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Thoughts on the Recent Events in Charlottesville

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Like many teachers of writing across the country, I am shocked, stunned, and horrified by the events that took place recently at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Watching the KKK especially took me back to my youth in the South, when I had recurring nightmares about the Klan. I didn’t know anyone in it (that I knew of) and had never seen a Klansman: their influence was so insidious that it got into my little head and stayed there, keeping me scared and quaking after I woke up from one of these nightmares.


At such a time, every teacher, every person, must stand up in resistance to the Klan, the Neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, and to other hate groups. Together, we are stronger—much, much stronger—than they are.


I just received the following statement from the Rhetoric Society of America, which I was very glad to get and which I pass on here. Please share it with others.


            Posted August 18, 2017

The Rhetoric Society of America supports the study and teaching of rhetoric toward the end of advancing constructive communication among people who sustain their societies through discussion, debate, and well-reasoned argument rather than violence.


Recent statements by President Trump about the events in Charlottesville suggest the claim that the hateful ideology of white supremacy and this nation’s founding principle that all people are “created equal” and share “certain inalienable rights” are acceptable differences of opinion in American. The White-Nationalist, Alt-right, KKK, and Neo-Nazi groups that assembled in Charlottesville espouse an ideology that has caused some of the worst atrocities of US and international history. Those who defend them use language in ways that Wayne Booth would recognize as “rhetrickery” – essentially, verbal violence in the guise of civic rhetoric that is a direct violation of democratic values and practices.


We call upon citizens, press, and political leaders of the United States and beyond to reject public statements that would normalize this ideology and to work together in language and in law toward a just society sustained by a public discourse that proceeds upon principles of honesty and respect for all people who adhere to those same principles.


Gregory Clark, President

Rhetoric Society of America


I’m sure many of you have thoughts on the events in Charlottesville, or maybe plan on discussing the rhetoric surrounding these issues in the classroom. Please write any comments below—I would love to hear how you all are addressing and reflecting on this with your students.

Migrated Account

The events of Charlottesville serve as a disturbing reminder of why our work is so important. As Lloyd Bitzer explains, "rhetoric is a mode of altering reality," and our reality surely needs altering.

In the most obvious sense, rhetoric is what we use to persuade people to make necessary changes in society. But more is happening here than that. When we teach about Rogerian communication, for example, we can guide our students toward listening with understanding, allowing them to connect with others better and create a more powerful identification. When we teach about discourse communities, we can see why communities of racists can claim to be opposing racism while actually perpetuating it. The lexis used isn't the same as that used by, say, Black Lives Matter. "Racism" means something different to different communities.

Our discipline offers many other ways to identify and address the lessons of Charlottesville; these are just some that connect well with what many of my colleagues and I are already teaching.


Your point about how rhetorical principles and practices can help us and our students unravel and understand ideologies and their arguments is spot on. We've never needed such robust instruction more than we do now. Thank you so very much for this response.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.