Reading the Sandusky Controversy (legal documents)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of reading material, nor will I pretend that I’ve got every single detail explained as it should be. This is a very complicated story that is constantly evolving, and as we’ve discussed in class, my lens will be different than someone else’s. That’s why I will mostly stick to documents that are central to the legal cases.

On November 5, 2011, Jerry Sandusky was arrested based on the findings of a Grand Jury which is detailed in this Presentment.

The Penn State Board of Trustees asked former FBI director, Louis Freeh to independently investigate Penn State’s actions in all aspects of the Jerry Sandusky case. In July of 2012, The Freeh Report was made public.

On July 23, 2012, The NCAA imposed sanctions on the Penn State Football Program.

There were significant consequences for Penn State as an institution and for numerous individuals as a result of the three reports I noted above, but you can find all of those news pieces anywhere. What you won’t often find are people who have read all of the words in those documents. As scholars of civic life, I’m challenging you to do research when you’re faced with a controversy–especially one as crucial to civic life as this one.

I can’t remember who asked questions about the most recent statement released by Penn State and President Barron to which I think I responded with some frustration. It wasn’t about you guys–there are just so many ins and outs to this case that I can barely keep up and I’m watching pretty closely. Let me try to explain the most recent legal situation that’s directly connected to Sandusky and Paterno. Remember that I’m not a legal scholar and that I’m trying to keep the explanation brief.

Over the last few years, Penn State has paid over $90 million in civil settlements to more than 30 victims. These cases have, of course, been kept out of the media and settled very quickly. Penn State, however, has been in court battles with its insurance company over who should cover the costs of the settlements. On July 12, the judge in the insurance company (PMA) vs. Penn State case unsealed documents revealing much more testimony about Jerry Sandusky that many are saying is damning to Joe Paterno, several other coaches, and university officials.

Take a look and see what you think.

“Tell Me I’m Fat”

I listened to a great episode of This American Life a few weeks ago about rethinking the way we see and talk about fat. The episode is bookended by an interview with the writer and fantastic personality, Lindy West.

After watching the introduction to Supersize Me, I wonder if there’s a way these conversations might merge, change, or become more nuanced if we hear more voices like West’s?

Oh, and one more thing: have you noticed that stories about obesity always have clips of obese people with their heads missing?

Final Thoughts on Paradigm Shift

I’m sharing some excerpts of a blog post I wrote for my Fall 2015 RCL students after I graded their Paradigm Shift papers. It was a way for me to point out some of the common errors I was seeing. I’d recommend looking through this post when you’re doing your final revisions. Here’s some of what I wrote:


First, citation. Lots of you did far fewer in-text citations than you should have if you did them at all. An in-text citation is where you indicate in the body of your paper that you’ve used outside research (or someone else’s ideas, etc.) in a particular place. This shouldn’t be new to you as you’ve certainly seen your sources citing their sources. Any academic article or book is generally littered with in-text citations. Even Wikipedia requires in-text citations. Wikipedia’s in-text citations come in the form of end notes (note the clickable numbers at the end of some sentences–they designate that an outside source was used). The Purdue Owl (a resource which I have adamantly endorsed throughout the semester) has a reasonably thorough explanation of in-text citations in MLA style (standard style for English papers).  In the world outside of this class, a lack of citations would mean that you’ve unintentionally plagiarized. I can see the difference between taking someone’s work with the intention of passing it off as your own and not knowing exactly how to do your citations, but it’s my job to teach writing. Another professor whose job is to worry about other things might not care about the distinction between unintentional and intentional and I do not want you to get into trouble down the line.

