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Students Explore Rhetorical Thinking with PDSS Visitor

What are you guys interested in rhetorically? What drives you? 

 After spending the first half of class getting to know Dr. Lisa A. Flores, Visiting Instructor of Rhetoric James Proszek turned the attention to the students in his RHE 270 Global Approaches to Criticism class.

Knowing most were non-rhetoric majors, Proszek wanted to open up the space and encourage students to explore and learn more about how rhetoric can be found and used everywhere.

Dr. Lisa A. Flores talked about her research background, what motivates her work, and gave students tips on how to grow as rhetorical scholars.

Adam Hilliard ’23, a political science major and history minor, kicked off the conversation between students and Flores, a professor in the department of communication and associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the College of Media, Communication, and Information at the University of Colorado. She visited campus this week as part of the President’s Distinguished Speaker Series (PDSS), and spent time in between the PDSS speech and Brigance Forum lecture to meet with Wabash students.

“In our readings we’ve been looking at how the author says things and what they mean on a deeper level. It’s a different approach from my other courses,” the junior said. “Usually, when I study things it’s about the politics driving a movement.

“So, it’s interesting to hear your side of research, especially with the border and people coming here from Latin America and other countries,” Hilliard told Flores, who previously talked about how she conducts research and pulled examples from her studies of migration.  

“I think it would benefit us to look into the politics behind why people want to come to the United States and the problems they have in their own nations. I think we would find that decisions are mostly driven by corruption,” Hilliard said. “There’s been a huge shift that’s happened in the last 100 years or so, and now we’re trying to help fix those issues, but there a lot of work that needs to be done in this country before we can effectively remedy and help.”

“I think you’re absolutely right,” Flores told Hilliard. “We have to know the history, the politics, why people are coming here and what’s going on there. What’s the pushing factors? It’s interdisciplinary. We have to carefully analyze the various pieces. That’s what rhetorical thinking is all about, right?”

Flores explained that rhetoric — defined as the art of persuasive speaking or writing — can be found everywhere and is the way in which you communicate in everyday life. Rhetoric takes practice and requires an understanding of language and knowledge of culture as a way to enact change.

Visiting Instructor of Rhetoric James Proszek listens closely to the engaging conversation.

“Regardless of who you are and what vision of the world you have, I think almost all of us want some kind of change,” Flores told students. “We may not want the same change, but we all want change. Sometimes it feels like that change is not possible, like the systems are too big. But we make change happen all the time. The stories that we tell and the vocabularies that we speak create the worlds in which we live in.”

As a rhetorical scholar, Flores said she is always searching to find answers to the “how questions” during her research of historic and/or current events and issues.

“I like to find a phenomenon out there that makes me go, ‘Huh,’ Flores said, ‘I wonder how that happened. What’s hidden beneath? What are the things that we don’t see?’”

Thomas Hansen ’23, a rhetoric major and economics minor, said he is interested in learning more about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Over the years more companies and organizations are re-evaluating their DEI strategies and goals, hiring for DEI roles and pledging to support more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

“You used to only see white male executives and now, more and more women and people of color taking on those roles, which is good,” Hansen said. “I find it interesting that DEI is transitioning now into something more than just a buzz word.”

“That’s where it’s critical to ask, what are the stories we’re telling about this? Are they stories that invite us in or are they stories that make us anxious,” Flores responded. “What does that mean for how we think it should look? How does it work? Who does it attract and who does it push away?

“Around the DEI piece, there has to be a story,” she continued. “There’s got to be a story about a problem, but there’s also got to be a story about possibility. We have to analyze how to do this work, as a rhetorical thinker, with compassion. How do I say, ‘You and I don’t agree and that’s OK. We don’t have to agree. But we both want a better possibility.’”  

Gage Businger ’25, a rhetoric major and business minor, talked about his interest in learning more about power structures.

“What drove me to rhetoric was the differences in power, and how Americans create power and dominance by their character and deliberate use of language,” Businger said. “I find it really interesting how everyday writings and other forms of rhetoric can have these massive effects on how people act.”

The conversation with Dr. Flores was student-led and covered a variety of academic interests.  “I think that’s it for me as well,” Flores told Businger. “Aristotle’s pathos applies to every single one of us and how we operate every day. We think, ‘All right, here’s what I have to go do. So, what’s the emotion I’ve got to create in order to make this happen?’”

“One thing that particularly interests me is how people are able to communicate with each other regardless of differences of opinion, especially with all of the political divide in our country and the rest of the world,” James Daly ’23, rhetoric major and business minor, said joining the conversation.

“It is eye-opening to examine and analyze both sides and arguments. That way, you get a more well-rounded assessment,” he said. “I feel like a lot of other subject areas aren’t able to do as much as what rhetoric is able to in this scenario.”

“And that goes back to the questions I like to ask: How did this happen?” Flores concluded. “What’s compelling here? How do we learn from that in which makes us nervous or which excites us? How does that make other people nervous or excited? Rhetoric allows us to understand all of that.”