Hong Kong Student Protests and the Responsibility of Communication Education

In the last two months Hong Kong’s student movement’s protests of China’s control over Hong Kong’s limited democracy has garnered international attention. The movement is lead by university student Joshua Wong, who at only 17 has stood at the forefront of thousands of protestors in his fight for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

To provide some brief background to issues igniting these protests: In 1997, the British ended 155 years of colonial rule over the Island of Hong Kong, located off the south-east edge of the Chinese Mainland, and returned sovereignty to the Chinese government. Hong Kong, however, still maintained a certain amount of governmental autonomy, and the political relationship between Hong Kong and greater China has been described as “one country, two systems”. However some Hong Kongers, used to political freedoms that British rule had provided them, feel as though the mainland government is slowly beginning to reduce the autonomy of the Island and impose Chinese communism. The student protests currently taking place began in response to a decision to require that candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (similar to the role of a prime minister or president) would have to first be vetted by the central government in Beijing.

Now what does all of this have to do with speaking and writing? In Jennifer S. Simpson’s article Communication Activism Pedagogy: Theoretical Frameworks, Central Concepts, and Challenges, Simpson states that since all knowledge is subjective and thus political, all humanities and especially the study and technique of communication comes with political responsibility. Similar to the common maxim “with great power comes great responsibility,” Simpson’s key argument is that with learning to speak and write we, as students, must also learn to advocate for a just world as Joshua Wong doing is in Hong Kong.

At the start of the video above, “The Evolution of Joshua Wong,” the narrator says that “on the Hong Kong subway [Wong] looks like any other kid,” and yet he has inspired the largest challenge to the Chinese communist party control in the last decade. All students, speakers and writers, might appear unassuming in a crowd. The confidence with which Wong speaks during his interview in “The Evolution of Joshua Wong” demonstrates the power of determination paired with strong communication skills that set him apart.

Our campus this semester has been more fraught with protests and demonstrations than ever before in my three years in Morningside Heights. What responsibilities do we have as speakers and writers to facilitate and even join this activism? Why do we learn communications skills if not to advocate for the world we want to live in?

To find out more about the Hong Kong Student Protest visit:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/29/world/asia/clashes-in-hong-kong.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A8%22%7D&_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/01/world/asia/hong-kong-elections.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3As%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A9%22%7D

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by | October 23, 2014 · 9:22 pm

It’s what you make of it

Is this how we should feel about Public Speaking?

I came across this online the other day and couldn’t resist the urge to write about it because I get the sense that this is how people feel about speaking in public. It’s a misconception that I, as a Speaking Fellow, would like to attempt to disprove. What is rhetoric? I like to think of rhetoric as ever-present and all-encompassing because it applies to our interactions on a daily basis. Whether it be speaking to a friend, a professor, a family member, etc., rhetoric is a part of those interactions. Rhetoric doesn’t even have to involve speaking. Both verbal and non-verbal interactions are encompassed by rhetoric (think of body language!)

Public Speaking is FUN– if you are passionate about your topic, or if you work hard to make it fun and interactive. Make use of the fact that you can use your tone, your gestures, your space, your stories, your anecdotes, and visuals! It is as dynamic as you make it and it’s your chance to share a piece of your persona– be humorous, make jokes. These are some of the ways through which we can overcome misconceptions about public speaking.I guarantee that using the elements you have to your advantage will yield noticeable results.

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My Brother’s Keeper

We have all been moved at some point in time by a powerful speech encouraging us to take action. Part of the art of rhetoric is the ability to inform, persuade, move, and rouse people to act, a fact that the Speaking Fellows embrace and continually seek to promote. Rhetoric is deeply embedded into our daily lives.

Political affiliations aside, Barack Obama is a fantastic example of an inspiring and moving speaker. One of the many examples in which he has embodied the power of rhetoric both content and delivery-wise is during his speech regarding the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seeks to create opportunities for boys and young men of color. If you have not watched this speech, I encourage you to watch it.

The My Brother’s Keeper #NewDayMovement at Columbia University exemplifies the power of spoken word when it comes to inspiring others to take action: “We hope that this video provides insight into our roles as men of color for our university, for its prospective students and for any others who are interested in the educational advancement of a young man. In addition, if our project inspires other students and colleges everywhere, we encourage them to also work to showcase how their men of color are excelling within their own community. Join the #NewDayMovement.” This video showcases the accomplishments of men of color on campus; breaking educational barriers, and going above and beyond their academic commitments and embracing their passions as dancers, tutors, mentors, and volunteers. I encourage you to watch this video and share it.

I hope that these initiatives will serve as a form of encouragement on Barnard’s campus. Women of color are doing great things for the community. Showcasing their talents and their accomplishments via social media outlets would also inspire other women of color across the nation to continue to strive for their goals. Using social media platforms as a way to spread a message, in this case about educational advancement, is just one example of how a speech can create action.

