Students, Take your Soapbox

Philosophy Club Hosts Forum for McDaniel community to air grievances, opinions

Emma Barbato

Staff Reporter

Since the early 1900s soapboxes have been giving people a platform to voice their opinions on political and societal issues. Soapboxes, originally began in England, have recently made their way onto the Mcdaniel Campus. An idea one and a half years in the making soapboxes were the brain child of the philosophy club’s advisor Dr. Peter Bradley .

Soapboxes officially began at McDaniel in early September and have been happening every other week since then in either red square, Kriel Lounge, or Ensor lounge depending on the weather. Students can voice their opinions on campus issues, humanitarian, or political concerns on a platform that promotes communication, critical thinking, and self expression. Lin Oo an international student on campus and one of the co-presidents of the philosophy club said, “it’s a forum for people to express concerns and ideas… To challenge each other and challenge ourselves.”

While most agree with this, there is a divide between those who love the idea and those who believe it’s just another opportunity for students who want to appear “counter culture” to yell from on top of a box. Nearly everyone agrees the idea is a good one, but far fewer believe the ideals of soapbox debate can actually exist and persist without turning into the “non-conformist-simply for the sake of non-conformity” everyday society is conditioned to tune out.

This, however, is exactly why soapboxes are so important; if a student has a problem they can voice it and in turn they can be critiqued. This forces the student to face the challenge of really understanding and defending their opinions. This is what makes this such a unique opportunity on the campus; it is a platform for everybody and anybody. Naysayers, students, optimists, pessimists, realists, the curious, professors, activists, the concerned, and even those just concerned with being cool; everybody gets a chance to express their concerns equally.

An open forum also provides a challenge for speakers and their beliefs. Junior Lucas Sperber sums up his qualms when he says, “my problem with soapboxes is that I want to have conversations about stuff that is relevant to our lives, stuff we can accomplish. Not just stuff that looks good on a t-shirt.” His opinion speaks for many who are skeptical and tired of hearing people spout off opinions and beliefs they themselves never took the time to understand.

There are others who are not quite as skeptic. They go not only for the enjoyment, but also because they believe students can still express their individuality without expressing a genre. “A great way to initiate conversation…intelligent conversation with different thoughts and ideas challenging people’s beliefs…you actually have to use your brain. And when do you get to do that in college?” said sophomore Shelby Parenteau. The beauty of this kind of debate is the fact that the forum is open and the format is up to interpretation, allowing opinions and beliefs to surface and grow.

The most important aspect of the soapbox is its atmosphere. Everyone at the soapbox has something to say and wants to contribute to the ideas. It is this atmosphere of converging beliefs that keeps soapboxes fresh and original. Everybody has heard the annoyed complaints about people talking without saying anything or believing without knowing. “At a soapbox you have to know what you are saying and why because there are listeners who are going to criticize your ideas, ready or not.” said sophomore and philosophy club member, Darcy Elburn. It is the very structure of the open debate that saves soapboxes from being a commercial.

As one of philosophy club’s co-presidents Jake Friedman said, “It’s really the foundation of a liberal arts college; communicating, being critical, understanding, and questioning establishment. This is what liberal arts education is and what the soapbox atmosphere encourages.”

Sophomore Chelsea Watkins thinks these soapboxes will help everyone to remember, “We are a family. We are all interconnected and what we do really could affect everybody and we need to start believing how important what we do and believe really is.”