Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Diversity in United States Forensics: A Report on Research Conducted for the American Forensic Association

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Diversity in United States Forensics: A Report on Research Conducted for the American Forensic Association

Article excerpt

Scholarly advocates for competitive forensics have held a belief in forensics as a source of training in public speaking and critical thinking. A meta-analysis published in Communication Education (Allen, Berkowitz, Hunt, & Louden, 1999) indicates significant improvement in critical thinking for students participating in competitive forensics. This improvement in critical thinking was found to be more substantial than that derived from a classroom experience in public speaking or argumentation. The evidence that forensics serves a valuable educational purpose provides one justification for continued support of the activity. The future challenge is to enlist and gain participation from underrepresented groups. Wider participation and opportunity would extend educational advantages to more individuals. As a practical matter, the long-term success of forensics requires that its participation rates reflect the changing dynamic of the population.

Many writers have considered issues of diversity in forensics (Baisinger, 1996; Bile, 1999; Friedley & Manchester, 1985; Griffin & Raider, 1992; Loge, 1991; Logue, 1986; Simerly, 1999; Sowards, 1999b). Suggestions and calls for improvement in forensics that would increase the appeal to various groups have been suggested (Billings, 2000; Pineda, 1999; Simerly, Biles, & Scott, 1992). The critical factor is whether the participants that coach, administrate, and organize such activities feel the need to increase and diversify the participation (Frank, 1997; Fugate, 1997; Stepp, 1997a, 1997b).

The structure and practice of forensics has received much attention as a starting place for change. Negative behaviors in forensics, like sexual harassment and racism, have begun to receive much needed attention and redress (Bjork & Trapp, 1994; Stepp, 2001; Sowards, 1999a; Szwapa, 1994). In addition, the issue of finding new ways of motivating a whole new and different generation of participants requires consideration. Alternative formats and evaluations for speaking informed by work in feminism, for example, may provide the potential to encourage more diverse participation (Bartanen, 1995; Beattie, 1996a, 1996b; Crenshaw, 1996; Lowerie, 1999; Madrid, 1996; Stepp, 1996; Wilkins & Hobbs, 1997). A critical examination of the current assumptions about what factors motivate participation and the need to generate alternative rewards should remain an ongoing consideration by persons in the community.

The problems affecting participation include whether success in forensics reflects overt or subtle biases that favor particular groups (Bruschke & Johnson, 1994; Hayes & McAdoo, 1972; Hensley & Strother, 1968; Hobbs & Hobbs, 1999; Stepp, Simerly, & Logue, 1994; Rosen, Dean, & Willis, 1978). The perception that groups are favored or that other persons are disadvantaged becomes a major barrier to participation (Hunt & Simerly, 1999; Murphy, 1989). Given that speech events are not objective, but rather, are evaluated by judges can create a perception of bias (Hunt & Simerly, 2000). The composition of the coaching and judging community in terms of gender and ethnicity should receive attention (Legge, 1999; Leonard, 1996). Additionally, consideration should be given to the professional and personal demands that are characteristic of coaching forensics and whether this element limits the diversity of persons serving in such a mentoring role (Pettus & Danielson, 1994).

Educators involved in forensics should be concerned with the perception that the activity is selective and exclusive and therefore does not welcome diverse participants. The first step, however, is a consideration and examination of the empirical indicators of participation and success and an assessment of whether any perception that forensics is not diverse is accurate (Kay & Aden, 1984; Larson & Vreeland, 1985; Williams, McGee, & McGee, 1999). …

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