By Molly Loughman
In his short tenure at Emerson College, Communication Studies Assistant Professor Deion Hawkins, has led the one-year-old Emerson Forensics team to regional and national success — efforts earning him the recognition of the oldest forensics honorary Association in America, Pi Kappa Delta.
The National Council of Pi Kappa Delta is awarding Hawkins this fall with the Bob Derryberry Award, which recognizes excellence among intercollegiate forensics educators who have been teaching for five years or less.
“It is amazing and I’m humbled. It’s also incredibly important for me because I am one of the few black directors in the country. So for a national organization to award me a distinguished award is also inspiring; I want other coaches of color to see and hopefully, it will help them see themselves in forensics,” said Hawkins, who credits forensics to saving his life as a small, shy queer black kid who eventually found himself in forensics.
“My quirks weren’t just tolerated, but celebrated. So I want to give students the same opportunities I had. My favorite part is by far seeing the students grow. They ALWAYS are overwhelmed for the first two to three weeks, but usually when they attend a tournament, they fall in love with the activity.”
Last spring, without any prior experience, Emerson’s five-person forensics team, under Hawkins’s direction, won first place in multiple categories against 500 other students during the Delta 2019 Biennial Convention and Tournament at Hofstra University. One of those students includes Political Communication major Sara Hathaway ’22, who says Hawkins’s leadership has taught her many things, from thinking outside the box during debate rounds to constructing a speech on a social justice issue – and ultimately, learning the power of one’s voice.
“He inspires us to believe in ourselves and our capabilities, and he believes in us, which makes us believe in ourselves. I think that is a super powerful quality in a coach. I have learned that my voice is powerful, and I am capable of using my voice to enact change,” said Hathaway, noting Hawkins doesn’t compel students to compete if they’re not ready or confident in their work.
“He asks us what we feel we need to improve on, and works on those specific things with us. His way of coaching is not top down and it never feels like he is working against us — always with us. You can tell he cares about us as not just competitors, but also as people and students. He is the best mentor/coach I could ever ask for.”
Forensics hones the skills of civil discourse, along with critical thinking and presentation. These are invaluable experiences and skills for everyone, explained Tomeka Robinson, Pi Kappa Delta’s past president and director of Hofstra University’s award-winning forensics team. “The Emerson Forensics team is a group of hardworking, and also humble students. I see them at a number of tournaments throughout the year and they are always a delight to judge.”
In just a year since Hawkins’s arrival at Emerson, the newborn forensics team has grown to eight students.
“I am so incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made already,” Hawkins says. “In the next couple of years, I hope to see the team grow and potentially win some team awards at nationals. We have observed quite a bit of individual success, but I want to push the team to win some team based accolades. My long term goal is to have Emerson Forensics in the top 30 at nationals! I know it can happen.”