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Dr. Kirt Wilson to deliver Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture at NCA Convention

Associate Professor Kirt H. Wilson will deliver the Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture on Friday, November 11, at 5:00 p.m. at the National Communication Association Annual Convention. Professor Wilson is a scholar of political communication, rhetorical criticism, and contemporary theories of race and society at Penn State University. In his lecture, "Dreams of Union, Days of Conflict: Communicating Social Justice and Civil Rights Memory in the Age of Barack Obama," he will analyze the relationships among three communicative phenomena: the symbolic proposition of a more perfect union, commemorative rhetoric about the civil rights movement, and contemporary activism to remediate racial injustice. Wilson will argue that since the early 1990s, but especially with the civil rights movement's golden anniversary, public rhetoric in the United States has reframed a collective memory of the movement. Specifically, a set of narratives has emerged that reconfigures past racial and political conflicts into a demonstration of the nation's enduring commitment to equality and democracy. 


Wilson's research moves from African American public discourse to presidential rhetoric, and from the political history of the Civil War era to the symbolic construction of memory in the late 20th century. He is the author of The Reconstruction Desegregation Debate: The Politics of Equality and the Rhetoric of Place and has won numerous NCA awards, including the James A. Winans and Herbert A. Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address.


About the Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture

In 1994, the Administrative Committee of the National Communication Association established the Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture. The Arnold Lecture is given in a plenary session each year at the annual convention of the Association and features the most accomplished researchers in the field. The topic of the lecture changes annually so as to capture the wide range of research being conducted in the field and to demonstrate the relevance of that work to society at large.

The lecture has been named for Carroll C. Arnold, professor emeritus of Pennsylvania State University. Trained under Professor A. Craig Baird at the University of Iowa, Arnold was the co-author (with John Wilson) of Public Speaking as a Liberal Art, author of Criticism of Oral Rhetoric (among other works), and co-editor of The Handbook of Rhetorical and Communication Theory. Although primarily trained as a humanist, Arnold was nonetheless one of the most active participants in the New Orleans Conference of 1968, which helped put social scientific research in communication on solid footing. Thereafter, Arnold edited Communication Monographs because he was fascinated by empirical questions. As one of the three founders of the journal Philosophy and Rhetoric, Arnold also helped move the field toward increased dialogue with the humanities in general. For these reasons and more, Arnold was dubbed “The Teacher of the Field” when he retired from Penn State in 1977. Arnold died in January of 1997.

The Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture is sponsored by Pearson.

Below is the abstract for Dr. Wilson's talk:

Dreams of Union, Days of Conflict: Communicating Social Justice and Civil Rights Memory in the Age of Barack Obama

On March 18, 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama stood before a podium at Philadelphia's Constitution Center and began a speech dedicated to the subject of white and black race relations with the words, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” Since that moment, scholars and citizens, journalists and activists have reflected on the promise of “A More Perfect Union” and asked, “What happened?” The President’s election seemed to indicate a wide-spread desire for unity in the United States. At the time, claims of a post-racial America seemed overly optimistic; nevertheless, national polls indicated that most adults viewed relations between whites and blacks as either “somewhat good” or “very good.” By 2015, however, public opinion had swung in the opposite direction. A majority of adults believed that race relations were “somewhat bad” or “very bad.” In his 2016 Carroll C. Arnold lecture, Dr. Kirt H. Wilson contends that when we ask what happened to the hoped for unity of Obama's Philadelphia address, we first need to interrogate how society selectively remembers the struggle for black freedom in the United States.


Dr. Wilson argues that since the early 1990s, but especially with the civil rights movement’s golden anniversary, public rhetoric in the United States has reframed a collective memory of the movement. Specifically, a set of narratives has emerged that reconfigures past racial and political conflicts into a demonstration of the nation's enduring commitment to equality and democracy. This memory is not entirely stable, but it is sufficiently coherent to influence not only our understanding of history but also our deliberations about social justice in the present. Today citizens communicate about racial divisions, social protests, and remedies to discrimination within a horizon of possible action that is constrained by what we remember about the civil rights movement’s purpose, success and failure.


By analyzing the relationships among three communicative phenomena--the symbolic proposition of a more perfect union, commemorative rhetoric about the civil rights movement, and contemporary activism to remediate racial injustice--Dr. Wilson reinterprets the conditions that have led to a pessimistic view of current interracial relations. Contrary to what some suggest, he is optimistic that we have arrived at an important juncture. The unrealized hopes for Obama's presidency and recent instances of racial conflict invite us to consider what we have forgotten about our past. It is more possible today than it was in 2008 to construct different memories of the black freedom struggle. These alternatives provide new resources for political action and communication. While some of these memories force us to abandon the ideal of a “perfect union,” they may offer a better foundation for creating a just society.

