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Forensics will have first live campus performance since 2019

February 22nd, 2022

Emil Benavides and Char Ehrmann

Members of the forensics team will perform this morning at 11 a.m. in Memorial Hall during convocation; PLEASE NOTE that this convocation will not be livestreamed due to sensitive content.

Emil Benavides, freshman from Stockton, and Char Ehrmann, senior from Andover, will perform Program Oral Interpretation, while Nathaniel Schmucker, senior from Moundridge, will perform Prose.

Their coach is Cristy Dougherty, Ph.D., the new director of forensics and an assistant professor of communication arts who began in her position last fall.

Bethel brought Dougherty back into teaching, and she’s glad it did.

About a year ago, Dougherty was finishing her doctorate at the University of Denver and starting to look for jobs – in the middle of a pandemic – when she came across the opening at Bethel.

The question: after working on a graduate degree in communication arts, did she want to “get back into speech again?”

She decided the answer was yes. “After a time of not teaching and doing a lot of writing, I was craving teamwork, and working with students.”

Dougherty was born and raised in Minnesota, where she was a high school and college forensics competitor. Speech, she says, “is the reason I went to [college] in the first place. I don’t think I would have done it without that.”

Her undergraduate degree is from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where she first heard of Bethel College, because of Bethel’s strong reputation in the national intercollegiate forensics competition world.

Later, when Dougherty was coaching at Minnesota State University-Mankato, she met Mallory Marsh, then the director of forensics at Bethel.

Bethel “made so much sense,” she says. “It felt destined. It was perfect timing. And I went to a similar college at Concordia, a small liberal arts school. I know the environment. I’ve lived it.

“I care more about teaching than anything, even my research, which I also love. Teaching is a passion, so I liked that Bethel is teaching-focused.”

And finally, she says, there is “the institutional support. Bethel cares so deeply about forensics and the arts. It was something I wanted to be a part of. I trusted my intuition and ended up here.”

Is Bethel’s legacy (one of only a literal handful of schools to have qualified for the American Forensic Association-National Individual Events Tournament every single year of its existence) intimidating?

Not to Dougherty. “It’s great,” she says. “We have resources. The tradition has been created – it’s solid and firm. The support is there. That’s the most important part.”

One of Dougherty’s freshman competitors, Tristan England from Pretty Prairie, has qualified for the national tournament, keeping Bethel’s record unblemished.

Chances are good he won’t be going to the tournament, to be held this year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, alone.

Her goal for this first year has been “to create a solid, stable foundation for the team. I’m focused on creating a sense of structure that seems to be working.

“I’ve put a lot of emphasis on my seniors who are about to graduate. They deserve a good season and to be able to do some things they never got to do. I’ve been asking my freshmen to step into leadership roles.

“It’s all about creating a team culture,” she says. “I’m a competitive person but right now I need to really work on the foundation.”

She says the work is “challenging – a new experience” but the reward is that “the students are great. They’re passionate and funny. They always make my day so much better.”

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #15 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #31 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest, both for 2021-22. Bethel was the only Kansas college or university selected for the American Association of College & Universities’ 2021 Institute on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, and has been named a TRHT Campus Center. For more information, see

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.