For most students, the word “rhetoric” conjures up images of dishonest politicians and stuffy English professors. But for those taking ENC3331, or “Rhetoric and Civic Engagement,” rhetoric is more often seen as a tool that can be used to help better the local and global community.
These students are using the information they’ve learned throughout the semester about rhetorical strategies, power and social-change tactics to organize civic campaigns that help solve community, state and national problems. They will present these semester-long projects at a Civic Engagement forum that will last from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on April 21 in room 224 of the Student Union.
Lillian Rodriguez, a junior currently taking the class, saw this project as an opportunity to take on a problem that’s a source of frustration for many UCF students: transportation. Currently, the majority of UCF’s off-campus shuttles go to student-only housing locations, despite the fact that many students live outside of these communities. In order to compensate for this lack of transportation, many students like Rodriguez have to share cars with other people. This can be source and anxiety that makes the stress of being a full-time student all the more difficult.
“My mom, my brother and I share a car so we all have to commute,” Rodriguez said. “At the beginning of every week, we all get together and talk about our schedules. They’ll be like ‘Lillian, can you go to school an hour and a half early so your brother can go to work?’ It gets tough.”
Rodriguez will be circulating a petition to increase the length and number of UCF shuttle stops, which she will present to UCF transportation services if it garners a substantial amount of signatures. While Rodriguez will not be able to carry out her campaign once the semester is over, she hopes an interested student or faculty member that comes to the forum will be willing to take it over.
Tyler Patrick, a senior writing and rhetoric major, has created a campaign that makes it easier to connect homeless LBGTQ+ youth to resources that could help them get back on their feet after being kicked out of their homes.
“I’m very fortunate to have a loving family,” Patrick said. “When I first came out to them, they supported me fully … I was very lucky … But I see a lot of things on Tumblr and Twitter about different kids basically getting kicked out of their houses for being gay…I can’t imagine being in that situation.”
While Patrick says he doesn’t have the resources or time to create an entirely new program to aid homeless LGBTQ+ youth, he believes that making it easier for these individuals to connect with organizations can make the process of finding a new place to live less traumatic. He hopes to do this by creating business cards with the contact information of these organizations.
While some students choose to focus on specific problems with specific solutions, others sought to raise awareness about social issues. Rayven Wright, a sophomore advertising and public relations major, has been working on project that would help improve and enrich the conversations about race that take place on campus.
“There’s a lot of self-hatred in the black community that comes with contemporary racism and micro-aggressions, and I think that a lot of people could help solve this issue if they were more educated about it,” Wright said.
Microaggressions are offensive actions or comments about a minority group that unconsciously or unintentionally reinforce a stereotype about that group.
Wright believes that a social media platform where African-American students and faculty members can share their experiences would help promote this positive self-regard and self-awareness.
“I think that getting these people to talk about their own experiences with racism and having those experiences out there can help other black students experiencing the same things feel understood,” Wright said. “It would also open the eyes of students of other races who are curious about the black experience.”
She sees encouraging this kind of support and education as especially important in the current divisive political climate.
“Tensions are particularly high [right now] in regards to race,” Wright said. “I really want my campaign to help ease that tension and make conversations about race more open and honest.”
The projects of all of these students along with many others can be seen at the Civic Engagement Forum this coming Thursday.
Megan Hull is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.