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COVID 19 Edition

COVID19 vs Speech & Debate Team: A Chat with the Team President About the Struggle

By Daniel Davis, Sigma Chi Eta Zeta Chapter President 

Heaven Shepherd, president of the speech and debate team, recently discussed the challenges the team has faced because of COVID. She also talked about what she misses about the team before COVID. What she likes about the current team. And gives advice to anyone who may want to join.

Heaven Shepherd has been on the speech and debate team for 3 years, this year and last year as president. She has seen the team grow from a team just beginning to try out debate to the well-respected team it is today.

Ms. Shepherd, with the help of team coach Dr. Janice Ralya has led the team to numerous victories and through many adversities and is known by her teammates to be a true leader and a true friend.  

COVID19 has had an impact on all of us, and every program at Jeff State has had a battle to restore normalcy because of the shutdown and protocols that must be implemented for safety.

This pandemic has been a true test for the team and all collegiate debate teams across the country. This season looks like no other, and for a team still fairly new, it has been a big obstacle to overcome.  

Before the pandemic the team got to travel to various universities across multiple states and got to interact with people from all over the country.

Now everything is online, some students debate with face masks at the college, while others debate from home.

Here are the team president’s thoughts on this new world debate has been thrust into.

As the Speech and Debate Team President what has been the biggest challenge you've faced moving from the in-person environment of the team last year, to the online environment this year?

The biggest challenge I find is trying to connect with my teammates and teach them what I know. Face to face we can get a better understanding of emotion and communication. Online, however, we cannot get as involved because of the restrictions.  

I like to build a relationship and bond with each of my teammates, but it is definitely hindered by the online aspect. I also find it very hard to not be able to hang out with my teammates on long rides, at tournaments out of state and just in general.

How do you go about assisting the coach with running the team and training new people when you can't meet face to face and only meet virtually once a week?

I try to contact my teammates as often as possible about questions they have, practicing and general concerns or nervousness. I especially try to ensure the new members that I am always available to call, text, facetime or meet on Google Meets to help them in any way I can.  

I do all that I can to make them see that we are a team and that we are friends. I want to make sure my teammates now have the same attention and communication as teammates past.  

In the end, I love everyone that has become part of the team, since the beginning of my time here to now and teammates in the future.

What do you miss most about the team before the pandemic?

I miss the closeness we had. I remember all of the long van rides listening to podcasts, catching up on current events, and having the best time just spending time together with my teams. I really miss the conversations at dinner after a very long day of debating, the tiredness but excitement of wanting to know who made it to finals, and the overwhelming support from teammates when someone did go to finals or win an award.

What has been a surprising enjoyment for you about the way the team works now?

I would say the biggest surprise in general was being able to see everyone in person for the first time. But the surprise enjoyment I found was the sheer excitement of how well everyone is working together.  

I see that everyone is very eager and very supportive already, and we have just met in person not long ago. I find joy in the fact that it feels like we all feel like we have known each other for years despite the lack of in person team meetings.

If someone wanted to join the team now but was unsure about the online environment, what would be some advice you would give them?

I would give them the same advice as I would for the in-person environment. Take the leap.  

When I started the team, I was very unsure. I was nervous, worried and only wanted to do my best to be a part of the team.  

I went into my audition and I tried my best and got so much support from all these people I did not know, and I ended up not only part of the team, but now the president!  

Put your worries aside, email Dr. Ralya (Coach of the team) and set up an audition time. Do not let the new normal push you away from trying new things, especially when it comes to such an amazing opportunity!

Powerhouse New Speech & Debate Team member Discusses Joining the Team Amid COVID19 Pandemic

By Daniel Davis, Sigma Chi Eta Zeta Chapter President

Jacob Davidson may be new to the speech and debate team, but he has had phenomenal success.

He made it to quarterfinals at his first ever tournament and made it all the way to the final round at his second tournament, narrowly missing the victory. Some on his team believe he truly won that tournament.

It cannot be understated how rare and exceptional his success has been, and how natural a debater he is.

Jacob discusses his success during the online COVID season. He talks about his experiences and offers up advice to anyone wanting to join the team.

