Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change

PROGRAM OVERVIEW The guiding idea of the Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change major is to help students investigate the complex culture of public communication. The major incorporates the historical tradition and theory of rhetoric with the visual and electronic communication environments that dominate contemporary public life, and with the need to develop skills of advocacy in pursuing cultural, political, and social change.

Rhetoric has persisted as a scholarly discipline for thousands of years. Sometimes “rhetoric” is oversimplified and denigrated as a synonym for language without consequence, appearance without substance, a superficial façade merely obscuring a deeper reality. The Rhetoric major, however, features the ways in which various forms of rhetorical action constitute social and political life, shaping who we are and what we do. Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change majors study public discourse, with particular emphasis on the role of persuasion in political life, social interactions, and popular culture. Courses consider a variety of communicative forms, ranging from political speeches and legal documents to the material environment of architecture, clothes, signage, tools, and toys and the mediated environment of film, television, advertising, art, literature, photography, and the internet. Students in the Rhetoric program learn to analyze communication strategies and techniques, and are introduced to theories that help them to consider larger social and cultural patterns in the production and reception of public discourse. The curriculum highlights the political and ethical issues at stake in the relationships between language, power, identity and culture.

The primary objective of instruction and advising in the department is to help the student pursue a high-quality liberal arts education. This liberal arts ideal combines study of a broad range of subjects with training in critical theory, discourse analysis, and cultural performance, and it should culminate in the critical thinker, articulate citizen, and effective advocate. Rather than preparing students for professional work in a specific career, the program attempts to cultivate qualities of leadership that are common to many aspects of professional, social, and political life. Each student’s program includes study in a range of arts and sciences, focuses on specific problems of collective life, attends to questions of ethics, politics, and power, and develops analytical and performative skills. Courses in Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change emphasize the careful reading of primary texts, open discussion of alternative interpretations and cultural and political implications, analysis of the efficacy and ethics of rhetorical appeals, writing original and creative essays and research papers, and giving skillful and innovative oral presentations.

Students who major in Rhetoric typically go on to careers in business or public service, or to professional school or graduate school in a number of disciplines (including law, business, communication studies, education, and other fields). For examples from recent years, see below. Many students complete other majors or interdisciplinary concentrations.

FACULTY The Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change program includes two full-time faculty members, both of which have earned their doctorate degrees in Rhetorical Studies. The faculty members teach courses ranging from introductory level to upper-level courses in their area of specialization.

ACADEMIC PREPARATION There are no high school prerequisite courses or requirements needed for enrollment in the Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change program.

REQUIREMENTS FOR MAJOR The Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change program offers a major consisting of 30-credit hours, and a minor requiring 18-credit hours.  All Rhetoric Majors are expected to complete:

  • SCSR 24 – Rhetoric as a Liberal Art
  • SCSR 73 – Public Speaking


  • SCSR 125 – Rhetorical Criticism, or
  • SCSR 150 – Rhetorical Theory


  • a Senior Project, associated with another Rhetoric course, in which students demonstrate the capacity to bring information, skills, and ideas to bear on one project.

We want to help each student have the richest possible education while at Drake University, and we believe that the best preparation of the world of the 21st century requires a flexible approach to acquiring a broad range of experiences and skills. Each student program for a major or minor is developed individually. The major or minor program is designed within a basic disciplinary framework that allows a range of options for addressing the student’s educational goals, strengths, and weaknesses in coordination with other programming.

Upper-level courses from other departments may be included in the major as they fit into the department’s curricular categories, contribute to a comprehensive and cohesive program of study, and advance the student’s education goals. (For example, a student interested in the relationship between religion and politics might include courses from the Politics program and the Religion departments.) Courses from other departments should not comprise more than 6 of the first 30 hours of the major, and all sections must be approved by the Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change faculty. Students are responsible for fulfilling any prerequisites for such courses.

All program decisions for the major or minor must be approved by the student’s academic adviser in the department.  Selection and scheduling will be done to optimize coordination with the student’s other areas of study (other majors and minors, concentrations in interdisciplinary studies, the Honors program) and with other educational opportunities such as study abroad.

REQUIREMENTS FOR MINOR Eighteen hours are required for a minor.  Minor programs in Rhetoric involve only courses that are taught by faculty in the department.  There is still considerable flexibility for individual planning.

DRAKE CURRICULUM The Drake Curriculum, required of all undergraduates, is designed to help students meet personal and professional goals as they acquire fundamental knowledge and abilities in ten Areas of Inquiry, including communication, critical thinking, artistic experience, historical consciousness, information and technology literacy, international and multicultural experiences, scientific and quantitative literacy, values and ethics and engaged citizenship. Students work closely with their academic advisers to craft a program of study in general education that prepares students for civic and professional leadership.

The Drake Curriculum also requires first-year seminars, which foster development of critical thinking and written and oral communication skills through a topical focus; and a Senior Capstone, in which students demonstrate the capacity to bring information, skills and ideas to bear on one project.

INTERNSHIPS & OPPORTUNITIES Internships are available for credit when they can be arranged by the student and involve a component of academic reading and writing.  Past internships have included work with social service agencies, political campaigns, government offices, advertising firms, and community organizing.

DRAKE GRADUATES WITH A B.A. IN Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change

Marissa Fernholz ‘13 M.A. candidate in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Heather Boone ‘13 HR Recruiting Coordinator at MidAmerican Energy Company.

Caitlin Feur ‘12 M.A. and MBA Candidate in Public Policy and Nonprofit Management at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

Lauren Bavitz ‘12 JD Candidate at University of Kansas School of Law Samantha Wagner ‘12 JD Candidate at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Law Derek Stone ‘12 JD Candidate at University of Iowa School of Law

Nate Baggett ‘12 Medical student at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Amanda Thorson ‘12 M.A. candidate in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Georgia-Athens.

Virginia Ferrer ‘11 Stand-up comedy performer in New York, New York.

Sonya Brauchle ‘11 Editor, Writer, Research Assistant at The Documentary Project, LLC, Burnsville, Minnesota

Sara Gray ‘10 Doctoral Candidate in American Studies, Swansea University, Wales, UK.

Shelby Bell ‘10 Visiting Teaching Fellow in Law, Politics, and Society, Spring ’14, Doctoral candidate, Department of Communication, University of Minnesota.

Joe Barlow ‘10 ciLiving Storyteller at WCIA-TV, Champaign, IL

Van Everett ‘09 Legal Associate, Whitfield & Eddy, Des Moines, IA

Josh Young ‘08 Doctoral Candidate in Communication and Public Discourse at the University of North Dakota.

Amanda Goucher (Stinton) ‘08 Manager, National Association of Realtor’s Green Designation, Chicago, Illinois

Daryl Shreve ‘07 Assistant Director Intramurals and Instructional Programming at Boston College Campus Recreation.

David Bohl ‘07 Jazz musician, Des Moines, IA.

Eric Schapp ‘06 Law Clerk, Securities Investor Protection Corporation, Washington D.C.


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