Alekhya Tallapaka: Showing Us the Power of Dialogue

By: Shabrina ParikhCourtesy of Alekhya Tallapaka

One of the most powerful teams at George Mason is its Forensics team. Forensics (colloquially referred to as Speech), refers to public speaking and oral interpretation of literature. Just recently, the GMU Forensics team made Mason proud by placing 4th at the American Forensics Association National Tournament (AFA)! The team is filled with an infinite depth of talent and hard work; today, we place the spotlight on rising senior and team captain, Alekhya Tallapaka.

Alekhya Tallapaka is majoring in Global Affairs and is sad to see forensics officially disappear from her life. She started competing in public speaking in middle school and has now done it for 11 years. She has dabbled in a wide variety of speech events, both prepared and limited preparation events and has been a multiple-time national finalist. She was tournament director for the nationally renowned Patriot Games, and is currently the co-captain of the team. Her biggest achievement, however, occurred just a few weeks ago. Alekhya became the national champion in Persuasive Speaking at AFA, which is a dream come true for any competitive public speaker. I had the privilege to interview her the night before her most successful tournament.

When Mason and Alekhya found out Mason senior Adelina Mitchell was named National Champion in Poetry Interpretation.

Courtesy of Alekhya Tallapaka

What has forensics done for you?

AT: Forensics has given me a wide range of academic skills, such as knowing how to write essays, how to give effective presentations, how to speak confidently in front of people, the list goes on and on. Forensics taught me how to advocate and how to fight for social justice through the power of words. All this while blessing me with a lifelong stream of friends and mentors.

What made you join the Speech club in middle school? And, why did you continue to pursue it until now?

AT: I was just a curious middle schooler that wanted to join all the clubs. Speech just happened to be one of them, and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. That led to an avenue straight into high school speech and I fell in love with competing. When I graduated high school, I knew I was not ready to say goodbye to this activity just yet. I had much more to accomplish.

How has speech empowered you as a woman?

AT: I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember, and you’re supposed to give speeches about topics you care about. I care about women. I have tried to run as many women-centric topics as possible so I could shed light on issues my gender faces. The scope is wide, too. Throughout my four years in college, I ran persuasive speeches about providing homeless women with feminine hygiene products and the sexual abuse of undocumented women in the service industry. My junior year it was about the Helms Amendment, which bans the use of U.S. aid for abortions internationally, making no exceptions even in cases of rape or life threatening pregnancies. It was a tricky subject and I faced plenty of backlash, but it also opened my eyes to the enormous need for reproductive justice for women all over the world.

And the topic this year, the one you won Nationals with. What was that speech about?

AT: Its kind of poetic to think about how the topic that is closest to my heart is the one I got to end my Forensics career with. It was about H4 visas, a dependent class of visa that more than 100,000 people in the U.S. are on. To work here, foreign nationals need to apply for an H1B temporary work visa. H1B workers’ immediate family members are given an H4 visa. An overwhelming majority of H4 visa holders are women and they’re completely dependent on their spouse for socio-economic needs. It’s complicated, but under layers of immigration law and xenophobia lies an issue that impacts women in an unrestricted and dangerous way. I was shocked at what I learned through researching H4 visas and knew I wanted more people to hear about this.

Courtesy of Alekhya Tallapaka

How has being a person of color impacted your Forensics experience?

AT: Well, obviously being a person of color has impacted my whole life in a lot of ways. Speech is no exception. This activity is filled with many strong, brave and powerful people of color that use the platform Speech gives them to expose issues minorities face, both in the U.S. and around the world. As the activity grows, it’s just unreal to witness how many more people of color use Forensics as an arena for social justice, and as a hub for grassroots advocacy. It provided me with a great variety of perspectives and narratives that I will carry forever.

How have you attempted to advocate for change through your speeches?

AT: Advocacy begins in my speech when I attempt to persuade the audience to understand the prevalence and urgency of my topic. My next priority is always tangible solutions, such as pushing my audience to call representatives, talk through legislation, organize marches or gatherings on college campuses, creating an app, the list is infinite. Even though words are powerful, action is always louder. I have personally called my representatives and talked about the issues raised in my speeches. During the rounds, I give out copies of my solutions to my audience, it walks them through what they can do to help. The goal is to make sure others are empowered and to provide them with the tools to create change in our community.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to be an effective public speaker?

AT: You have to be able to trust yourself and your instincts. Confidence is key, and the more you exude it, the more effective your speech will be. Practice is obviously a major component; how you say each word in every sentence matters. Everything is deliberate in delivering a speech because everything is important. It all comes down to the process-starting at the brainstorming stage, to the drafting and editing stages and topping it all off with poise and polish as a speaker. Nothing is comparable to the adrenaline you get when you know you’re getting through to an audience and captivating them with your dialogue.  

Alekhya swears by the fact that she wouldn’t have achieved competitive success in this activity if it wasn’t for the women who were trailblazers before her. “I looked up to many women in Forensics because they were breaking so many glass ceilings in this activity. We may be a small part of a nationwide trend in listening to women’s stories, but we are a significant part.” The GMU Forensics Team has given this university a reason to be proud. Mason Patriots? More like Mason’s Advocates.