This initiative represents how rhetoric comes to life. I hope that this example serves to inspire those who have at one point been moved and inspired by spoken word to take a form of positive action. Rhetoric is powerful.

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by | May 5, 2014 · 12:22 pm

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, explores how body language impacts confidence. She finds that “power poses” increase the body’s release of testosterone (the “dominance” hormone), while meek and submissive body language increase the body’s release of cortisol (the stress hormone). In this video, Cuddy explores how holding “power poses” for even just two minutes can have physiological responses that empower speakers in preparation for classes, interviews, and meetings. See her TED Talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

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by | April 4, 2014 · 1:23 pm

The Woman in Memoir

Earlier this month I took advantage of Barnard’s awesomeness by attending the Athena Film Festival. It’s a four-day celebration of women in movies, with features, shorts, documentaries, discussions, and panels that are all wonderfully accessible to students. One of the documentaries shown this year was Rebel, the story of Civil War soldier and spy Loreta Velazquez. I’m from northern Virginia, where we pretty much breathe the Civil War whether we want to or not, and an early exposure to the Battle of First Manassas gave me an enduring affection for the subject. So you can bet I was there for Rebel.

What stuck with me wasn’t any new understanding of the Civil War. This is, after all, an area of longtime obsession interest for me. What was more interesting was the movie’s discussion of historical storytelling. We know of Velazquez through her memoir, The Woman in Battle, which was popular in her time but delegitimized immediately after it was published. Its erasure from historical canon is due in large part to the criticism of Jubal Early, a Confederate general who controlled the depiction of Southern history in the wake of Civil War defeat.

Since then, The Woman in Battle has been a subject of contention for historians. Director Maria Agui Carter has carefully corroborated Velazquez’s story with other historical sources wherever possible. I love the boldness of that pursuit. What pushes me to the edge of my seat is thinking about a woman in the present writing anew the self-told story of a woman in the past.

Lots of people are fond of the phrase “make history.” They usually use it to mean “do something impressive or interesting.” I’d rather use it to mean “write it down” or “write it over again.”

The words spoken from Velazquez’s point of view in the movie are not entirely hers. After the movie, Carter spoke of how difficult and flowery the language of The Woman in Battle is to a modern moviegoer, which I respect. This is an interpretation, a retelling, made powerful by supporting research and the advantage of a long backward glance. With dedication and respect, we the people of the present have the power to do this with the stories of the past.

I left the screening feeling like I owed it to Loreta Velazquez to find a copy of The Woman in Battle to read for myself. Then in my preliminary research I discovered that the full text is online, but in print it comes to about 600 pages, which is a little heavy for me right now. I’m not ruling out the possibility of reading it eventually, though. An abiding topical obsession interest can take you far into madness. But I decided that what I really owed to Loreta Velazquez was to write my story. We won’t all be women in battle, but if we write we will all be women in history.

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The Speaking Fellows Movie

Watch this new video about the Speaking Fellows Program, created by our very own Speaking Fellow staff!

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Rhetoric’s Role on the Small Screen

I’ll admit it; I’m a little bit obsessed with the show Scandal. I love a good drama, and the Washington-based political thriller always delivers shocking twists and tons of intrigue. But as I was catching up on the latest season, a question occurred to me: how is Olivia Pope so successful given her poor rhetorical choices? After all, she works in crisis management, a field in which rhetoric is tantamount. Great communication and presentation skills are key. But Olivia spends more time agonizing over her affair with the president than she does skillfully negotiating. As a matter of fact, when she does act in a professional setting, she is hardly a model rhetor. On the contrary, she orders people around without discussing or rationalizing her decision making process; she usually refuses to compromise in negotiation settings; she expects people to know what she’s thinking without any explanation. In short, Olivia Pope’s rhetorical tactics just wouldn’t cut it in the real world. So why is this the model that Hollywood gives us of effective rhetoric?
It seems that the entertainment would rather deliver perfectly polished drama than powerful speech. For whatever reason, great rhetoric just isn’t sexy. So even though Olivia Pope is a successful professional woman, she is primarily depicted as a love interest or sex symbol. And it isn’t just Scandal. Most popular television shows don’t showcase great and powerful rhetoric. That’s a problem. If our models of speaking skills are so heavily romanticized, where does that leave rhetoric? It relegates rhetorical choices to the back seat; speech is suddenly less important than vicious cat fights, passionate romance, and unrealistic intrigues.

That’s not to say that great rhetoric is non-existent on the small screen. Shows like The Good Wife and House of Cards make rhetoric exciting, fascinating, and, well, sexy. But this is the exception, not the rule. On the whole, over-the-top dramatics and romance win out over great rhetoric. But surely it’s possible to have both. I love a good scandal as much as the next person, but I also want good, effective, powerful dialogue and speech. I’m not saying that we should take all of the drama and romance out of television, because we shouldn’t; that’s what makes it exciting. But all that drama should be grounded in solid and effective rhetoric. Because words matter, even the people saying them are fictional characters.

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