During the same week that Monmouth College celebrated the famous 1880 debate victory by one its students against William Jennings Bryan and Jane Addams, another speech-related event was held that also has roots in the 19th century.
Students in associate professor Hannah Schell’s Ethics class hosted a “Speaker’s Corner” event, which was modeled after the regular occurrence in London’s Hyde Park. They took turns on the “soapbox,” speaking about issues important to them, while other students moved from speaker to speaker, asking questions and engaging the speakers in conversation.
Topics ranged from saving the whales to capital punishment, and from the need for comprehensive sex education to immigration issues. Students were encouraged to ask the tough questions, and the speakers were encouraged to stand up for what they believe.
Alicia Pence, a senior from Biggsville, said, “Not only was it a good way for our class to learn about controversial issues, but the ‘Speaker’s Corner’ also showed us how to talk about those issues in a civil and meaningful way.”
Although “speaker’s corner” is a general term used for any area where public speaking, debate and discussion takes place, the original Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner location has been a London institution for more than 150 years. Some of the most influential figures in world history, such as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin have attended meetings there.
As Leslie James, the Hyde Park pamphleteer, wrote, it is “a fitting location to represent the century of the common man.” Each year, tens of thousands of people from every walk of life, every class and almost every country participate in the Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner.