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About the RAC Program

The Rhetoric Across the Curriculum (RAC) program exists to help all academic departments at Calvin foster student engagement with writing, public speaking, and other forms of rhetoric, and to ensure that these rhetorical skills are an integral part of every academic program throughout the college.

Thinking and arguing clearly and persuasively are essential to every academic discipline and to public and professional life. Calvin students learn to write, speak, and argue well, not simply as technical skills, but as integral parts of their liberal arts education. Writing and speaking well are inseparable from critical thinking. These complementary skills are best developed progressively over the course of a deep and diverse education, in a variety of disciplinary contexts.

RAC represents the educational movement known on many other campuses as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC). We use the label “Rhetoric” to encompass oral and visual expression, but the goals and philosophy of RAC are closely aligned with those of the larger WAC movement.

For an overview of WAC and its origins, we recommend Colorado State University's The WAC Clearinghouse and the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).

Who we are

The Rhetoric Across the Curriculum (RAC) Program is coordinated by the RAC committee, one of the college’s faculty governance committees. The committee consists of two faculty co-directors and 4-5 other members from the faculty and library staff.

How we help students

This committee oversees the Rhetoric Center, a walk-in service staffed by trained student consultants who assist fellow students with planning, writing, and revising written assignments across the college’s curriculum. The Rhetoric Center staff welcomes opportunities to work with instructors.

How we help faculty

The RAC program assists faculty in all disciplines in integrating writing, public speaking, and visual rhetoric in their courses. We sponsor periodic workshops intended to help individual faculty members throughout the college design creative and effective assignments, and discuss best practices for evaluating written, oral, and visual rhetoric.

On this site and on a related Moodle site, we offer some digital teaching resources for faculty (more coming soon.) We welcome your suggestions for further resources or links related to the teaching of writing and rhetoric that would be valuable for the Calvin community.

The faculty members of RAC committee advise and assist academic departments in designing and implementing Calvin’s departmental rhetoric programs.

A brief history

The notion that writing should be taught “across the disciplines” became the guiding principle of the “Writing Across the Curriculum” movement that emerged in North American universities in the 1970s and ‘80s. (The Purdue OWL provides an overview of that pedagogical movement.) But it is not a modern idea; it was also a foundational principle of the ancient Greek and Roman discipline of rhetoric. The term ‘rhetoric’ sometimes evokes disdain in modern culture; we often contrast “mere rhetoric” with substance or with truth, and we lament the use of “rhetorical tricks” to manipulate or deceive an audience. But these caricatures bear little resemblance to the classical ideal of rhetoric as a rigorous discipline with moral, intellectual, and practical dimensions. Roman rhetorician Quintilian wrote the most comprehensive manual of rhetoric from antiquity until the Renaissance, the Institutes of Oratory. He argued that the arts of speaking, writing, and reading were mutually reinforcing, and should be taught in a variety of different contexts, from theater to politics, each of which had its own vocabulary, style, and purpose. As one modern author has recently argued, the “Writing Across the Curriculum” movement is ultimately grounded in the ancient practice of Rhetoric. (See Andrew Bourelle, "Lessons from Quintilian: Writing and Rhetoric Across the Curriculum for the Modern University," Currents in Teaching and Learning 1, no. 2 (2009), 28-36.)

In the late 1980s, Calvin College began to embrace the “Writing Across the Curriculum” movement. In 1991, the faculty approved the creation of a college-wide Academic Writing Program, charging each academic department to develop its own departmental writing program that integrated writing and critical thinking at multiple levels of the curriculum. These departmental programs have been in place since the mid 1990s, and are continuously revised and assessed. In 2010, the Academic Writing Program was renamed the Rhetoric Across the Curriculum (RAC) Program, in recognition that the teaching of oral and visual rhetoric also belonged under the aegis of the cross-disciplinary program. Departmental writing programs, many of which already incorporated aspects of oral and visual rhetoric, were accordingly renamed departmental rhetoric programs.