carlile said. “I’m just proud to be their coach and they teach me things every day and coach me in things they may not always realize, but they’re just an exceptional group of individuals who are doing great things.”