The cornerstone of our academic experience is the belief that there is nothing more valuable than teaching young men how to express themselves clearly and confidently. 

The Rhetoric Program, established over thirty years ago, is based on a 1978 faculty resolution that states: All Hampden-Sydney graduates will write and speak competently. Consisting of course work and examinations that focus on argumentative and analytical writing and presentational speaking, the program is designed to assure that all graduates can express themselves clearly and cogently. Instructors of Rhetoric 100, 101, and 102 — supported by the Writing Center — emphasize the process of writing as well as the finished product. Instructors of Rhetoric 210 and 310 prepare students for public speaking in the classroom, community, and workplace. Students in these elective courses are supported by the Speaking Center.

As a director fortunate to work with actors of the highest caliber, it’s important that I have clear and precise ways to communicate. A lot of the skills I learned in the Rhetoric Program, I find myself using today, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Scott Cooper ’92, writer and director of the Oscar-nominated film Crazy Heart

The Value of the Rhetoric Program

As persuasive communicators, Hampden-Sydney alumni regularly tell us that in competitive situations in the job market and in graduate schools, they have had a considerable advantage over other candidates because the Rhetoric Program gave them the ability to think clearly, write concisely, and speak cogently and persuasively. These are skills that employers and graduate schools consistently demand and reward.

Hampden-Sydney's Rhetoric Program has been featured in Inside Higher Ed: "Teaching for Better Writers"

... and don't forget The Atlantic: "What Aristotle and Stephen Colbert Have in Common"

The Rhetoric Curriculum

Most first-year 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. Many students also elect to take Rhetoric 210: Introduction to Public Speaking, and some go on to study Advanced Public Speaking in Rhetoric 310. 

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.

Rhetoric Courses

The Rhetoric Minor

The Rhetoric Minor has become the most popular minor at Hampden-Sydney College. The requirements for a minor in Rhetoric are 19 hours, including

  • Rhetoric 102, 210, 301, and 310.
  • Students must also complete two courses from the following group: Rhetoric 360, Rhetoric 370, and English 380.
  • Finally, students must take Rhetoric 481 during the fall or spring semester of their senior year.
Rhetoric Minor

Rhetoric Proficiency Exam

All Hampden-Sydney students must pass the Rhetoric Proficiency Exam (Rhetoric 200) before they may be graduated from the College. The RPE is a three-hour essay exam which tests a student's ability to invent a reasonable and thoughtful thesis "on a subject not foreign to the student's experience" and to construct a logical and well-supported argument on that thesis. 

Rhetoric Exam

Sam Murphy '18

Hampden-Sydney College Student Body President Sam Murphy '18 flies through life as fast as he skates down the hilly campus paths, full of energy and enthusiasm.

Sam Murphy '18

Rhetoric Program


Dr. Katherine J. Weese, Director 
P.O. Box 865
Hampden-Sydney College | Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943
(434) 223-6254
kweese@hsc.edu

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