Wanted: Black Students in Public Speaking Classes

Article excerpt

As each semester begins I anxiously

await to see the ethnic

composition of my public

speaking classes. And each

semester I find myself lecturing

to a class that is more than 80 percent

white and 20 percent people of color.

Rarely does the latter percentage represent

Black and African-American students.

So we must ask the question -- Why? Do

these students not see the importance of

such a class? Are they intimidated or uncomfortable taking

part in this class?

Unfortunately, we may not want to hear

the answers to those questions. Even though

research has shown that developed

communication skills are important for all

students, still the interest is not apparent. Part

of this lack of interest has to do with the fear

of public speaking. However, considering that

public speaking is ranked in the top five of

societal fears, we can conclude that it is an

issue for everyone and not just Black students.

But it is important to focus attention

specifically on the African-American student

and public speaking.

One argument suggests that students feel

as though there is no need for such a class. No

one needs to teach them how to talk or speak.

So what purpose does this class serve? That is

the same reasoning given by many students at

historically Black colleges who feel it is not

necessary to take Black Studies courses

because they are Black and already submerged

in the culture. They are wrong. There is a

need for all students to take a communication

skills course. Just like any other subject

matter, there is a process in achieving and

delivering a successful speech. A public

speaking course teaches the skills of organizing

ideas and being able to articulate them in a

variety of settings. Without some experience

or prior knowledge, it is difficult to actually

succeed at doing so.

The most upsetting aspect of this issue is

that African-American students feel

intimidated and sometimes uncomfortable

participating in a public speaking class. Many

students assume they have to assimilate into

what is deemed "correct" or "proper" language

and speaking styles. This is where

communication professors can teach their

students that it is not necessarily incorrect to

use slang terms or phrases while delivering a

speech. However, students must remember the

setting in which they are speaking and make

sure the audience is appreciative and

knowledgeable of those words. If not, the

message is not conveyed in the manner which

the speaker had hoped.

So students do not need to assimilate.

They are simply learning to be "bilingual," in a

sense: knowing the occasions and

environments to speak or use certain language.

But again, this is true for all students. …