From the public square to post-secondary classrooms, students are told to censor “controversial topics” by professors and departments, evaluated based on peer reaction
Guest post by Valerie Flokstra
My first public speaking class is a day that remains clearly fixed in my memory.
The professor warned us that she intended to do her best to scare away anyone who wasn’t serious about the course. Her expectations were high, but rather than becoming nervous, I grinned. The greater the challenge, the more I would learn.
As I left that first class, my head reeled with speech topic ideas and possibilities. There were so many things I could speak on. Then suddenly my feet came to halt in the middle of the hallway. Pro-life. I could tell the class something about the pro-life message. My insides turned to Jell-O. What if the class hated me for it? What if the prof failed me for that speech?
A few weeks later, I attended my first NCLN Symposium. For four years, I’ve been involved with UFV’s pro-life Club, Lifelink, and sometimes it was a pretty discouraging job. The Symposium gave me so many new tools for spreading the pro-life message effectively. I flew back to British Columbia feeling confident and fired up with ambition to fight for the preborn. My mind was made up. A class grade was not as important as a life. It was not as important as honouring God.
That was how on Monday, November 21, I ended up standing inside my professor’s office, my heart pounding against my rib cage as I clutched my binder of notes.
“Hello,” I said, plastering a smile onto my face, “I wanted to talk to you because I am doing my speech on a controversial topic. I would like your advice on how to present it as effectively as possible.”
A pair of raised eyebrows. “Which topic?”
A pause. “I would not recommend that. I have never seen it done well. Can you do a different topic?”
I clung to my confidence, refusing to let it slip away. “No. I did well on my first two speeches. I researched for over twelve hours to get unbiased sources for this one. I am going to do this speech, but I ask that you help me to present it well.”
A deep breath, this time from my professor. “Have a seat.”
Forty-five minutes later, I was back in the hallway, shaking but smiling. I’d done it. My professor was impressed with my research. A few of my points were crossed out, others had notes added, and my speech was ready for final polishing.
An hour later my tenuous confidence shattered. I opened my inbox to find an email from my professor. The gist of it (in far more words than I remember) was that I couldn’t do my pro-life speech after all, based on a discussion she had with the department head.
I was shaking. Whatever happened to universities being places for freedom of speech?
My speech was in two days, and NCLN was on it right away. My campus coordinator, Joanna, immediately sent me documents about my university’s freedom of speech policies. She also assured me that NCLN was ready and able to help me, and so was a lawyer if necessary. Joanna also assured me she was praying for me. Knowing I was not alone made all the difference.
The next day, I received a response from my professor. She’d spoken with the department head again, and I could do my speech. However, the department imposed four requirements:
- Warn the class about anything graphic I would be showing or telling.
- Tell the class they are welcome to leave, and then pause to give them time to do so.
- Tell those who stay that the university offers free counseling in case they felt it was needed after hearing my speech.
- Explain to the class that I would be telling the speech in an objective (unemotional/unbiased) manner.
Yikes. The class would probably think that I was going to traumatize them before I even had a chance to speak my own words. What if they all left and I had to give my speech to an empty room?
I was less afraid of getting a bad mark than hurting my fellow students. I never bonded so much with my entire class as I had with that public speaking class. But, who knows? Maybe my presentation would help one of them in the future. Maybe the truth would save a life.
As I commenced my speech, I forced myself to make eye contact with every one of my peers. My challenge to the class was that they think about the information I presented and make an informed opinion about abortion. “Choice” isn’t really a choice if the decision is not an informed one. With nearly 100,000 abortions annually, or about 1 in 3 pregnancies ending in abortion here in Canada [link], this is an issue that affects us immensely.
When the speech was over, the professor ended the class, and a few students came up to me and told me I’d done a good job on my speech. I asked my professor for feedback. “You did a good job,” she said. “But,” she added, “part of delivering an effective speech involves the audience’s reaction. Half the class appeared to be shut down. Some of them were almost laughing with embarrassment and disbelief that anyone would talk about this in public. Your mark won’t be as high for this speech as it was for your first two.”
With confidence I responded: “When I’m sixty years old, I won’t care that I got a lower mark. But if I didn’t do this speech, I would regret that I could have helped someone but didn’t.” The professor shrugged.
I politely said goodbye and left the classroom. Looking back, I’m not sure that comment was the best one to make. What I am sure of is that twenty-five more people have heard how abortion is an injustice. And that definitely counts for something.
Valerie is a 2017 graduate of the University of Fraser Valley, finishing her degree in Chemistry and Physics.
We at NCLN thank her for her courage to speak on behalf of pre-born children with her peers!
To find more about this year’s NCLN Symposium, click here.
For information on the research Valerie used for her speech, contact email@example.com and/or see http://hushfilm.com/.