Putting the 'Forum' back in Forensics

Christina Ivey

“Forensics” is derived from the Latin ensis, which many have roughly translated to ‘forum’ (“What is forensics?”). Competitive speech and debate took on this name as an homage to the polis, or spaces for public deliberation used by the Greeks. Returning to this history can guide us in looking for innovative ways of contemporarily recruiting, marketing, and promoting forensics. An open mic (or, as I have called it in the past: ‘The Venue’ – a rhetorical nod to creating a ‘forum’ for discourse) promotes forensics on campuses and supports teams in a variety of ways. Depending on resources/space/interest, the team could host 2-3 open mics per semester. During each of these events, coaches decide when specific team members participate and how. For example, when teams I have worked with in the past held open mics, half of the squad (two out of four members) would be required to perform one of their events during the open mic. The other two team members would then alternate as emcee of the event. The rest of the time slots were filled with other campus talent; such as: poets, musicians, singers, dancers, etc. The broader the types of acts, the more diverse the audience to witness the forensics performances.

Beyond explanation of the difference between forensic science and competitive speech and debate, it can be difficult to explain exactly what it is that we as forensicators do. This can be especially hard when trying to explain the activity to someone who has never been exposed to it. Even when tournaments are hosted on campus, it can be challenging for individuals to be exposed to a variety of events due to decorum (the assumption that the audience will stay in one room for the duration of a round). In an open mic setting, multiple events could be shown in succession, allowing for a more diverse glimpse into the activity – a type of team visibility. To combat the argument given by administrators that forensics is too specialized to appeal to a wider audience, the visibility an open mic provides is applied demonstration of the skills learned on forensics teams (Preston, 1997). Teams can cite the event as a form of campus involvement: a campus wide opportunity for individuals to witness what the team is doing, as well as participate alongside team members. The visibility also means the open mic can function as a form of recruitment. If students were never exposed to forensics in high school, they often only know about forensics via public speaking classes. Though an important part of a school curriculum, these classes only skim the surface of what is possible in competitive forensics. Open mics allow students on the team to demonstrate the types of events and messages that are seen at tournaments every weekend.

For those students who do not have the luxury/privilege to travel (or, for those teams with an extremely small budget), the open mic acts as a space to perform pieces/events for another audience. Alternatively, this unconventional audience potentially embraces messages that are avoided at competitive forensics tournaments. For example, there have been moments where I have had students that were determined to do a topic they have felt passionately about, but that topic was ‘over done’ or ‘not socially significant enough’ according to voices in the judging pool (Ivey, 2016). At that moment, I had to decide what was more important: allowing the student to explore a topic that could mean personal growth, or protecting a student from the vulnerable position of performing a personal topic for an audience that may attack their choice for not being ‘relevant’ or ‘competitive’ enough. Yes, part of this activity is learning how to adapt a message to a specific audience, but part of this activity is about finding agency and voice. For many students, finding their voice means going against specific conventions that are highlighted in the competitive realm of forensics (Cronn-Mill & Golden, 1997). In my experience, not only are these topics acceptable at open mics, but they are praised by the types of audiences that populate open mic events. Therefore, open mics simultaneously allow students to perform these events, as well as give students an audience that can increase personal growth and acceptance.


Cronn-Mills, D. & Golden, A. (1997). The “unwritten rules” in oral interpretation: An assessment of current practices. SpeakerPoints, 4(2). Retrieved from http://ole.blc.edU/prp/spkrpts4.2/cmilIs.html.

Ivey, C. L. (2016) But what does it mean?: Incorporating Creative Arts Therapy into forensics pedagogy. Speaker & Gavel, 53(1), 1-18.

Preston, C. T. (1997). Forensics in the twenty-first century: Uniting to adapt to a diverse society. The Forensic of Pi Kappa Delta, 83, 17-36.

“What is forensics?”. (n.d.). American Forensics Association. Retrieved from: http://www.americanforensics.org/what.html.