Second, style. I’ve seen your blogs and know that your writing is, almost without exception, clear and readable. I think what happens when students write a Very Serious Academic Paper is a lapse into Very Important Serious Language. This makes sense, of course. Why wouldn’t you write in a way that suits the assignment? You guys are trying on college-level writing for the first time, regardless of your high school experiences. Some of you have had great writing training, but you haven’t been writing papers at Penn State and it’s not easy work. What I often see happening for new college writers is a kind of writing that gets a bit tangled and confused as it tries on fancier clothing. Clarity is sometimes lost in favor of “sounding smart.” If you think I never struggled with that exact writing problem…ha! I know lots of people who have PhD’s and still haven’t mastered the art of clarity because they’re lost in tangled jargon. The master of everything you are doing should be clarity. If your writing isn’t clear, you might as well whistle your paper to me–that’s how well I’ll understand it. I’ve found a fantastic, thorough overview of common style issues from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Please read every word of it. It’s all worth looking at even if you’re already a brilliant writer.


Hopefully this is helpful stuff. I have two other recommendations that students usually toss aside, but they’re absolutely brilliant ideas (if I do say so myself).

  1. Use your classmates’ skills. You are working in a group of very smart, articulate students. Have them (ruthlessly) read through your writing. Ask them to read each sentence separately to see if it makes sense. Often when we’re writing, the stuff in our heads makes perfect sense and we think it will make perfect sense when we plop it out onto the paper. But as you know, sometimes our brains aren’t the clearest. Have your pals tell you when your thoughts are jumbled and ask if they’ll help you clear them up.
  2. Talk it out. There are two pieces to this suggestion, both of which I’ve actually done with students and they seem to work immediately.  A) Tell a classmate what you want to say. Try this for a piece of your paper that you just can’t get right or (even better) for your thesis. I love to ask students to tell me what their paper is about without looking at their paper. It’s amazing how often students will articulate something different than what’s written as their thesis. Trust what comes out of your mouth in those moments and don’t get so attached to what you’ve written that you can’t revise and make your thoughts clearer. B) Read each sentence aloud. Each. One. And pause in between. The idea is that your ears may catch something weird in the writing that your eyes may not have picked up. Even better, have a pal read each of your sentences to you. Someone else’s voice may highlight even more strongly what you didn’t see the first time around.

Finally, all of these tasks require giving yourself time and space with a piece of writing. You may not feel like you have a ton of it right now, but do your best and save these tips for the writing you’ll surely be doing in the future. Good luck!

Office Hour Group Conferences

During Wednesday’s office hours you’ll be meeting with a small group and with either me or Teresa. Before we meet, you will read your group members’ drafts and complete the draft workshop questions and provide any additional feedback. Make sure that you have a copy of your groupmates’ drafts to look at during our conversation (it’s fine to bring a laptop/tablet or a hard copy). You will be responsible for connecting with your group to make sure that you have enough time to read drafts and answer questions ahead of our meeting though you do not need to give them your answers and feedback until we meet. Additionally, you will need to make sure that you post your draft on your RCL blog by 5:00 pm so Teresa and I can have them available when we meet.

Here are your groups and your meeting times:


6:30-6:55: Miah, Destiny, Audrey

7:00-7:25: Ana, Alexis, Emma

7:30-7:55: Teniola, Elijah, Zion

8:00-8:25: Marlisa, Anastasia, Angela

8:30-8:55: Tia, Cuyler, Christopher


6:30-6:55: Carlos, Brian, Simone

7:00-7:25: Sojung, Alyx, Tania

7:30-7:55: Bianka, Ananda, Stephan

8:00-8:25: Christian, Ashley, Talia

8:30-8:55: Arianna, Nokrane

“Forgotten History: How the New England Colonists Embraced the Slave Trade”

Tuesday’s episode of Fresh Air featured the scholar, Wendy Warren, whose new book, “Forgotten History: How the New England Colonists Embraced the Slave Trade,” unearths evidence that Native Americans were enslaved and exported by the Colonists. It’s a fascinating view into the Warren’s research of original Colonial documents revealing a piece of American history we’ve forgotten.

