David Hickey (Faculty, Department of English, University of Prince Edward Island) was selected as the recipient of the SoTL Poster Award for his poster titled “Anatomy of a Soapbox Speaker”
In Gaslight Sonatas, Fannie Hurst (1918) described the soapbox as having the power to turn “the four winds of the street corner [into] the walls of a temple of wisdom” (p. 29). Hurst’s streetscapes have long since faded to memory, and yet the need for public engagement, especially in the form of face-to-face dialogue, has never been more pressing. As Andrea Weckerie (2013) accurately observed in Civility in the Digital Age, “insidious elements have . . . taken hold online—the crippling insults and mockery of people, the widespread use of snark weakly justified as innocent humour, and the destruction of . . . reputations and individuals through shockingly easy and anonymous means” (4). These circumstances prompt the search for countermeasures that foster instead respectful forms of public debate that are free of the animosity and abuse now sadly ubiquitous online. For educators at all levels, efforts to support these environments frequently involve the search for teaching tools, both new and old alike, that enable students to enter into respectful dialogue as a means of actively addressing the issues that matter to them most.
While frequently evoked in pejorative terms, the traditional soapbox nevertheless remains one such tool for transformative change. Even the smallest stage can, in fact, dramatically alter how students understand themselves and their place in the world: when paired with a persuasive speaking assignment, the soapbox becomes a site from which to articulate closely held beliefs and to develop a sense of autonomy and agency.
This poster lists the qualities nurtured in students when professors use a soapbox in the university classroom, and then offers tips to teachers who may wish to incorporate soapbox speaking into their courses.