Public Policy and Social justice image

Writing Public Policy

Rhetoric, Ethics, and Social Justice

12:30 - 3:10, Thursday, Fall 2018

Pipelines, pussyhats, and Black Lives Matter. The issues of social and environmental justice are issues of rhetoric, ethics, power, and policy making. They are issues of interaction: humans with other humans, humans with their environment. They are issues of public policy: the empowered mobilize financial and political resources, the disenfranchised mobilize themselves, all in an effort to literally write wrongs into right. So how do thousands upon thousands of people who are oppressed mobilize? How do they convince others of the rightness of their actions? How does civic action become public policy?

Radical environmental activists are able to teach complex engineering techniques to other radicals through often very limited modes of communication. Black Lives Matter activists are able to bring thousands of people together in often unbelievably short time periods. What are they doing that communication professionals can learn from? What are they doing that might help us more effectively engage with our world to create and recreate policies and procedures that offer ethically viable everyday practices?

In this class we will look at the events and systems of power that create conflict, and in turn look at the way activists mobilize themselves and shape information in order to get at complex issues of communication of specialized information, rhetoric, ethical systems, and the dismantling and (re)creation of public policy. We will examine public policy from a rhetorical standpoint and consider issues of argumentation, persuasion, design, and culture while exploring the impact various forms of media have on an audience. We will consider how messages are constructed and distributed to an audience, how audiences receive and (mis)interpret those messages, what ethical roles the messenger has in creating and distributing those messages, and how public perception of issues impact policy. We will learn how to conduct effective research towards shaping policy, and, ultimately, we’ll try our hand at making change.

By the end of the course, you should be able to: Demonstrate an awareness of ethics in relation to policy-related situations and circumstances; Analyze and discuss image events, activism, advocacy, and elements of political rhetoric; Analyze and discuss rhetorical situations; Discuss the policy-making process and the role of an engaged public; Identify key decision makers and analyze their needs and expectations; and Apply theory towards application in shaping public policy.

Contacting me: I am available Tuesdays 1:00 - 3:30 and by appointment. I will generally respond to questions and concerns via email and within 24 hours, excluding university holidays and weekends.

Class Code of Ethics

Determined by the students of ENGL 7030; Writing Public Policy on August 23, 2018 in order to facilitate productive discussion of sensitive subjects:

1. Consider the different facets of an argument before making a decision, and if you want to debate the points of an argument challenge ideas, not people.

2. Personal stories offered as a way to facilitate discussion stay in class. 

3. Give speakers the time, space, and guidance they need to approach difficult topics respectfully and thoughtfully.  Let speakers complete their thought before responding, but also be willing to help them find the words they need.

4. Do not make assumptions about traditionally marginalized groups, and learn to entertain different ways of thinking than you may have brought with you into the class.

5. Engage with each other with compassion and respect.

Week 1:

August 23 (Schedule subject to change)

Class: Introductions to the class and to each other

Discuss syllabus and reading expectations

Develop class guidelines to facilitate ethical discussion of complex subject matter (example)

Choose areas of local expertise and sign up for Individual Expertise Discussions.

Discuss Theodore J. Lowi's "Law vs. Public Policy: A Critical Exploration" and Dean Kilpatrick's "Definitions of Public Policy and the Law" as it relates to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center. We'll start with the simple, and work our way towards understanding our role in shaping public policy and, ultimately, law.

Discuss Smith's Policy Cycle.

Look at how policy mediates actions through Auburn University's "Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence."

Other examples: Auburn, Alabama's Residential Policies ; Auburn University's Smoke-Free Campus Policy

Week 2:

August 30

Class: Discuss Activism and Rhetoric, Part 1

Walton, R. & Hopton, S. B. 2018. "All Vietnamese men are brothers": Rhetorical strategies and community engagement practices used to support victims of Agent Orange. Technical Communication 65(3), pp. 308 - 325.

Links for discussion:

Too Poor to Vote 

CNN footage of Tiananmen Square, 1989 

Week 3:

September 6

Class: Individual Expertise Discussions, Round 1, 1 - 5

Discuss Activism and Rhetoric 7 - 9

Week 4:

September 13

Class: Individual Expertise Discussions, Round 1, 6 - 10

Discuss Activism and Rhetoric 10 - 12

Week 5:

September 20

Class: Individual Expertise Discussions, Round 1, 11 - 15

Discuss Activism and Rhetoric 13 - 15

Week 6:

September 27

Class: Discuss Activism and Rhetoric 16 - 18

Agboka, G. Y. (2013). Participatory localization: A social justice approach to navigating unenfranchised/disenfranchised cultural sites. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22(1): 28 – 49.

Look at how the Center for Civic Design embodies social justice activism.

Week 7:

October 4

Class: The DIY aesthetic of social justice activism

Implementing Public Policy 1 - 3

Dunn, K., & Farnsworth, M. S. (2012). “We ARE the Revolution”: Riot Grrrl Press, Girl Empowerment, and DIY Self-Publishing. Women's Studies, 41(2), 136-157.

Triggs, T. (2006). Scissors and glue: Punk fanzines and the creation of a DIY aesthetic. Journal of Design History, 19(1): 69 – 83. doi:10.1093/jdh/epk006.

