Rhetoric is Important to the Liberal Arts

Since the dawn of Western culture, rhetoric has been central in understanding the role of academics, and of the liberal arts approach to education. Whitman's Rhetoric Studies department is an essential part of the liberal arts mission of the College. Whitman's mission statement suggests that liberal education seeks to help "students develop capacities to analyze, interpret, criticize, communicate, and engage" (Whitman College Catalog, p. 4). Important, if not central, to these capacities is the ability of our students to analyze the messages with which they come into contact every day and to respond with effective, clear and thoughtful communication. The study of rhetoric, nearly continuous over the last 2500 years, has always been central to the objectives of a liberal arts curriculum; indeed, it is one of the founding seven aspects of liberal arts. Extending that study to contemporary media, protests, e-mail, and all forms of discourse has advanced our study into the 21st century.

The philosophies of both the College and the Rhetoric Studies Department's objectives are quite consistent. The use of communication in speech, writing, and media is a unique characteristic of humans as symbol using beings. Rhetoric is the dynamic by which all of the important institutions of our society operate; public address is used to debate public policy and to resolve problems we face every day; and it is through communication that humans come to know and understand their world.

In short, we seek to offer students a deep understanding of a central aspect of the entire liberal arts curriculum: the use of communication in speech, civic engagement, advocacy, and all forms of social interaction.