Sensitive Rhetorics

Academic Freedom and Campus Activism

Kendall Gerdes compellingly argues that denigrating sensitivity in debates over trigger warnings, sexual misconduct, safe spaces, and campus carry laws denies ‘our vulnerability to one another as rhetorical subjects.’ With notable energy and lucidity, she contends that demands for sensitivity exemplify the mutual responsibility engendered by our ‘irremissible exposedness,’ and call for rethinking ‘the force and potential trauma’ of affect.
Nathan Stormer, University of Maine

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Claims that students are too sensitive are familiar on and around college campuses. The ideas of cancel culture, safe spaces, and political correctness are used to shut down discussion and prevent students from being recognized as stakeholders in higher education and as advocates for their own interests. Further, universities can claim that student activists threaten academic freedom. In Sensitive Rhetorics, Kendall Gerdes puts these claims and common beliefs into conversation with rhetorical theory to argue that critiques of sensitivity reveal a deep societal discomfort with the idea that language is a form of action. Gerdes poses important questions: What kind of harm can language and representation actually do, and how? What responsibilities do college and university teachers bear toward their students? Sensitive Rhetorics explores the answers by surfacing submerged assumptions about higher education, the role of instructors and faculty, and the needs of an increasingly diverse student body.

152 Pages, 5.5 x 8.5 in.

February, 2024

isbn : 9780822948117

about the author

Kendall Gerdes

Kendall Gerdes is assistant professor of writing and rhetoric studies at the University of Utah, coeditor of Reinventing (with) Theory in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, and a lifetime member of the Rhetoric Society of America.

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Kendall Gerdes