The scene on the pavement outside Java City was a little different last week. It was reminiscent of the days of public debate on street corners.
Speakers Corner, sponsored by the Communications Department, made its debut on the Hill last week creating a public forum for free speech on Western’s campus.
At about noon, Monday through Wednesday of last week, several students propped themselves on top of a wooden bench while they discussed world issues.
Crowds of people gathered around as those standing on the bench articulated their viewpoints on issues like racism and war with Iraq.
It seemed like the average passerby looked on the scene with curiosity, like they perceived the addition to their walk to class to be some sort of a novelty.
But for some, the act of elevating oneself on top of a bench to address an audience has been a long-time-tradition.
Charlotte Elder, a communications instructor, said the roots of Speakers Corner go back to England.
“Speakers Corner originated in London,” she said. “And there’s a huge park in London called Hyde Park. . People would just get up (on benches) and give their opinions. It usually had to do with the monarchy, the government. It was their opportunity to express their opinion and not necessarily start a revolt, but it was their voice.”
A student letter to the editor which was published in the Herald earlier in the semester prompted Elder to showcase the idea of Speakers Corner on Western’s campus.
“I read Mr. Britt’s (Sept. 17 letter) and I was like, uh uh, no way,” Elder said. “It really infuriated me. My personality is, ‘I hate injustice.’ And I can stand up for myself and what I believe. But I like to see people stand up for what they believe.”
And last week students did just that. They stood up on benches and expressed their beliefs.
People gathered on Tuesday as Bardstown junior Jeff Stone spoke on issues regarding equality. A crowd of almost 200 gathered around the tiny wooden bench Stone was addressing his audience from as Franklin sophomore Joshua Britt was prompted to join Stone on the bench.
Britt and Stone stood no more than a foot away from each other for over an hour as they asked and answered each other’s questions, as well as questions from the audience regarding equality.
Stone’s theme for the debate was “Don’t talk about things you don’t know about.” He defended the need for minority scholarships.
But Britt said the idea of minority scholarships implies that minorities are seeking unequal, rather than equal, rights.
Brandy Turnage, a freshman from White House, Tenn., agreed with Britt’s stance on minority scholarships.
“If people want to fight for equality, they have to start treating themselves as equals,” she said. “If I consider myself a feminist and I want to fight for equal rights between men and women, I’m not going to take a scholarship given only to women.”
Turnage believes it is “a step back” when a minority takes a minority scholarship.
“I mean, if someone tried to give me a scholarship because I was white, I wouldn’t take it,” she said. “Everyone knows the problems that other races have had to go through to get to where we are now. And it’s not perfect now, but I mean, it’s moving up. It’s awareness. Everybody is aware of what has happened.”
After the debate, Britt and Stone shook hands, lowered themselves from their bench and went about their daily routines.
Elder said the forums were successful.
“Even little pods amongst the audience were having their own conversations about the topic,” she said. “That’s education. I was telling Jeff (Stone), ‘This is your campus.’ This whole idea of Western Kentucky University was created for students. Challenge your minds, challenge each other, develop as a person.”
On Wednesday Shelly Glorioso, a sophomore from Pasadena, Calif., took her turn on the bench and defended her position on war with Iraq. Glorioso said she is “100 percent against the war.”
“I think it’s a political ploy to exploit the events of 9/11 for a Republican agenda,” she said.
She was wearing a black button with yellow letters saying, “Another Intelligent, Compassionate Youth.”
Bowling Green junior Ryan Schwank said he supports war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
“I think it’s something we’re going to have to do,” he said. “We spent 10 years trying to negotiate diplomatic relations. It hasn’t worked. It’s smarter to take him out now then to risk lots of American lives.”