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Lost Chapter of University on Watch: The History of Rhetorical Theory

Lost Chapter of University on Watch: The History of Rhetorical Theory

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The success of Contesting Admission hinged upon my ability to make such waves in the English department that my status as a student could no longer be ignored. The department was resisting and defending their decision at all costs. This resistance included their decision not only to reject my application to graduate school but also to defend their decision to evaluate my safety and mental status.

The department wanted nothing to do with me. For the most part, I wasn’t allowed to take any graduate level courses in English. So, most of my classes during my final semester in New London were in other departments. There was one major exception. I was registered for a cross listed class. This meant the class was available to both undergraduate students and graduate students. The class was called the history of rhetorical theory and it was taught by none other than Dr. Harris, the department chair. That’s right, I was excluded from department life. Restricted from the office. So, I knew in order to the momentum going for Contesting Admission and to maintain access to the chair, I needed to take a class with him. This was that class.

The history of the rhetorical theory was a survey course of the great rhetoricians over the centuries. Aristotle, Plato, to the modern era, we studied rhetoric by the greatest speakers and linguists of all time. I figured, if I were to prove how great I truly was with the English language, I would need to win the approval of none other than Dr. Harris the department chair. I sat in the very front row every class. Front and center, I would have my hand raised and spar with the chair every class.

As the semester progressed, the tone of the class seemed to change. At the onset of the semester, it seemed as though Dr. Harris was on top of his game. I mean, really orating to the class and communicating his points without missing a beat. But as time went on, and I continued debating the chair’s every explanation, and interpretation of the literature, Dr. Harris appeared to be much more subdued and despondent. On the first day, Dr. Harris’s rhetoric was impregnable, and few dared to contest anything he had to say about anything. By the time of my evaluation, Dr. Harris’s rhetoric seemed as weak as his voice which was also cracking with trepidation. I originally thought the fear in his voice was of me and my relentless Contesting Admission affairs across the university.

Well, when I had successfully completed and passed the psychiatric evaluation I returned to the classroom. The first class I returned to was the history of rhetorical theory. Arms crossed, sitting in the front row, shaking my head, and starring down the department chair, I put my dad’s advice on hold. I wanted the chair to feel my rage, experience my anger, and truly regret his actions and every decision he had made against my academic status and ability to continue on in my education. By the end of the semester, Dr. Harris looked as feeble as an old man, hunched over, and largely depressed about what he had done. This is what I had thought or perceived of him. In reality, the chair thought very little of my ability and even less of my great overture to the university that semester.

In the end, I just got a few laughs from other and bug eyed double takes from other students. Usually, before class even began. Every day, Dr. Harris would wear a red jacket to class. I would causally home “the red coats are coming ” to other students nearby. The joke was a reference to the American Revolution in which the colonists would remark upon the British soldiers attacking. Lately seeing Dr. Harris at the enemy, and a representative of the English department, the joke was definitely lost upon the other students.

About the Author

J. Peters

Bold 10 Under 10 award recipient Jacques Peters ’08, MSW ’12 . Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), therapist and disability rights advocate, Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various systems of care, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health or the city’s Department of Corrections. Jacques is the author of University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy, which he published under the pen name J. Peters in 2019, and First Diagnosis, published in 2020. Jacques refers to his stance on recovery in his journal articles as “Too big to fail.” No obstacle too big, no feat out of reach, Jacques let nothing stop him in his path to recovery and healing.
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