Rosemary Chesney, Campus Carrier arts and living editor
Founded four years ago, the Mock Trial club competed in a tournament last weekend against 10 other schools in Columbia, South Carolina. The goal of the club is to grow students’ public speaking and communication skills by engaging against other teams in simulation trials.
The Mock Trial club was first given a hypothetical case with court rulings, evidence, witness affidavits, pictures and other case materials. The club members then split up and each took four to five different roles for the case. They spent the next few weeks gathering materials about their different roles and preparing case materials in order to present at the tournament in Columbia. Senior Kevin Stoddard joined the Mock Trial club as a freshman and said the hardest part for him was the preparation with understanding the different rules.
“My favorite part of being on Mock Trial is the people and learning how to improve speaking and communication skills,” Stoddard said. “Being on Mock Trial will definitely help me with confidence in communication going into my career after college.”
The tournament lasted two days, and each team competed in four different rounds. Students were scored both as a team and individually against all the other teams. A panel of judges with a scoreboard judged each round, and the audience consisted of teams waiting to compete, advisors and sometimes parents. Stoddard said this was the team’s second time competing in person and third time competing ever. With COVID, the team had to compete online rather than in person last year.
“The team did pretty well, given it’s the first year of Mock Trial in college for more than half of us,” Stoddard said. “We didn’t win as many rounds as we could’ve, but each one of us every round was constantly being ranked in the top 4 of all lawyers and witnesses for the trial.”
According to Mock Trial president Tessa Sheridan, the vision for the club after she graduates is to increase numbers and get a coach who is an acting attorney or lawyer. Currently, they are one of the few teams without a coach. There are eight students in the club, but she hopes to expand with more visibility on campus.
“Not a lot of people know we exist just because we’re a newer club and we’re so focused,” Sheridan said. “Most other teams have a coach, so I just want to alleviate some of the stress for the next president and officers by getting a coach.”
One of the challenges for students’ participation is the number of hours involved in being on Mock Trial. However, she said they hope to have some new participants next year as many of the freshman did Mock trial back in high school.
While the team does not currently have a coach, they do have an advisor. Associate professor of political science Eric Sands is the advisor for the club. He said his main role is making sure they follow rules and approving funds. Although he never did Mock Trial himself, he said he does attend meetings and offer feedback when necessary.
“My favorite part is definitely working with the students,” Sands said. “The kids have a real passion and energy. You can see by how they speak and argue that they really have bright futures ahead of them.”
According to Sheridan, the most difficult challenge with being in the club is the time commitment. The students meet once a week to practice and multiple times a week closer to the competition. Outside of practices, however, the students spend hours preparing, according to Sheridan.
“The hardest thing with being on Mock Trial is the amount of time and work that goes into it,” Sheridan said. “The workload is equivalent to taking another course. Students put in hours of their own time as well as practice time to create and learn their roles.”
While time consuming, Sands said the club is a great place to cultivate public speaking, critical writing and logical reasoning skills. He said for the students aspiring to be attorneys, these are all the skills they need in order to be successful. Sheridan said her favorite part of the club is the supportive community. Many students competed in mock trials before, but many also did not compete in mock trials previously.
“The culture is to work hard while supporting and encouraging each other,” Sheridan said. “We really work hard to build each other up and make this a place where anyone can join, no matter what previous experience. We want to work hard but have fun as well.”