On the "What We Teach" section of our website, the University Writing Program articulates several core values uniting the courses taught in our program. The statement explains and justifies our program's emphasis on argument, outlining the powerful ethical, rhetorical, and practical dimensions of argument as a form. The faculty in our program see the processes of reading, understanding, critiquing, and crafting arguments as essential literacies for success in multiple contexts, academic and otherwise. Further, we recognize that good arguments invoke meaningful symbols (including, but not limited to, alphabetic text) that speak to multiple audiences across the ever-changing communicative landscape.
The attention to ethics and rhetorical virtues, forwarded by our program's director, Dr. John Duffy, emerges as particularly salient for current students, given the vitriol that pervades our present public discourse. With fewer and fewer current examples of rhetors arguing to promote understanding and justice (rather than simply arguing to "win"), attention to the ethical dimensions of argument is needed perhaps more than ever. In the context of the humanistic, liberal arts education students experience at Notre Dame, we, along with our colleagues who teach first-year students in other disciplines, strive to immerse emerging scholars in opportunities to explore controversy with compassion, integrity, courage, and a deep desire for mutual understanding.
This year's volume of Fresh Writing includes many pieces that take up argument in ways that foreground these rhetorical virtues. In "The Cross We Have To Bear," for example, Mary Hope Clark examines abuse in the Catholic Church, particularly in her home diocese, and the complexities involved with being both loyal to and critical of religious institutions in the face of scandal. In attempting to reconcile the facts of the abuse cases with her spiritual and moral investment in the Church, Clark's essay demonstrates the virtues of honesty and courage.
An emphasis on rhetorical virtues also means identifying topics that are worth arguing, conveying the importance of that topic for members of a community. In "Clicking Away from Culture: Food Instagramming and its Gastronomic Effects," Brittany Benninger examines the impact of "food instagramming" on restaurant culture and community mealtimes. By illustrating for readers the cultural import of food and the ways mobile technology shifts attitudes toward food culture, Benninger demonstrates the virtue of judgment, or wisdom. Good judgment is also demonstrated by Ruth Cooper in her speech, "Bleeding Money," which examines the often invisible and unconsidered significance of the so-called "tampon tax" and its disparate economic impact on low-income women.
Our program's emphasis on argument also involves attention to nuanced claims rooted in the careful examination of evidence. Several essays included in this volume show a mature, balanced presentation of claims, evidence, and reasoning. In "Mexican Immigration and the Political Polarization of the United States," Matthew Rice disputes and verifies a variety of popular claims surrounding Mexican immigration to the U.S., whereas Elizabeth Steiner performs a detailed comparative analysis of populist appeals in her essay, "From Perón to Sata: An Investigation of Populism in Latin America and Africa." These essays are among the many in this volume that demonstrate the rhetorical virtue of rationality.
Beatrice Smith, too, illustrates the rhetorical virtue of tolerance in her essay, "Is Mad Max: Fury Road A Feminist Film?" Smith examines the most recent Mad Max blockbuster film through feminist lenses, engaging carefully with opposing perspectives and entertaining those opposing perspectives with genuine intellectual curiosity. Smith engages generously with voices that complicate and challenge aspects of her analysis, showing her ability as a writer to not only respond to counterarguments, but to consider the possibility that those counterarguments might be right.
These essays are just a few of the 27 pieces included in this volume that are the product of first-year students writing ethically to real-life audiences across contexts, genres, and media. I congratulate these writers on their accomplishments and thank them for their virtuous discourse. Instructors and students alike will find the pieces as inspirational as they are interesting, modeling ethical writing practices for the next cohort of first-year writers. I look forward to the continued conversation.