Weber State’s speech team earning national reputation

OGDEN, Utah — In just five years, Weber State University’s speech team has gone from new kid on the block to perennial powerhouse. In the process, the team is generating a national reputation, while offering a nuanced way to discuss contentious issues.

This spring, the WSU team won the Northwest Forensics Conference for the third year in a row, besting a field of 32 teams and finishing the 2023–24 academic year ranked fifth in the nation.

Unlike policy debate, which has been part of WSU for more than 100 years, the speech team started when communication instructor Mark Galaviz first joined Weber State in fall 2019.

“Our country is polarized due to binary assumptions,” Galaviz said. “Reasoned discourse takes a topic and provides a framework or lens on how to view it, how to approach it, and then many times covers what can be done about it."

For example, Galaviz noted that the topic of abortion could be discussed from a medical, legislative or religious framework. In each instance, the focus and rhetoric would vary.Morgan Allen, communication major and Weber State University speech team captain for the 2024-25 school year.

Weber State’s speech team competes in six to eight tournaments a year, as well as the national Pi Kappa Delta event. While most teams average 18 members, WSU’s team is one of the smallest with only 12 or 13. 

“Speech provides an extracurricular place for students to find their voices,” Galaviz said. The team also benefits from a diversity of opinions, political views, religions and more. 

Volunteer coach Kayla Griffin loves that “speech empowers young women to find their voice,” noting that two-thirds of the WSU squad are female.

One of those women, communication major Morgan Allen, became Weber State’s first All American in speech. Competing against hundreds of students from across the country, Allen was named one of 10 All Americans earlier this spring.

All Americans are selected based on outstanding performance in competition, volunteer and service work, grade-point average and letters of recommendation.

“She elevates everyone around her with a real passion. She lifts where she stands,” Galaviz said, noting that in addition to himself, a coach from a rival school also nominated Allen for the honor.

Allen said she’s come a long way from first taking a debate class with her older sister while attending Ogden High School.

“I was really bad,” she said, recalling her nerves, inability to formulate words, a lack of confidence and not understanding how to attack arguments. “Stubbornness can be a good quality. Sometimes having failure is what lights the fire to drive yourself more.”

Allen cites a Book of Mormon passage about turning weakness into strength.

Now, as she embarks on her senior year and steps into the role of team captain, Allen hopes to empower and support her teammates.

Griffin said Allen is a deeply religious individual who “radiates light,” which makes her cross-examination tactics so surprising for unsuspecting opponents. “She’s a shark,” Griffin said. “She can poke holes in any case by zeroing in on the deficiencies in their arguments.”

“A lot of times I’m underestimated, so it’s fun to play that to my advantage,” Allen said with a huge smile. “What I love about speech and debate is it teaches people how to disagree, without being disagreeable.”

As director of the speech team, Galaviz has seen what happens when his team is underestimated. At their first tournament in fall 2019, Weber State unexpectedly took first place. Last year at a holiday tournament in Oklahoma, WSU’s speech team not only won the tournament, but amassed more points than the other 12 teams combined.

Allen will take the LSAT this summer, and plans to enroll in law school after graduating from Weber State next year. Eventually she’d like to work in corporate mediation, building on what she’s learned in speech.

“Debate forces you to look at and find a way to fix the problem,” Allen said. “We are making a place to create discourse where we can exchange ideas and find a way to change things.”

Photo caption: Morgan Allen, communication major and Weber State University speech team captain for the 2024-25 school year


John Kowalewski, Marketing & Communications 


Rachel Badali, news coordinator