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‘Rhetoric brings the liberal arts together’

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    Valerie Renegar

New professor expands Southwestern’s offerings in communication studies

As soon as she took her first communication course, Valerie Renegar realized that studying communication was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

“Studying rhetoric means that students have to bring in knowledge of literature, philosophy, religion, history, art, women’s studies and other topics,” she said. “Rhetoric really brings the liberal arts together.”

Renegar is the latest addition to the Communication Studies faculty at Southwestern. She joined the faculty this fall after spending 12 years teaching at San Diego State University.

A native of Houston, Renegar earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Notre Dame. While at Notre Dame, she was on the debate team and then worked as director of debate for the Office of Student Affairs after she graduated.

Renegar earned a master’s degree in speech communication from Kansas State University and then stayed in Kansas to earn a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Kansas.

After 12 years in California, Renegar said she was looking to move back to Texas. She also was looking for a job at a school where both teaching and research are important.

“The job at Southwestern was perfect for me because I could do good work as well as engage with the students,” Renegar said. “Faculty here aren’t trying to teach students how to do some particular job; they are teaching young people the skills to be lifelong intellectuals who can make a difference in their families and communities. When I started learning about Southwestern and encountered the core values of the university, I found that they resonated with my teaching and learning philosophy in important ways.”

Renegar said she was introduced to the liberal arts tradition in her first two years of undergraduate studies. “The liberal arts shed light on knowledge and the human condition, both of which are crucial to understanding the process of communication,” she said.

This semester Renegar is teaching Introduction to Communication Studies. Next semester she will teach that again, along with Gender and Communication. In the next few years she hopes to teach additional courses in Environmental Communication, the Rhetoric of Women’s Rights, Rhetorical Traditions, and Rhetorical Criticism.

Renegar said Environmental Communication is an area of particular interest to her.  

“Many of the dangers that are facing the planet in terms of the environment are failing to reach the proper audience because they are being communicated as issues of belief instead of statements of fact,” she said. “When people say that they don’t believe in global warming, that should sound as unusual as someone who doesn’t believe in gravity.”

Her proposed Environmental Communication class will look at environmental issues, as well as how the idea of the environment itself has been rhetorically constructed. “When we use certain words, they have within them certain kinds of logical conclusions,” she said. “Much of the language that we use to talk about the environment enables humans to treat it as a resource for human consumption, which can lead to all kinds of problems.”

Renegar’s research involves the correlation between communication, rhetoric, feminism and the environment. She currently is researching the notion of how rhetoric is used to create social change, particularly involving women. She wants to find out more about how people use rhetoric to create spaces for social change and also is interested in how social change is influenced by pop culture.

Renegar has received many scholarly awards and has written numerous articles, textbook chapters, conference papers and other teaching aids.

“Valerie has been a great hire for us,” said Bob Bednar, chair of the Department of Communication Studies. “She has been able to hit the ground running here with our students and colleagues while also maintaining her already productive research and writing agenda. We were particularly excited to hire Valerie because she also helps us reinforce the long-standing commitment Communication Studies has had to Feminist Studies, while also working to develop Communication Studies courses for Environmental Studies.”

- LeLoni Brown