On Monday evening, when the Rose Garden begins to darken and the soft lamp post lighting begins to flicker on, one classroom light at the end of the garden still remains. Inside that classroom, members of the APU forensics team fill up two couches while energetically conversing with one another.
Huddling together for a group picture, they laughed as one team member joked that it was the wrong day to not wear makeup, while another team member proudly posed with their three medals and trophies for additional personal photos.
“We do homework there and chill, and of course we end up debating [with each other],” senior business economics major and forensics team member Hovsep Chaparian said.
Old members and new members alike have become so attached to one another that they spend most of their time in the office together.
“It’s our second home,” forensics team member Jacob Burrola said, a freshman political science major.
Community is foundational to the mission of the forensics team, a team built on fostered friendships.
“I [can] go to these people and explore these ideas…It [is] so much more than going to lunch together…We’re all super close,” freshman social work major and forensics team member Abby Hoyt said.
Forensics is a world of competitive debating and speech competitions, which includes speech performance events such as impromptu and dramatic interpretations. However, APU has recently capitalized on the debate formats of National Parliamentary Debate (NPDA) and Individual Parliamentary Debate (IPDA).
“I love NPDA because my partner and I work well together; our strengths complement each other,” Hoyt said.
The forensics team’s focus on parliamentary debates has led to substantial success. Currently, APU’s forensics team is ranked 27th out of 170 universities and colleges in the nation.
“The students really deserve all of the praise. They’re smart and they’re very open to coaching, and they’re motivated,” Matthew Brandstetter said, interim director of forensics.
Brandstetter served as the assistant debate coach with former forensics director and communications professor Amy Jung last year, and has stepped into the director role this semester.
Brandstetter was a champion debater in high school and college where he received third-place honors on two separate occasions, and what has kept him in the forensics world is the opportunity to help students who are in the same situation he was.
“I really see, both as a competitor and as a coach more, the value that [forensics] afforded students in terms that it allowed them the opportunity to articulate their ideas intelligently and give them self-confidence,” said Brandstetter.
As an educator for the majority of his life, Brandstetter values his time spent with his students.
“They’re just kind people. When I’m teaching, and I suddenly have that ‘aha’ moment realizing that this is important work being done, [I] sense how it’s impacting the student, [and] it just validates all of the hard work and energy [I] put into it,” Brandstetter said.
That sense of participating in something meaningful is also what draws the students to the forensics team and inspires them to pour themselves into the process. Forensics directly informs and impacts the student participating by debating on issues happening today.
“Most of the debates we do are arguing policies, candidates [and] racial issues. You have to argue whatever side you’re put on, not what you want to argue, so you end up understanding the arguments on both sides a lot better. I’m very republican, but having to put myself on the opposite side and argue their points a lot of the time, [I’m] actually like, ‘Oh that was a legitimate point.’ The whole fun for me is trying to come up with arguments on the spot,” Chaparian said.
Although an already tight community, the forensics team is open to more members and is eager to recruit students to participate.
“Everyone should be a part of debate. No matter what your major is, there’s something that you can bring into it. You can always incorporate your major somehow and it makes you more passionate about what you’re studying,” Chaparian said.
Students may be hesitant to join the team, but Brandstetter explained that the fear is worth the experience.
“Anything that’s worthwhile in life will sometimes seem to be a little bit scary and challenging, but no matter what career or field you as an individual student will pursue, speech and debate is going to help you become even better at it,” Brandstetter said.
Some view forensics as just another opportunity to stir up a debate, but for Brandsettter, it is much more than that.
“Forensics is my life story.”