Public Speaking is a Lifestyle

by Cheryl Lee, Speaking Fellow ’18

Many people outside the Speaking Fellows Program approach me, complimenting my public speaking skills. As a leader for KCCC, the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ, I often speak in front of my club members. My co-leader often says, “Cheryl has a natural gift for public speaking.” However, I was not always this way.

On the contrary, it was not until my sophomore year in high school when I became interested in public speaking. I feared even the tiniest public interaction before then, and I despised the attention of even one person. When I share this story to people like my co-leader, they usually respond with disbelief and shock. However, looking back, I am grateful for my past insecurities about public speaking. They are a testament to a belief I hold strongly: public speaking is a lifestyle, not a natural gift.

Like exercise and maintaining a healthy diet, public speaking  is something an individual works on consistently. After many motivations, one being admiration towards the charisma professional men and women exude when speaking, I became excited with the possibility of becoming a speaker, perhaps even becoming as charismatic as one of those professionals I admired. As a result, I took as many opportunities to speak in front of people as I could about different topics in various ambiances. I did presentations in more casual settings such as classrooms and more professional environments like a Fortune 500 company in Wall Street.

My first public speaking competition during my sophomore year

Since the beginning of my journey as a public speaker, I have made countless embarrassing, foolish mistakes; nevertheless, those same errors helped me become a better orator. Although some may have a natural gift for public speaking, I believe the majority of great speakers had a beginning. Speaking is not an ability arising from a few tries; it is rather a process that builds gradually upon your experiences, helping you discover your speaking style with time and courage.

college without punctuation #GIFLIFE

From college to adulthood without punctuation because life is like a gif

by DaMonique Ballou, Writing Fellow ’17


College feels like living and never being able to find punctuation

Sentences and questions carry on into the next day next year four years go by too fast to realize when there is a break because the breaks are just other moments where you still remain within the sentence of a college though you are not imprisoned but I guess that depends on your perspective imagine it I could capitalize words to show new beginnings read and pause create huge spaces like Nikki Giovanni well in some of her poems you know but imagine it imagine living and never being able to find punctuation Thoughts have no place to stand on or stop no moments to exhale you keep running reading chasing living being that that starts and continues but is it a start if it never ends do binaries exist with two opposing forces does a part of me stop when I reach adulthood will I know if I do though that must be what I feel after graduation Graduation but I wont really know because I keep going and adjusting to new spaces as if they are new places that I must assimilate into but my presence must incite a change a shift in tone in speech in something that too never ends but that was there before I entered RIGHT why does it seem life is like a never ending gif make it stop make it stop make it STOP Lynn Nottage my favorite playwright wrote a character who wrote a poem that will never be able to find punctuation The poem she says changes and moves and evolves and keeps shifting endlessly searching for a breath

That is never there because you are in college or about to leave Congratulations

Why Write?

An exploration of why we write and the difference between academic and creative writing

by Geneva Hutcheson, Writing Fellow ’17

The act of writing outside the academic can become a nebulous, emotional territory. Entrenched in one’s head, it is easy to lose sight of purpose. Why do we write creatively? Is it an act of catharsis, of battling one’s own duende on the page? Or is it beyond that—must writing be external to be valid?

The Writing Fellows Program relies on the philosophy that all writers need a reader. So, opening the email containing my sixth rejection letter of the year, I consider, for whom am I writing? If I am writing for myself, I can stop submitting writing. If I am writing for someone else, I should change my writing style to be something my peers want to read. Instead, I attempt to balance the two, oscillating between extreme adaption (I will write what you want) and extreme rejection (I will write octaves about plants).

This process leaves me exhausted and melancholic. I am left with mangled poems that are either too detached from my reality to be valid—or too personal to be read. When a student leaves the Writing Center feeling hopeful about her work, I am uplifted. This is why we write! Writing is neither for the self nor the other. Writing, regardless of content, is expression before communication. Yes, when we write academically, we seek to teach our ideas to the reader, but when writing for the sake of writing, for the art of it, we seek instead genesis—whether our material is new or recycled, it is something of creation.

When students stop me mid-question to ask what the professor wants them to say, I find myself at an impasse. Yes, the professor, being merely human, has goals and expectations—as much as they may try to be unbiased—and cannot transform into a neutral reader. But do not write what you think the professor wants. The writing produced by this filter is stilted. Write intelligently; write a response to the text and the questions raised between it and the discussion. I bite my tongue; there is a necessary space in academic writing between the art and the task.

Returning, then, to the purely artistic writing, we are freed. There is no task here—nothing to prove nor answer. And while we are released, we are also relieved of direction. Direction must come from the internal. Thus, we are back to the difficult questions to consider through writing: What is this? What are you doing? Who are you?


Why Speaking Fellows

by Alejandra Figueroa, Speaking Fellow ’16

A Speaking Fellow inspired me long before I even enrolled at Barnard College. Her name was Tabia Santos. When she got up to speak, the whole room was silent. Her words mesmerized us because everything—from her posture to her gestures to the way she projected her voice and enunciated every syllable—reflected confidence. As a 17-year-old, all I thought was: “Wow, I’d love to be like her.” That’s when I wanted to be a Speaking Fellow.

