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. …