Speech & Debate Society Named Voter Education Partner

Because of its commitment to providing forums for educating undergraduates about the election, the Penn State Speech & Debate Society was named a Voter Education Partner by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization responsible for hosting the presidential debates every election. Groups are named for their commitment of "promoting an informed and engaged citizenry" during the election by hosting Presidential DebateWatches and other election-related events.

This fall semester, the Speech & Debate Society is organizing a diverse number of events reflecting that goal. Earlier this month, they moderated a debate between the College Democrats and College Republicans, and they will be moderating an additional debate between the clubs on September 28th. Additionally, they are moderating a debate between the clubs supporting the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Donald Trump campaign on September 27th. "These events provide a great forum for students to learn about the election and help spark conversations on campus," says J. Kurr, the Director of Debate for the Speech & Debate Society and a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Communication Arts & Sciences.  

The Speech & Debate Society is also hosting Presidential DebateWatch parties for the three presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate. The first debate watch party on September 26th begins at 8:30pm in the Flex Theater (132 HUB). Neema Esfandi, the president of the Speech & Debate Society and a CAS major, will lead a discussion about expectations for the debate and reactions following the debate. "The debate watches foster interest in our political system," Esfandi says, "That is key to inspiring people to take action in their communities and their country as a whole."

Thanks to the support for the Department of Communication Arts & Sciences, the Speech & Debate Society will also hosting similar watch parties on October 4th, October 9th, and October 19th for the other debates, all of which are open to the public.

Jason Traverse, the CAS Events Coordinator and CAS grad, places 2nd in PSU photo contest

Jason Traverse, our Events Coordinator and a CAS grad, has placed 2nd in the inaugural Penn State Today photo contest!

Click here to see his winning photo.

Associate Professor Emeritus Christopher Johnstone has op-ed piece in today’s Centre Daily Times

Associate Professor Emeritus Christopher Johnstone's letter to the editor titled "Blue-collar anger misdirected" is in today's CDT.


Click here to read the full article!

Essay by Dr. John Gastil featured in The Washington Post

An article about the Trump campaign penned by our own Dr. John Gastil was featured in The Washington Post yesterday.

Click here to read the full article!

Xun Zhu and Amber K. Worthington receive top student paper honors from NCA

We congratulate graduate students Xun Zhu and Amber K. Worthington on their top student paper in the Applied Division of the National Communication Association. The paper is titled "Users' Evaluations of Health Information Websites and the Impact of Message Features and Genetic Determinism on Information Diffusion: Insights into the Sharing of Science."


"This paper stems from work we did as research assistants on Dr. Rachel A. Smith’s grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The purpose of the grant is to examine how people living with a genetic condition, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD), make medical decisions and how these decisions, together with discrimination and genetic stigma, influence communication and well-being."


"In this paper we looked at how people with AATD evaluate the information and design features of the NIH website about this genetic condition and how these features influence their intention to share this information with others."


"We would like to thank Drs. Rachel A. Smith and Roxanne L. Parrott for their guidance in writing this paper. Most importantly, we are grateful to the members of the Alpha-1 Research Registry for sharing their thoughts and experiences with us."


New CAS degree to be offered in Fall '16

Starting in Fall 2016, students will be able to earn a new degree, the Bachelor of Science in Communication Arts and Sciences. This degree is perfect for students interested in combining the core communication studies with course work in research methods, math, and statistics. The degree program prepares students for success in communication graduate programs (which demand expertise in research design and quantitative analysis) and in careers as analysts (including such fields as sales, survey research, health and human services, social media, and politics). Details about the degree will be posted on the CAS undergraduate website. We look forward to welcoming the first class of students earning BS degrees in Communication Arts and Sciences!

Jon Nussbaum to be named NCA Distinguished Scholar

The Department learned that Professor Jon Nussbaum will be named an NCA Distinguished Scholar at the annual convention in November.

"I am honored to be named a Distinguished Scholar by the National Communication Association. I have been mentored and supported by an extraordinary group of colleagues and graduate students throughout the entirety of my career. Their guidance and inspiration have elevated my "game" and have been the best part of my academic life."

Congratulations to Jon on this tremendous honor!! Click here to read more.


John Gastil pens new op-ed in wake of BREXIT

In the wake of the historic Brexit vote, our own John Gastil has written this new op-ed: Click here!

Kurt Braddock interviewed by Interfaith Voices

Recently, Kurt Braddock did an interview (along with Imam Mohamed Magid) with Interfaith Voices about counter-narratives and radicalization. The show broadcasts on 85 NPR stations.

Here's the link: