AFA schedule of programming at the 2021 NCA conference


Transforming Limited Preparation Events: How Can We Renew Pedagogical Outcomes in Impromptu and Extemporaneous Speaking

Thu, 11/18: 12:30 PM – 1:45 PM


Room: Issaquah AB – Third Floor

This panel seeks to investigate limited preparation events in the activity of forensics. Although numbers in impromptu and extemporaneous speaking remain high at regional and national tournaments, pedagogical ideas the activity has been based on conflict with the changing nature of forensics. While impromptu and extemporaneous have been recognized as the events most applicable to the job market or skills used to market the activity to potential recruits, it is necessary that we discuss the necessary transformation both events require to account for a changing community and activity. Therefore, panelists will discuss their experiences with the limited preparation events, the current state of the limited preparation events, current issues we have encountered with the events, and how pedagogical outcomes ought to change moving forward. Our hope is that our discussion can offer fresh perspectives which allow for a transformation of impromptu and extemporaneous speaking while renewing the pedagogical outcomes of both events.


Megan Koch, Illinois State University


Adams, Louisiana State University

Brent L. Mitchell, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Patrick Seick, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

Melissa Fuentes, Concordia University, Irvine


Megan Koch, Illinois State University

Renewal and Transformation of Academic Debate: Building a Better Debate Education in the Face of Community Exigencies

Sponsor: American Forensic Association

Thu, 11/18: 3:30 PM – 4:45 PM


Room: Leschi – Third Floor

The papers in this panel explore the varying processes and outcomes in an ongoing project aiming to renew and transform academic debate at the collegiate level. This project, with its specific focus on immersing students in scholarly literature, developing student skill in building and testing arguments drawn from literature and presented to a diversity of audiences, and developing student skills in strategic and critical thinking, operates also through an emphasis of community with a focus on manageable tournaments that integrate classroom and conference experiences into the debate tournament structure. Papers will focus on the explanation of the PNW project, centering audiences and producing arguments, application to full service programs, resonances for non-traditional students, integration into community college curriculum, and the realities of emphasizing community over competition.


Derek Buescher, University of Puget Sound  – Contact Me


Sarah T. Partlow Lefevre, Idaho State University  – Contact Me


American Forensic Association


An Audience Centered Theory of the Burdens of Proof and Rejoinder in Debate

Pacific Northwest (PNW) Debate is indelibly marked by exigence. Exigence, in turn, serves as the guiding framework for this paper as I chart a rhetoric-centric paradigm capable of offering a “fitting” response in the form of a coherent, teachable pedagogy. PNW Debate is more than regional; it responds to exigencies across the speech and debate landscape, including but not limited to: demands on current college students; demands from participants to make debate more inclusive, just, and accessible; the rise of critical/cultural and performative theories of argumentation; shrinking program resources; and a culture of hyper-competitiveness and hyper-meritocracy in many debate circuits. The lessons to be learned from PNW Debate are significant for all forensics programs as these pressures affect all. Stressing exigence and audience also centers the need to think of argument rhetorically as well as logically. To succeed and flourish, the format will need to resonate and achieve adherence with a diversity of audiences and participants. That will require PNW Debate to articulate its own distinct voice and rationale, even if its terms resemble other debate formats. After outlining the significance of exigence, I briefly discuss the importance of paradigmatic theory and identify two “habits” from contemporary evidence-based debate that challenge PNW Debate’s ability to respond to its exigences: the “offense/defense” axiom and the “concession=truth” model of evaluation. I then proceed to outline audience-centered theories of the burden of proof and the burden of rejoinder. I argue that an audience-centered (re)articulation of these debate cornerstones helps both debaters and judges in crafting, refuting, and evaluating arguments in ways that offer a “fitting” response to PNW Debate’s founding exigencies.

Travis Cram, Western Washington University  – Contact Me

Audience-Centered, Evidence-Based Debate as a Vital Cog of a Full-Service College Forensics Program

Intercollegiate forensics programs stand to benefit significantly from re-centering their missions and competitive offerings on audience-centered, evidence-based debate formats. The collective experience of programs participating in Pacific Northwest (PNW) Debate suggest that there is significant demand among undergraduate students for forensics offerings that inculcate focused research and grounded argumentation skills that also temper some of the competitive excesses that define many other debate formats. Importantly, this type of debate fosters competitive opportunities for both the growing number of students for whom financial and other obligations constrain their ability to participate in co- and extra-curricular activities and for students who are interested in argumentation as an exercise in public reason. The competitive intercollegiate forensics landscape has experienced growing fragmentation over the past several decades, a trend that accelerated in the aftermath of often-devastating budget cuts following the Great Recession. There is no reason to expect that well-supported programs already committed to highly specialized debate and competitive speech circuits will abandon their current formats, but leaders of those programs should recognize that the combination of format proliferation, the nationalization of competitive circuits, and the elimination of many keystone programs has both pushed existing programs towards format specialization and created significant barriers to creating and sustaining new programs. I will explain how our experience with PNW Debate suggests that established teams can help renew forensics participation in their regions by transforming their own teams to ones that welcome into their programs both public- and specialized-audience focused debaters and formats.

David Cram Helwich, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  – Contact Me

Beyond Competition: Community-building and civic engagement in intercollegiate debate

Competition is an obvious and primary focal point of the activity, but it need not be the only concern of intercollegiate academic debate. It will be argued here that too much emphasis given to the competitive elements of the activity can lead to a number of unintended and unwelcome consequences, including the development of counterproductive and unhealthy personal behavior as well as making the space unwelcome to new participants, particularly those from marginalized categories. In the process of establishing a new debate format in the Pacific Northwest, an effort is being made to find a more productive balance between the competitive elements of the activity and an intentional emphasis on building a more inclusive forensics community. It is our contention that a more welcome and inclusive climate is neither mutually exclusive with rigorous preparation and robust competition nor does it trade off with the kind of transformational education that academic debate is associated with. This paper will examine some of the concerns related to an overemphasis on competition and the various approaches being taken in the new Pacific Northwest Debate format toward finding a more reasonable balance. It will include early anecdotal evidence from the first two seasons, identify some of the challenges experienced thus far, and conclude with recommendations for future consideration.

Korry Harvey, Western Washington University  – Contact Me

Incorporating scholarship in argument: Appeal to authority or authoritative appeals?

Within the framework of human evolution, French cognitive scientists Mercier and Sperber (2017) wonder how can we square the obvious power of human reason with the growing body of evidence that this faculty is often deeply flawed. Their profound answer is that reasoning in isolation –what they call solo reasoning – is self-interested, and highly-partial and selective across the entire arc of sense-making, from apprehension to internal representation to interpretation to recall to representation. Building on these insights, this paper argues that privileging personal experience as evidence in argument is problematic. Viewing personal experiences as weightier, more revelatory, and authentic evidence crashes against the neuroscience. Individual sense-making about our worlds is deeply-flawed, especially with respect to traumatic experiences. While also open to criticisms, centering the social act of reasoning about evidence on peer-reviewed scholarly articles from a shared corpus, as in PNW debate, provides a much stronger foundation for leveraging the power of human reason to address common challenges while at least partially mitigating the unavoidable limitations and biases of solo reasoning.

Trond Jacobsen, University of Oregon  – Contact Me

Searching for opportunity: How Pacific Northwest debate met the educational needs of community college students

This paper will reflect on the community college experience in Pacific Northwest (PNW) Debate during the 2020-2021 academic year. As community college educators and forensics/debate programs are aware community college programs and students face a unique set of challenges leading to a decline in academic debate competitions. These challenges include rising travel costs, diminishing regional tournament options, increased national focus on a single circuit that negatively impacts student educational opportunities, and work-life balance that impact recruitment and retention. As a Director of Midwest community college program, I will discuss the motivating factors that led to our participation in PNW debate and how the format and norms created in this style have benefited students who are being left behind by traditional, national-circuit debate. The paper will be an analysis of the strengths and opportunities of PNW debate for community college students new to inter-collegiate debate. Specifically, it will look at the opportunity for the PNW format to meet the educational needs of our students and the impact of this format on completion percentage and student retention.

Justin Stanley, Johnson County Community College  – Contact Me

Transforming Debate for Educational Renewal: Reasons for and Practices of Pacific Northwest Debate

Pacific Northwest (PNW) Debate arose out of a felt need to address exigency marked in the changing landscapes of academic debate and out of a desire to best meet the educational needs and location of a wide spectrum of students. Beginning with conversations concerned with the opportunities afforded students across other formats, PNW debate sought to offer accessible and manageable debate experience to students at all levels while grounding debate in educational outcomes program directors saw as essential: scholarly research, iterative research across defined topics, manageable tournament experiences. What emerged was a format of debate that offered those foundational elements along with a focus on community and the classroom/laboratory environment, among other things. This paper explores the foundation and structure of PNW debate, examining the unique practices of the format and the outcome driven approach that centers the experiment. The authors frame the educational objectives within views of policy debate and multi-service programs.


Derek Buescher, University of Puget Sound

Glen Frappier, Gonzaga University


Forensics in the Midst of Transformation and Renewal

Sponsor: American Forensic Association

Fri, 11/19: 8:00 AM – 9:15 AM


Room: Redwood B – Second Floor

Panelists discuss various perspectives on culture at a crossroads in forensics. Specifically, the topics of mission and practice, personal purpose, forensics from afar, and the journey of student to coach are addressed. Because culture and what is appropriate can be so broadly interpreted, no one perspective is set forth as correct, but standards and guidelines are played with. We are particularly interested in forensics as it is emerging, transforming, and renewing in a post-COVID world.


Jennifer Talbert, Ohio University


Ryan C. Louis, Ottawa University

Jacqueline Yu, University of California, Berkeley

Crystal Lane Swift Ferguson, Mt. San Antonio College

Shaunte R. Caraballo, California State University Dominguez Hills

Jordan J. Sandoval, Mt. San Antonio College


Tomeka Robinson, Hofstra University

Taking Conspiracy Theories to School: Transforming Pedagogies for a Post-truth World

Sponsor: American Forensic Association

Fri, 11/19: 12:30 PM – 1:45 PM


Room: Boren – Fourth Floor, Union Street Tower

In the past decade, a cluster of terms has arisen to describe a cultural and political communication scene of fracture and disagreement: post-truth politics, propaganda, conspiracy theories, and fake news. What are the appropriate postures and capacities for people to live, participate, and intervene in this world? This panel gathers a series of scholars and teachers who will respond to the question as a matter of pedagogy in the fields of argumentation and rhetorical studies. How should we renew and transform our teaching? What pedagogical approaches have worked? How can we transform our approaches in ways that fittingly respond to the current moment? The panel will ask (and pose provisional answers to) these key questions for the future of the field.


Robert Jarrod Atchison, Wake Forest University


Calum Matheson, University of Pittsburgh

Ryan Neville-Shepard, University of Arkansas

Reed Van Schenck, University of Pittsburgh

Sarah Riddick, Worcester Polytechnic Institute


Renewing and Transforming Critical Inquiry for a Post-Truth Era: The Challenges of New Media and Politics

Sponsor: American Forensic Association

Sat, 11/20: 8:00 AM – 9:15 AM


Room: Juniper – Second Floor

In the past decade, a cluster of terms has arisen to describe a cultural and political communication scene of fracture and disagreement: post-truth politics, propaganda, conspiracy theories, and fake news. This horizon provides an opportunity with which to renew and transform the theories and practices of our scholarship. How does the emergence of new media and digital communication technologies challenge us to renew and transform our modes of inquiry? What are the relevant objects of analysis, and critical methods that can be brought to bear on them? What theoretical approaches should be a part of these changes in research? This panel gathers a series of scholars in the fields of argumentation and rhetorical studies to respond to these questions. The panel will ask (and pose provisional answers to) these key questions for the future of communication studies.


Timothy Barouch, Georgia State University


Jennifer A. Malkowski, California State University Chico

John P. Hendry, Georgia State University

Sarah T. Partlow Lefevre, Idaho State University

Rebecca J. Steiner, Emory University

Heather Woods, Kansas State University

American Forensic Association Business Meeting

Sponsor: American Forensic Association

Sat, 11/20: 2:00 PM – 3:15 PM (both in person and online via Zoom)


Room: Issaquah AB – Third Floor

Business meeting for the American Forensic Association (AFA).


Robert Jarrod Atchison, Wake Forest University

Kelly Michael Young, Wayne State University

Eric Morris, Missouri State University

Shannon D. LaBove, Rice University

John Katsulas, Boston College

M’Liss Stewart Hindman, Tyler Junior College

Topic: AFA business meeting

Time: Nov 20, 2021 02:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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Top Papers in American Forensic Association

Sponsor: American Forensic Association

Sat, 11/20: 3:30 PM – 4:45 PM


Room: Issaquah AB – Third Floor

Top Papers in American Forensic Association


Robert Jarrod Atchison, Wake Forest University


An Analysis of Civic Engagement in Contemporary Forensic Debate

The purpose of this study is to understand how participation in forensic debate influences civic engagement among current and recent competitors. We propose the following hypotheses: Length of participation in forensic debate will predict civic engagement attitude factors, length of participation in forensic debate will predict civic engagement dispositions, length of participation in forensic debate will predict civic engagement behavioral intentions, and length of participation in forensic debate will predict civic engagement behavior factors. The results of the study did not reveal a significant relationship for any of the four hypotheses, contrary to previous research on debate participation and civic engagement. This noted discrepancy could be due to a variety of factors including shifting demographics in the forensic debate community in recent years as well as a loss of faith in neoliberal measures of civic engagement utilized in this study and previous research. Additional instruments should be developed to measure civic engagement dimensions that exist outside of direct democratic participation, donations to bureaucratic institutions and occupying structured career or volunteer positions. Participation in forensic debate could be a form of civic engagement itself.

Carlos Pelayo, California State University Fullerton

Kristina Rietveld, California State University Fullerton

Argumentation and Debate Instruction as a Response to the Rwandan Genocide

Instruction in argumentation and debate can form a social bulwark against genocide. The recent genocide in Rwanda provides a template for present understanding about debate furthers discursive complexity and social resistance to genocide.

Ben D. Voth, Southern Methodist University

Performing in the Pandemic: An Autoethnographic Examination of Collegiate Speech during Covid-19

As a result of the 2019 novel Coronavirus (Covid- 19) national forensics organizations, following the guidelines set forth by the federal government, transitioned to a completely digital format. This essay breaks down personal experience of navigating the intersection between collegiate forensics and the pandemic to its thematic underpinnings through a series of autoethnographic analyses. This research seeks to understand the online collegiate forensics competitor’s nuanced experiences and how those experiences can be translated to a larger cultural conversation.

Damon Lawson, Concordia University Irvine

The Uses of Conspiracy

Conspiracies and their theorists no longer enjoy comfortable remove from mainstream politics. We contend with this lesson that a failure to teach the conspiracy theory as an investigable form is a failure to equip argumentation students with needed tools for interpreting and responding to arguments as they actually occur. This lesson employs a truncated Toulmin Model of Argument (Claim, Data, Warrant) to teach conspiracy theories as a genre of public discourse. This assignment was developed for use in Colorado, and as such used local conspiracies regarding Denver International Airport’s for our object. The lesson can accommodate any number of local, national, or international conspiracy theories, so instructors are encouraged to outfit this framework with an object of interest to their students. Our twinned objective is both to appeal to students’ sense of mystery and demonstrate that sense’s actionable consequences for argument as a praxis.

Nathan Henry Bedsole, University of Nebraska-Omaha

Taylor Hahn, Johns Hopkins University


Final Rounds to Final Defenses: Retroactively Applying Lessons from Forensics Events to Our Doctoral Dissertation Processes

Sponsor: American Forensic Association

Sun, 11/21: 9:30 AM – 10:45 AM

Washington State Convention Center

Room: 212 – Second Level

Panelists began as community college students/forensics teammates, then spent 15 years traversing academia through speech coaching, teaching, service, and, by 2020, doctoral degrees. After dissertating, we realized skills developed in forensics were directly applicable to our dissertation journeys. By transforming speech lessons learned into methodological insights, this interactive panel renews the dissertation process by embracing long-term impacts of forensics involvement. We focus on lessons applied from platform speaking events, interpretation events, and Reader’s Theatre.


Anthony Peavy, University of New Mexico


Joshua Hamzehee, University of Northern Iowa

“Shae” Hsieh, Los Angeles City College

J Edward Stevenson, San Jose City College


David Gaer, Lone Star College-University Park

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