Hampden-Sydney's Rhetoric Program, established over thirty years ago, is based on a 1978 faculty resolution that states: All Hampden-Sydney graduates will write competently. Consisting of course work and examinations that focus on argumentative and analytical writing, the program is designed to assure that all graduates can write clearly, cogently, and grammatically. Instructors, supported by the Writing Center, emphasize the process of writing as well as the finished product. As persuasive communicators, graduates gain a considerable advantage in graduate or professional schools and in their careers.
Entering students write a diagnostic exam. While some may be exempted from writing courses because they demonstrate proficiency in writing, most students will enroll in Rhetoric 101, in which students learn to write expository and argumentative essays and to edit their work effectively, and then in Rhetoric 102, in which students hone their writing skills, learn to write researched essays, and work intensively on "rhetorical grammar" so that they can communicate their ideas in effective prose. Students who need preparation for the regular sequence of Rhetoric courses are enrolled in Rhetoric 100, a course that also focuses on argumentative writing and that helps students learn to write prose free from what the college identifies as major sentence-level errors.
In each rhetoric course, students compose and revise numerous essays and take final essay and editing examinations. At the end of their sophomore year they write a three-hour timed essay on a topic not foreign to their experience. Rhetoric students may also participate in an annual essay contest. No student may be graduated from Hampden-Sydney College without attaining and demonstrating proficiency in writing.
The Value of the Rhetoric Program
While the rhetoric requirement may sound formidable to many freshmen, those who apply themselves to the task of learning to write well find the requirement fair and manageable-and well worth the effort. Hampden-Sydney graduates regularly tell us that in competitive situations - in professional and graduate schools, as well as in the job market-they have had a considerable advantage over other candidates because the rhetoric program gave them the ability to think clearly and write concisely - skills employers and graduate schools consistently demand and reward.
All rhetoric classes have a 14-student maximum enrollment so that professors have sufficient time to read and grade their students' essays carefully and so that they have time to meet with their students in individual conferences at least twice each semester. Despite the relatively large number of sections of rhetoric that the College offers each semester (from 20 to 30), the staff works together to ensure unity of goals for the courses.
Hampden-Sydney's Rhetoric Program was recently featured in Inside Higher Ed: "Teaching for Better Writers."
Liang Shu studies the display. Group: Liang Shu, Scott Murr, Sam Wilson Jr., Josh Gaskill
Rhetorics of Display
These Rhetoric 102 students traveled to visit the Sailor's Creek Battlefield State Park, as part of Professor Susan Booker's course theme of Rhetorics of Display. The park was commemorating the anniversary of the battles of Sailor's Creek with costumed interpreters in the Hillsman House, demonstrations of artillery, interpretation of bugle calls, and more.