Emerson Forensics: A Force to Be Reckoned With


Emerson students have a long history of excelling in the art of debate. At the Pi Kappa Delta national debate tournament last spring, five Emerson students—all of them brand new to competitive debate—won first place in multiple categories against 500 students from other colleges and universities. “To start a season completely new to the activity and then win a national title is amazing,” said Deion Hawkins, assistant professor of communication studies and director of forensics.

“Of the four schools I have coached at, Emerson is by far the place where students have the natural talent and are fearless enough to say, ‘You know what, I am wild enough to actually give this a try,’” he said. [...] Hawkins came to Emerson in 2018 and was immediately struck by students’ passion for social justice.

Hawkins, who started debating competitively when he was 13, said forensics is oriented toward social justice. “It is a place where all folks are welcome,” he said. “[As someone with] two marginalized identities—being a Black gay man—I felt at home [and] accepted. My differences were celebrated.”

Last fall, Hawkins received the National Council of Pi Kappa Delta’s Bob Derryberry Award, which recognizes excellence among intercollegiate forensics educators who have been teaching for five years or less. As one of the few Black directors in the country, Hawkins said he hopes he will encourage other coaches of color to see themselves in forensics. “The team here at Emerson is very collaborative and I think that that’s kind of the team culture I strive to establish—recognizing that we’re all here to learn from each other. Together we are more likely to have solid points,” he said.

Hawkins cites this variety of perspectives and viewpoints as a major strength of the Forensics team. The students come from diverse majors, including Writing, Literature and Publishing; Performing Arts; Political Communication; Marketing Communication; and Visual and Media Arts; as well as students from the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies. “I tell students: if you do speech and debate well in college, you will learn the essential skill of time management,” he said.

Emerson Forensics team member and Political Communication major Sara Hathaway ’22 said Hawkins inspires students to believe in themselves. “I have learned that my voice is powerful,” she said, “and I am capable of using my voice to enact change.”

This is an excerpt from an article in the Spring 2020 issue of Expression, the Magazine for Emerson College.

Read the full article online.

Did you know?

Forensics is the academic term for public discussion and debate.