Ask Dr. Erik Juergensmeyer what he finds most rewarding about teaching at Fort Lewis College and he sums his answer up in one word: “everything.” Dig into just what makes teaching so rewarding for him and he explains how he has seen what he teaches change the way his students look at the world and how they communicate with others. A big part of his teaching philosophy involves training his students in the art of rhetoric.
Aristotle said that rhetoric is “the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” Yet, rhetoric is a word that has drawn a negative connotation for many in today’s world. Often rhetoric is misapplied and misunderstood by those wishing to advance a particular cause, thereby causing conflict.
Dr. Juergensmeyer, on the other hand, understands the difference between true rhetoric and its misappropriation – what he calls “rhetrickery” – and he’s made it his job to teach that to his students. As director of the FLC Writing Program, assistant professor of composition and rhetoric, and coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies minor, he is well positioned to instill in his students the ability to communicate with true rhetoric.
“Rhetoric involves fully understanding your audience in order to effectively communicate with them,” he explains. “That’s why I find so many connections between rhetoric and conflict resolution because they both seek mutual understanding.”
That mutual understanding is often built through working with conflict, not by avoiding it. For Dr. Juergensmeyer, conflict is natural and necessary, and the ability to effectively understand the root causes for conflict and work to find a resolution is vital.
“I teach writing and conflict resolution as transformative acts – skills that people gain that can change their lives.”