Student Group Lobbies for More Public Speaking Opportunities

The College has sought to increase public speaking resources on campus and has even created a speech tutor program, but students are still calling for more opportunities to enhance their public speaking skills.

Members of “Harvard Speaks,” a campaign launched by students Tuesday night, hope to demonstrate to administrators the importance of public speaking as a life skill and the consequent need for more public speaking opportunities on campus.

“Whether it’s [speaking] with a law professor, in consulting, or in advocacy, the skills you take away from public speaking will help you communicate your message,” said Kevin Y. Fan ’13, the founder of the campaign, which has already collected over 100 student signatures on a petition calling for more public speaking resources.

The College currently offers a limited selection of courses that focus on public speaking—for example, Expository Writing 40, “Public Speaking Practicum,” is a small seminar course designed to help students practice and improve their oral communication skills.

Course head Rebekah Maggor, a voice and speech consultant, said that she was inspired to start the class when she recognized the “enormous” demand for more public speaking instruction within the Harvard community.

In fact, 104 applicants applied for 12 spots in the class when it was offered for the first time last year, according to Maggor.

Some courses offer academic studies of public speaking—for example, a visiting professor from Northwestern University is offering two classes on rhetoric, including one on the speeches of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Yet other courses incorporate oral elements into the curriculum itself.

General Education classes such as English 156, “Crime and Horror in Victorian Literature and Culture” and Culture and Belief 11, “Medicine and the Body in East Asia and in Europe” have incorporated speaking components, such as a final oral assessment or podcast assignments into their syllabi.

Maggor directs the recently-created Program for Speaking and Learning, which works with faculty to integrate public speaking into their curriculum.

The College has tried to provide students with opportunities to hone their public speaking skills outside the classroom as well.

The Harvard College Speaking tutors group—which previously boasted only one tutor—was able to hire three additional instructors to provide one-on-one help and workshops for students hoping to improve their public speaking skill.

But the program’s inaugural tutor Andrea R. Flores ’10—who is an alumnus of Expos 40—said that Harvard needs to offer more resources and opportunities in public speaking to students.

“I think speaking should be a core part of the Harvard curriculum. Writing and speaking go very hand in hand,” said Flores, the former Undergraduate Council president. “[It’s a] life skill you should be prepared for when you graduate.”

Marlon D. Kuzmick, Expos preceptor and associate director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, pointed to the existence of “speaking across curriculum” programs at other universities as a potential model for public speaking education at Harvard in the long run.

“It really should be more central, perhaps across Gen Ed courses,” Kuzmick said.

While the College’s current budget restrictions limit the possibilities for expansion, Maggor said she is hopeful that new public speaking opportunities will continue to become available.

“The administration has been very supportive in any way that they can,” she said.

—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at newcomer@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Melody Y. Hu can be reached at melodyhu@fas.harvard.edu.

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