As a new member of the Jeff State Speech and Debate Team, what challenges have you faced due to the way the team operates because of COVID19?

I don’t think I have personally dealt with any challenges regarding team operation because I have nothing to compare it to. This is my first time being on a debate team, so any challenges have been more like adjusting to a new routine as opposed to switching to another one.  

I will say that not being able to see the team face to face for the first couple of months was no fun. I enjoy the connection you make with eye contact and direct communication, and webcams just don’t convey emotion  

What is your favorite thing about being on the team?

Definitely my teammates. I had this preconceived notion going in that I was going to be this old guy and it was going to be a bunch of kids and we were going to bump heads because of the age gap, but I felt totally embraced by the team from the start. It was an amazing feeling and actually made me look within myself and realize I need to give people more slack.

Everybody has been great and really tried to help me be my best. No drama or talking behind backs. In that way it’s the first true team I have ever been on.

You have had a lot of success this year in tournaments despite the changes the team was forced to make because of the pandemic. What would you say is the most important factor to success in an online environment, and what has been the most important thing you've learned since joining the debate team?

I told Dr. J after breaking at the first tournament that I expected to be there because I know what I’m capable of.  

That being said, the most important thing I have learned since joining the team is realistically, I know nothing. lol. By that I mean, I had some raw skills but after hearing you (Daniel) and Heaven speak I was like, I have a long way to go.  

I needed so much polish and direction and you both gave me that which I can’t thank you enough for. You never stop learning and honing your skills and putting new tools in your tool belt.  

Now what has been MY most important factor in success in the online environment from reading ballots would be confidence and having your words make an impact b/c they are so much more important in the virtual setting. B/c people can’t look at what you are wearing or what you are doing with your hands I think they hone in on your words and delivery much more.

Are you happy with your decision to join the team?

Couldn’t be happier. It was a great choice.  

I have met some amazing people and have gotten to do something I always have loved (arguing) but usually got in trouble or broken up with for doing. And I have had success at it too which is always satisfying.  

If someone wanted to join the team but was unsure because of the online environment, what advice would you give them?

I would totally jump in all the way.  

If its speaking in front of groups or something similar that makes you nervous, this will help you out big time. When you debate you will have 4-5 people max listening to you so it’s so much easier and less stressful.  

And once you get your confidence, it will get easier and easier. Dr J and everyone have embraced me, and they will do the same to that person that wants to belong, that person who has never belonged, or that person who doesn't think they belong.  

Read, Zoom, Talk

The Sigma Kappa Delta (SKD) Word Herd is sponsoring a virtual book club that is open to any interested JSCC readers.  Our first selection is the fantasy bestseller Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a vivid journey through hardship, hassle, hustle, and holding on.   SKD officer Alyssa Bailey chose Children of Blood and Bone as the inaugural selection of the SKD Book Club for its powerful appeal to both the fantastical and the actual, and we invite you to share in its magic. We have had one meeting, but we are still early enough in the novel for you to join the next meeting via Zoom.  We even have copies of the book available for the first two readers that contact SKD sponsor Dianna Hyde at, who will also place new members on the Zoom list.


By Elizabeth Warren, Sigma Kappa Delta Member

Jefferson State has done a fantastic job at handling COVID-19. Jefferson State has allowed students to have access to all the internet they need by sitting in the parking lot and sitting at the picknick tables that were provided. We have still been able to participate in extracurricular activities. The theater program and SKD members where still able to put on their yearly Pioneer Con. We were able to do this through via zoom. We were able to have people from the Chilton and Shelby campus at once! We were all able to see and talk to each other and have lots of fun. All the teachers have been very considerate during this pandemic. Professors have been so kind to all of us and we all know how hard it has been on all staff and faculty members. Despite this pandemic, professors have made everything possible and we have learned to have fun by playing with zoom. There is never a dull moment at Jefferson State, and I am beyond grateful with how we have evolved. I am proud to be a student at Jefferson State as the faculty still continues to better everything and make it COVID-19 friendly. We have helped students who where in need of internet and we have even done a few food pick ups to help all of our students family and friends. COVID-19 is not going to stop Jefferson State from helping others and showing the world the love Jefferson State has for its hard-working students.