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About the RAC Program

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.

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.

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

We also sponsor periodic workshops intended to help individual faculty members throughout the college design creative and effective assignments, and discuss best practices for assigning evaluating written, oral, and visual rhetoric.

We have collected some digital teaching resources for faculty (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.

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 (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.