And THIS is why we should look at Thanksgiving more closely…

I loved our discussion about the American Thanksgiving ritual and all of the commonplaces we identified that are embedded in the holiday. I dug a bit this morning and found a great LA Times article  that sheds some light on Angela’s insightful comment about the horrid Thanksgiving in which the Puritans celebrated the killing of Metacomet (known by his English name, King Philip), the Wompanoag chief who led his tribe’s resistance effort against the Puritans. He was slaughtered in 1676 and his head was mounted on a pole where it was likely the centerpiece of that year’s Thanksgiving feast.

(courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery)

In 1997, the year this article was written, Indian rights activists continued a tradition of attempting to bury Plymouth Rock with sand. The author, Jill Lepore concludes her article: “If protesters sink their spades into the sand at Plymouth today, they will not bury racism, because burying the past can never be the answer. No matter how deep the pit, we can never really bury Plymouth Rock.” And maybe we never should–perhaps we all need a heavy reminder of our less-than-honorable past, especially on a day when we are supposed to be giving thanks.

Thinking about civic artifacts: more on what we mean by “analysis.”

Learning how to be a scholar of rhetoric is tougher than it appears. I assume that most (or likely all) of you have come from high school with a very good understanding of how to analyze a text. I suspect that you probably have some finely honed skills for investigating great literature. We’re asking you to back away from what you already know and have been doing to do a different kind of work on different kinds of “texts.” In the case of our first assignment, you’ll be investigating an artifact. In this post, I’m going to try to pull some loose strings together for you by reiterating and expanding on some of what we’ve been talking about in class.

The Scientific Approach

Forgive me if I’ve said this too often, but it bears repeating, as we all have trouble sometimes with backing away from the object of our investigation and analysis to see it with new eyes. None of you have trouble moving into scientific-thinking mode, and that’s precisely what you’ll need to do at first in order to collect information about your artifact. Last fall I had a student who worked on the swastika. I was immediately concerned that he would be unable to give a speech that went beyond, “Swastikas are bad! Nazis are bad! Therefore, my civic artifact is a bad, bad thing.” Of course he proved me very wrong. This student recognized a symbol that had/has a great deal of civic weight in that it evokes strong nationalist sentiment or provokes anger/fear/sadness about the power the state can have to destroy large groups of people. But he started by looking at the symbol itself: what are its origins? How did its use and meaning change over time? With just a little bit of research, he found some bits of information that allowed him to piece together a complex view of the swastika’s role in civic life (I did encourage him to stay reasonably focused, as the swastika has a long history across many cultures). In this same way, I’ll ask you to be a scientist from Mars who knows nothing about Barbie, Black Lives Matter, “We Are Penn State!”, Check Your Privilege, or whatever your civic artifact is. Take this to heart, please, especially if you are very fond of or despise the artifact you’ve chosen. You don’t want to “cheerlead,” nor do you want to do the opposite (anti-cheerlead, if you will).

Going beyond description & getting to analysis

Before I say a few words about analysis, I want to make it clear that you will need to describe your artifact for your audience. As with most things I’ll say, effective description is easier said than done. Most of you will choose civic artifacts that are easy to describe or are already familiar to your audience. Additionally, you’ll provide your audience with an image of your artifact at the beginning of your speech (if possible). However, when you are ready to write your rhetorical analysis paper, you’ll need to be ready to do a careful description that doesn’t take up too space and bore your readers.

So first you’ll want to describe your artifact and provide context which, for some of you, will involve a bit of a history lesson. I’m going to take a sentence here to remind you to avoid stating the obvious; you’ll lose your audience quickly by telling them too much of what they already know. After you accomplish description and context, you’ll want to make sure that you dive into analysis. You’ve got lots of ways to do this, and since the speech is short, you should choose the direction that’s most relevant to your artifact. The list of questions we used in class might be of use to you in getting at what’s most compelling about your civic artifact.