As a senior, I look back and am glad that I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone to apply to be a Speaking Fellow. Not only do I feel that my speaking skills have developed greatly, but I have seen the effects of my speaking support on my peers. Public speaking requires a great degree of confidence—or at least the air of confidence. It is not easy to stand up in front of a crowd. The skills and experiences that I have gained as a Speaking Fellow are invaluable, and becoming a Speaking Fellow is probably one of the best decisions I made during my college career. If you are a Barnard student considering becoming a Fellow, do not hesitate to apply. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable.




Writing Fellows, listening fellows

by Kate Gester, Writing Fellow ’16

First published in the Columbia Spectator:

As a Barnard Writing Fellow, I spend a lot of time talking about and thinking about writing. I read papers on The Hymn to Demeter and term papers on architecture. One student even had to write a paper on English butter. However, my job isn’t all about writing and reading: it’s also about listening.

I read papers, but I also listen as students explain their thoughts beyond and around the page. I listen to frustrations: about professors, the American university system, writer’s block, deadlines. I make comments, suggestions, I nod and say “mmhmm.” I listen to my peers, listen to them talk about writing, all in a non-judgmental, peer-to-peer environment.

There aren’t a lot of spaces to talk about writing on campus. University Writing and First-Year English and Seminar focus heavily on college-level writing, but what other classes are specifically about writing? Writing seems to be a skill we are expected to have at Columbia; we are expected to be able to communicate our ideas in English in a structured, clear manner. We’re meant to express our ideas, our thoughts, our arguments, and cite other arguments and adhere to our professors’ criteria. This is a difficult task. It’s especially difficult when your first language is not English, or your secondary schooling did not focus on teaching writing. I listen to all the frustration that comes along with these obstacles.

While these factors alter how the student and I communicate, the basic structure always holds: I am always listening deeply. I pay close attention and take notes on what I hear. I spend time only listening, giving careful attention to the student’s perspective and needs. In the conference, our desire and sometimes struggle to understand each other becomes a fruitful space to sharpen arguments and consider new perspectives.

Writing Fellows provide a unique space on campus, one where students have the opportunity to talk about writing to someone both within and outside of the institution. Sometimes, it’s confusing what we represent: we are students, not TAs or professors, and we don’t grade anyone’s work. We become intermediaries for our peers: we are educators who can critique work, but we are also peers who will listen and empathize as a friend would. In this way, it is a safe space: one where students’ ideas and frustrations can be vented and considered.

However, it is also a “dangerous” space, one where we can question the institutional guidelines of writing. It is a radical space, one where ideas are challenged, one where (I hope) students are not afraid to write outside the lines.

My listening focuses on the student. While students have a lot of valid concern for what their professors will think, I encourage them to follow their own judgement. I let them ask if a conclusion is really necessary. I listen when their passion veers from their assigned topic and try to find ways to incorporate it into the final product. I help outline and re-outline and see all the different arrangements of an argument, all while putting utmost care in making sure the student’s ideas are understood clearly. I spend more time listening than I do talking. While I do ask questions, I mainly listen and take notes on what the student answers. My attitude is not “how can I make this paper better?” but rather, “how can I make sure this student’s voice is heard both on and off the page?”

A session with a Writing Fellow is a rare and beneficial opportunity to spend 30-40 minutes talking only about your paper with someone. I go to the Writing Center myself for that very reason. It’s like a two-person class on a text written by one of the members. It’s not often we have an open space of discussion of student writing like that.

When papers are often written in silence and read in silence, it’s important to shatter that silence every once in a while. The student benefits from having their work critically examined, and I benefit from engaging with the students’ perspective. It’s a beautiful exchange—a balance of writing, talking, and listening.

Food for Thought: “Safety” on Campus and in the Writing Center

by Zoe Ehrenberg, Writing Fellow ’17

What does “safe space” actually mean? This contested term has been relentlessly thrown around in the media, sensationalizing American college students as being “coddled” in the classroom. Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about a week ago, and she defined a safe space as a place that “allows people to feel welcome without being unsafe because of the identities they inhabit. A safe space is a haven from the harsh realities people face in their everyday lives.” In fact, Gay attributes the introduction of “safe space” –as a means of fostering open, productive dialogue—into our cultural vernacular to feminist theory. So where is the line between “safety” and “coddling”? In my experience, I have yet to meet a Barnard student who is uninterested in being intellectually challenged in the classroom. But at the same time, students appreciate being treated as a whole person in the classroom—someone who is more than just a body to be lectured at, but a nuanced and complex human being. How can we create the kind of productive and safe intellectual discomfort in the classroom that comes from tackling challenging, weighty, and convoluted issues?


Determining how to do this is our job, not just as students in our own courses, but also in our role as Fellows. When fellowing, how can we create a hospitable, safe space that simultaneously challenges and pushes students? This question has no easy answer, but it is worth paying mind to. I suspect these issues, which challenge the pedagogical core of higher education, will continue to be talked about for the remainder of our college experiences.


For more on this topic, check out Roxanne Gay’s full article, “The Seduction of Safety, On Campus and Beyond”: