By Zipporah Spanjer
Note: I’m an SCW student, and this is an SCW issue.
Within the “General Education” component of SCW’s graduation requirements, under “Modes of Expression,” there are two required courses: English Composition and Speech Communication, of which English Composition must be taken within a student’s first two semesters at Stern. It’s a great course in its own merit, but there is a reason students have to take it early: you have to be able to write essays for other classes in order to succeed.
Speech Communication is also a core requirement, but there is no two-semester deadline. As a result, each semester, Speech Communication classes are full of senior students. Due to priority registration, the courses are full before most students can sign up, particularly underclassmen. This semester, there are seven slots for the Speech Communication class requirement — amounting to a 140-student total capacity.
During my first semester at Stern, one of my classes required an oral presentation, which was worth 10% of my grade. My second semester, there were four classes with presentation requirements. Regardless of whether a student has taken Speech Communication, the ability to give a presentation is an expected skill in a student’s wheelhouse.
I was not able to take Speech Communication until last semester — my fifth semester at SCW (ironically, I had already developed many of the other skills taught by the class, such as how to make an effective visual presentation, through experience) — and it taught me vital strategies for success in public speaking, such as confidence, how to structure a speech, and how to maintain audience interest. I believe students should have access to learning these types of strategies as early in their college experience as possible.
Further establishing the need for access to Speech courses are the number of students at this institution that are involved in extracurricular activities that involve public speaking: participating in SURGE or START, leading clubs, getting interviewed for jobs, and so on. Most students come to college with little to no public speaking experience, which can lead to poor performance on important presentations.
What can we do? From a student’s perspective, not much. Something that I can do personally is write this article. We need the administration and professors to step in. I believe that, just like English Composition, Speech Communication should be required within the first two semesters. The shift to this system will take time, and, yes, (gasp!) money, but it is necessary. We will also need more Speech teachers, at least until all upperclassmen have taken speech, to accommodate the influx in speech-taking students. It may be a complicated transition, but I think the benefits Stern students will reap will far outweigh any difficulty in achieving it.