COVID-19 has logistically changed every aspect of how education in the United States works. From dorm policies to class attendance, the spread of the virus—and its mitigation—has forced collegiate institutions to find creative means by which to protect their respective communities, and at the same time further the education of their students.
Patrick Henry College and its forensic program is no exception.
Thanks to careful planning and dedicated leadership, the Patrick Henry College 2020 Fall forensics season was largely a success—even if it looked different than it has in years past.
For the most part, it’s been a virtual process.
Instead of packing exhibits and rules of evidence into vans and loading luggage onto flights, students and coaches have set up recording rooms, double checked the connectivity on their devices, and made sure to have the right Zoom link. All three of Patrick Henry College’s main forensic programs, Moot Court, Mock Trial, and Civic Debate, have all made the transition online. With the exception of a few training competitions between students on campus, most of the coaching and arguing has taken place over Zoom.
Sue Johnson, program director of forensics at Patrick Henry College, has become more familiar with technology than she would have ever anticipated a year ago.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Johnson. “We’re thankful we have the ability to compete . . . It’s been a blessing to have had the opportunity, but it is a different experience.”
For the competitors, so many of the subtle workings of debate are harder to grapple with due to the transition. Judges are on screens, making them harder to read. Competitors can’t really project over a microphone, bottling up what would normally be a classic rhetorical delivery. For competitors used to making the most of their physical presence and speaking prowess, Johnson says it’s been a bit of a learning curve.
“Not only do they have to learn how to argue the new case for all these events, but also they have had to deal with questions like, ‘How do I present well over Zoom? How do I need to pace myself? What works best in terms of screen presentation?’” she said.
The new virtual setting has had a few blessings in disguise. Without having to pay travel costs, PHC was able to send out 23 Moot Court teams to compete against other schools—more teams than if the students had to physically travel to each event. It’s an opportunity for many developing competitors at PHC to put their abilities to the test in the field of competition.
And the season isn’t over.
Although the virtual workaround will continue into the spring, Patrick Henry College continues to perform at a high level of excellence. There’s always technical snags that could go be smoother over, but Johnson anticipates another stellar semester of competition in the new year.
“It’s a learning experience,” she said.
To learn more about how PHC has modified operations in light of COVID-19, you can read our leadership's most recent updates to the College's mitigation plan.