Rhetoric, Writing and Public Discourse
Lydia McDermott, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Writing and Public Discourse, and Director of the Center for Writing and Speaking
Rooted in the classical art of persuasion, the study of rhetoric encompasses the use and analysis of symbols to share ideas, construct social reality, and make decisions about matters of common concern. Students of rhetoric engage in the critical study and composition of various messages, as well as exploring the dynamics of symbolic action through studying speeches, written and audiovisual texts, and embodied performance.
Through the study and practice of rhetoric, students learn to critique historical and contemporary public discourse, considering the stylistic and persuasive devices that make particular pieces of rhetoric effective. Additionally, students develop skills in written and oral composition, learning to craft messages that account for specific audiences in specific rhetorical situations. Finally, students reflect on the larger dynamics of rhetoric, considering the relationship between discourse and reality, the cultural and ethical power dynamics of communication, and the ways that any public discourse reflects its historical and social contexts.
In addition to serving students in our major and minor, the Rhetoric, Writing, and Public Discourse Department (RWPD) teaches written and oral communication as skills necessary for the broader Whitman community. RWPD courses seek to help students across disciplines develop the writing and speaking skills they will use for their coursework and for all types of written and oral communication during and after their time at Whitman. Courses in RWPD help students develop skills for many genres of composition, from research papers, poster presentations and senior theses to artist statements, op-eds and protest speeches.