UIC Speech and Forensics Team perseveres through pandemic

White text on red background says UIC Speech: Use your voice, tell your story, be heard, create change

The UIC Speech and Forensics Team has persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to online speaking.

Though the team has faced several challenges during the pandemic, from positive COVID-19 cases to balancing life in person and online, the students have pushed through them with resilience.

“This team has stood out as surviving and thriving during the pandemic, with some hiccups to be expected,” said Vance Pierce, associate director of the Center of Student Involvement. “The team has virtually traveled to different parts of the country, competed against traditional powerhouse programs such as Bradley University, Western Kentucky University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Alabama, Illinois State University and George Mason University and performed well, placing in the top 5 at several tournaments that saw as few as 30 students to those with over 300 students. These accomplishments — with so much going on and uncertainty — defines perseverance.”

The team can boast a successful season: they took second at the 2021 Illinois Intercollegiate Forensics Association State Tournament; fifth at the 73rd Annual Norton Invitational hosted by Bradley University, the largest regular-season tournament in the country; fourth at the 22nd Annual Hell Froze Over Tournament hosted by University of Texas at Austin and Bradley University, featuring 19 of the top 20 programs in the country; and runner-up finishes in five other tournaments — the most for this three-year-old university-sponsored team that started as a registered student organization five years ago. The members also have earned more than 30 individual championships for the team.

“We were all on edge for how this activity was going to adapt to such a drastic shift,” said Jaron Cano, secretary-treasurer of UIC Speech and Forensics team, and a junior in English and political science. “We’ve got it down. We’ve accepted the situation handed to us, and we’ve made the most in trying to continue to participate in this activity.”

Speech competitions are traditionally divided into styles, including public address, a standard and prepared speech; interpretation, which consists of a more performative dialogue and limited preparation to typically address a socioeconomic or political issue; and duo interpretation, where two members perform a single piece of literature or combine different literature around a theme.

With these virtual competitions, the students were able to compete in tournaments they previously could not travel to due to distance, and they have proven that they were ready to take on the challenge of going from speaking in front of a large crowd to just those on their computer screen.

“The way that I have had to prepare has changed — we would get ready together and warm up together with voice exercises and things that improve energy. Now that we can’t be in the same space, we can’t do it together anymore,” said Onyinye Udeogu, team president and senior in neuroscience. “You’re a little bit more accountable to yourself for how you raise your energy or you raise your ability to speak. It’s a good opportunity in a way because after this, there’s going to be a lot of online interviews and auditions. It’s teaching us how to give a presence over the internet.”

The team has proven itself successful and resilient by relying on one other and challenging themselves to meet the standard the team has set in prior years.

“It proves the resilience of the team especially through our younger team members; our freshmen have adapted so well to the online interfaces and practicing and being on their own for this as well. It does show the resilience of the team because we did whatever we needed to do to get here,” Udeogu said.

The UIC Speech and Forensics team is preparing for online nationals this spring with excitement and anticipation for next season.

“This will be our first national experience online as a team with the success we’ve had,” Cano said. “I would say the team is ready for whatever happens next season as well whether we go back on campus or if we are allowed to travel or if we are stuck talking to our laptops. Even though it was one of the worst years we could’ve had, it was just amazing how we’ve learned so much and the success we’ve had.”

“We take great pride in representing this institution — we love bringing ‘the heat’ to rounds with creativity and a sense of pride in giving voice to issues ranging from domestic violence, anti-racism work, to protecting the rights of Indigenous people,” Pierce added. “We feel that we must give a voice to those who maybe don’t have the chance to advocate for these topics in a medium of performance.”

As the season comes to a close, members reflect positively on their experience with the team and sport.

“It really does change you,” Cano said. “The team has shaped my undergraduate experience at UIC tenfold. I think if I didn’t join I would be a whole different person and I’m glad that I joined and I am the person I am.”

“I definitely learned how to advocate and stand up for myself as well as being able to organize my thoughts in front of people, things that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” Udeogu said.

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