Senior reflects on the value of RHMS major

Illustration courtesy of Pioneer Log

By Caitlin Chappell

While wrapping up my senior year, I took the end of the year survey about my overall experience with Lewis & Clark College. It asked me my major and I wrote Rhetoric and Media Studies (RHMS). When I submitted the survey, it did not go through. The screen reads, “major not found,” so I put in “other.”

I am not surprised that the survey did not recognize my major. For the past four years, I have gotten used to people asking me what an RHMS major is.

The simple answer is that RHMS is LC’s version of a Communications major. If we want to get more specific, RHMS works towards understanding messages in speeches, texts, conversations, symbols and media. It is a major that applies to any field.

Take a look at the course catalogue: the RHMS department offers courses that apply to STEM (Argumentation and Persuasion in Science), politics (Campaign Rhetoric), history (Comparative Rhetoric) and the visual arts (Media Design and Criticism). This major has a broad reach, which is what drew me to it.

Another thing that caught my attention is how we are tested on our knowledge. Given how broad the reach is, you cannot test each subject the same way. For some classes you will give a presentation. Others you will have to write an essay based on historical, analytical, ethnographic and/or statistical research. Others you will make videos, whether that be a narrative film or video essay.

By offering courses that relate to many subjects as well as having students apply what we have learned in a multitude of ways, the RHMS major has something for everyone. This major gives students an opportunity to work within multiple fields and apply their knowledge in diverse ways. However, it does have downfalls when it comes to practical experience with media- making. While in Theatre and Art, you have options to pursue classes that are both practical and theoretical, in RHMS, theory outweighs practicality in terms of the media focus.

I am not planning to go into academia. I want to make media. I want to create, and there are a limited number of classes that give hands-on experience with media. Next semester there are 14 courses offered in the department and only two of them provide practical experience making media. It is not a fair balance, especially for those in this department with a media focus.

It is disappointing that a major that emphasizes diverse approaches to its field focuses more on the theoretical than the practical. Given this, some students have to go outside of the major to gain such experience.

Having to go off-campus for practical training is not necessarily a bad thing. In my experiences, my outside training in video production, filmmaking and publishing has been a great resource for learning and making connections for potential careers. That being said, it would have been nice to either learn about these experiences through the Rhetoric and Media Studies Department or have classes that also give more practical training.

I will never regret this major because it is something I can apply to any work I go into. I have learned so much from the professors about what RHMS is and how it can apply to multiple fields. Seeing how broad its reach is makes me wish that the courses offered also went further beyond academia.

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