The Gustavian Weekly

Catching up with the Speech and Debate Team | The Gustavian Weekly

By Anh Tran - Staff Writer | November 1, 2019 | Variety

Previously a co-curricular organization, the Speech and Debate Team became a student-run organization in the fall of 2018.

Since then, the group has witnessed tremendous growth in membership and multiple successful tournaments.

It not only nurtures the art of public speaking at Gustavus Adolphus College but also connects Gusties with the open and supportive community of speech and debate enthusiasts across the United States.

“Public speaking is some people’s number one fear and that’s what we do for days. To me, having it at Gustavus means that people can get out of their comfort zones and get a little scared, yet it helps them develops skills that they’ll have for the rest of their lives.”

– Senior Amanda Hoffman

“It was me and Thomas Sullivan who started the program as a student org. We were the only two people on the team. We went from two people to six people, and now we’re at eighteen. We tripled in size after a year,” President and Co-Founder Senior Amanda Hoffman said.

After its transition from a co-curricular into a student-run organization, the team reorganized its structures, learned new ways to manage its resources and kept itself constantly open to new recruits and opportunities.

“We have one team meeting on Tuesdays and two one-hour practice sessions later on in the week. The team meetings are, essentially, buckets of information to make sure that members know what is going on for the next couple of weeks. The practice sessions are where we work on refining members’ debate skills, interpretations, expressions, speeches that they write, as well as giving them on-the-spot speaking talents,” Hoffman said.

Besides being the current president of the Speech and Debate Team, Hoffman also serves as the team’s coach.

She has forfeited her right to compete in debates, so that she can enter the tournaments as a judge, benefiting the team not only developmentally but also financially.

“I am the person who works the most with the team, and our advisor Phil is our coach, too. He’s really supportive and willing to work with students,” Hoffman said.

Having trained hard for the first half of the semester, the team came back from their first tournament of the academic year with success.

“We just came back from a tournament last weekend. We were at the Vocal Viking in Bethany Lutheran College. We had five people in debate and four people in individual events. We had a pretty good presence there. We had one person, Sophomore Ben Menke, take third place in speaker points for debate and another person take fourth place in after-dinner speaking. I would like to give out a big shout-out to Ben Menke, our treasurer for this semester. I have worked him so, so hard,” Hoffman said.

Excited with achievements, the team moves forward, searching for more opportunities to compete as well as new members who would be interested in the activity or in learning it.

“We’re always taking new members. You don’t have to start at the beginning of the year. We’ve had some people join us at the end of December and then go on to compete in the first weekend of the Spring semester,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman encourages those who are interested to contact her through e-mail and join the team.

“Come whenever you want. You don’t need to start out with experience. You just need to have the willingness to learn and to try,” Hoffman said.

The Speech and Debate Team President emphasizes the “learning” aspect of speech and debate. According to her, speech and debate is a learning process in which the participants push themselves out of their comfort zones, to expand their experiences and to refine their self-expressional skills.

The team serves as a space for its members to be vulnerable together and to grow together.

“Public speaking is some people’s number one fear and that’s what we do for days. To me, having it at Gustavus means that people can get out of their comfort zones and get a little scared, yet it helps them develops skills that they’ll have for the rest of their lives,” Hoffman said.

“Being a part of the team and competing has really helped me in other areas. I feel like I can express my opinions more effectively, and I have a more open mind about new ideas,” Hoffman said.

Focusing on the “learning” aspect of the activity has positively influenced how the team is designed.

According to Hoffman, the learning process does not exclude anyone, even the coach herself.

“Everybody who has come to the team has offered such unique and different perspectives. There have been people who have four years of speech and debate experience come to the team, and there have been people who have never heard about speech and debate before but want to do it. I have been doing speech and debate for thirteen years. I started when I was in fifth grade and I have been passionate about this activity for all of my life. It’s also a great opportunity to learn from the students while also being a student myself,” Hoffman said.

Working with members of different levels of experience allows Hoffman to step back, rethink, and reshape how the team should be run.

In addition to immersing Gusties in the art of public speaking, the Speech and Debate Team also introduces its members to the larger community of speech and debate.

“The entire speech and debate community is just really supportive. We competed against the University of Minnesota, University of Concordia Moorhead, Bethany University, MDSU, SMSU, Bethany Lutheran College, MSU, and there has not been one person that I have met on the speech and debate circuit that hasn’t been accepting and willing to teach me. It’s like a big family and it’s awesome,” Hoffman said.

The Speech and Debate Team looks forward to presenting their fall 2019 Showcase at 7 p.m. on Tuesday Nov. 12 in the Courtyard Café.

“Come to one tournament, see how it is. It’s like potato chips; you can’t just have one. I went to one tournament when I was in fifth grade, and look at me now, in sixteenth grade, still kicking. If you’re interested, come to one of our meetings on Tuesdays in Lund 207 or just shoot me an e-mail,” Hoffman said.

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