Let’s break down the assignment

  • You will want to draw upon course concepts to explain how the event or opportunity in question can be seen as civic

Go back to Chapter One for help with this one if you need it. Maybe the most compelling assertion you’ll make about your civic artifact is that it has a civic component. If you choose the parking meter as your artifact, I assure you that making the argument that parking meters say something crucial about civic engagement could certainly be the heart of your speech. You will be sure that the civic is addressed in any case.

  • and what ideologies and/or civic commonplaces are contained within or assumed by the artifact.

You don’t need to list every possible commonplace. For example, if you are working on the engagement ring, you couldn’t possible cover everything there is to say about civic commonplaces (our discussion in class made that clear!). However, your primary job is to consider ideology/commonplaces. Your reading covered ideology and commonplaces, but it didn’t do a thorough job of explaining the difference between the two concepts. If you feel comfortable using both terms appropriately in your speech, feel free to do so. If not, you might want to focus on commonplaces. This is a question we can focus on in office hours if you’d like.

  • Your speech might also explain how context and the rhetorical situation inform the piece’s message

If your civic artifact was created in order to work persuasively (the “Check Your Privilege” posters, for example), you will certainly want to consider some elements of the rhetorical situation (audience, purpose, message, etc.) including available means (there are lots of possibilities here, but students usually want to jump to ethos/logos/pathos)*. As I noted above, context is likely to be important for all of your civic artifacts. As for the piece’s “message,” I’m thinking of this in terms of the rhetorical situation as well. For example, “Black Lives Matter” has a message(s) (it was intentionally created with an audience and purpose in mind). Thanksgiving dinner? One could identify an audience, purpose, rhetor, and so on, but working through that rhetorical situation is probably more sophisticated than we’re prepared to do–especially in a 3-4 minute speech. It’s okay to focus on other elements of your civic artifact if sorting through the rhetorical situation doesn’t feel like the most compelling approach to your analysis. We’ll be diving into it headfirst with your rhetorical analysis paper.

  • and how the artifact is framing the very idea of civic engagement.

This last element of the assignment description circles back to the beginning with the addition of “engagement.” The assignment is asking you to discuss the ways in which your civic artifact asks a group of people to participate in their community.

“But how do I get an A?”

In class on Monday, Teresa mentioned the trouble with rubrics, and I’ll reiterate what she said. Rubrics suggest that if you do this thing, this thing, and this thing, that you’ll get an A. When you take a look at the rubric for this assignment, I want you to understand that rubrics are not meant to be prescriptive. The assignment as I examined it above is what you should consider when you are trying to determine if the content of your speech has done its job. Every successful speech or paper offers an unusual, fresh perspective on its topic that demonstrates deep investigation and analysis. It takes into consideration the unique properties of its subject and avoids formulaic fulfillment of the assignment.

I think I’ve probably said too much here, but I hope that something of what I’ve discussed will be useful as you move forward with your work. Don’t hesitate to be in touch!

*You will see more on the rhetorical situation very soon. Stay tuned!

About Rhetoric & Civic Life

Instructor: Teresa Hamilton                                                                                                                     Email:                                                                                                                                Classroom:   008 Life Sciences                                                                                                                       Office Hours: Wednesday 6-9 and by appointment

Instructor: Kate Rosenberg                                                                                                                        Email:                                                                                                                        Classroom: 006 Life Sciences                                                                                                                         Office Hours: Wednesdays 6-9 and by appointment

ENGL/CAS 137H-138T, Rhetoric and Civic Life (RCL), is a year-long honors course offering comprehensive training in oral, written, visual, and digital communication for the twenty-first century. It unites these various modes under the flexible art of rhetoric and uses rhetoric both to strengthen communication skills and to sharpen awareness of the challenges and advantages presented by oral, written, visual, and digital modes.

RCL I focuses particularly on two critical academic capacities: analyzing and contextualizing. In this semester, students learn to rigorously examine the rhetoric surrounding them, compellingly present their findings in various modes, and thoughtfully contextualize their research.

See Penn State RCL