Worley, M. (2015). Punk, politics and British (fan)zines, 1976-84: “While the world was dying, did you wonder why?” History Workshop Journal, 79(1): 76 – 106. doi:10.1093/hwj/dbu043

Look at examples of zines and discuss how they might be used as a tool for social justice

Brief Zine Documentary 

Proposal Due by Friday at midnight

Week 8:

October 11 FALL BREAK

No Class

Week 9:

October 18

Class: Individual Expertise Presentations, Round 2, 1 - 5

Writing Public Policy 1 - 4

Williams, M. F. (2009). Understanding public policy development as a technological process. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 23(4), 448 – 462.

Week 10:

October 25

Class: Individual Expertise Presentations, Round 2, 6 - 10

Writing Public Policy 5 - 7

Jones, N. N. (2016). The technical communicator as advocate: Integrating a social justice approach in technical communication. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(3), 342-361.

Week 11:

November 1

Class: Individual Expertise Presentations, Round 2, 11 - 15

Writing Public Policy 8 - Conclusion

Colton, J. S., Holmes, S., & Walwema, J. (2017). From NoobGuides to #OpKKK: Ethics of Anonymous’ Tactical Technical Communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 26(1), 59-75.

Week 12:

November 8: Professor out of town

Class: Use this time to work on your informational reports and perhaps discuss your endgame for the project. You would benefit from meeting as a group during our assigned class time and sharing your work with each other.

Informational Report Due by Friday at midnight

Week 13:

November 15

Class: Discuss When they call you a terrorist: A black lives matter memoir. See book trailer here.

February 26, 2018, Time (4:07): Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Cullors on Her Memoir, Her Life and What's Next for the Movement

June 21, 2018, Get2Know the Author (5:57): Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors

Michael Eric Dyson: August 2, 2018 All Black Lives Matter, Essence (1:16):

Black Panther Party Breakfast Club:

PBS video on the breakfast program (1:41):

Week 14:

November 22, Thanksgiving Break

No Class

Week 15:

November 29

Class: Implementing Public Policy 4, 5, and 8

Edenfield, A. C. (2018). The burden of ambiguity: Writing at a cooperative. Technical Communication, 65(1), 31-45.

Workshop projects

Debate on the Cold War, October 21, 1960: 

Foreign Policy Debate, October 6, 1976: 

Foreign Policy Debate, October 28, 1980: 

Foreign Policy Debate, October 21, 1984:

Foreign Policy Debate, September 20, 2004:

Foreign Policy Debate, October 19, 2016:

Public comment due by Friday at midnight.

Week 16:

December 6

Class: Project presentations.

Reflection on Social Justice and the making of Public Policy due by noon on December 13.

Texts and Technologies

Our course readings will include the following:

Hill, M., & Hupe, P. (2010). Implementing public policy, 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Kahn, S., & Lee, J. (2010). Activism and Rhetoric. Routledge.

Khan-Cullors, p. & Bandale, a. (2018). When they call you a terrorist: A black lives matter memoir. St. Martin’s Press.

Smith, C. F. (2010). Writing public policy: A practical guide to communicating in the policy making process, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford.

Numerous journal articles


ON FORMATTING: All writings in this class should follow APA format. This is not a genre class (one focused on teaching how to write essays, proposals, research papers, etc.). Instead, this class is designed to teach you how to understand, and apply, multiple rhetorical theories and approaches. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are submitting your work in an appropriate format. For help on APA style please see the APA handbook or the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue.

Individual Expertise Discussion Leading (25 points total, 12.5 points each)

At the beginning of this class you chose a specific area of focus for your work on writing public policy as it relates to rhetoric, ethics, and social justice. Twice during the semester, once early on, once toward the end of class, you will lead class discussion on what you see as critical points of intersection regarding social justice issues on your topic. Your discussion should introduce us to valuable sources of information and offer pathways towards making change. Your discussion should also engage, in some way, with the readings assigned for your presentation day. No matter the topic, issues of social justice often have areas of rhetorical overlap that you should explore. You should plan your discussion to take 20 minutes, and your work should be as much about as engaging the class in active problem-solving as proving your expertise. The best way to think of thesed might be as a short conference presentation, with 7 - 10 minutes devoted to your subject by you, and the rest of the time used for facilitated discussion. You may use whatever methods of information-transfer you see fit (Powerpoint, websites, handouts, socially-networked discussions, etc.), but you do need to provide the class with a resource list. Grading rubric.

Making Change Public Policy Assignment (65 points total)

See Chapter 10 of Writing Public Policy. Start by finding a Call for Comment, or identifying/contacting an audience/administrator. A good place to start is with the Federal Register Advanced Search Page looking for proposed rules and notices, or with the more user-friendly

1. Proposal (10 points)

Write a proposal memo (~1000 words) to me in which you: Briefly define a policy problem; Identify the audience for your public comment; Describe your research plan and timeline; Provide evidence of having considered how you might contribute to ongoing discussion/what changes you might propose; and identify at least 5 starting sources for your research (in APA format).

2. Informational Research Report (15 points)

Develop a well-researched (at least 10 viable sources, ~2000 words) informational report on a problem in your world. This is the information-only component of your policy assignment. Your goal here should be to create a logos-based, facts only, non-recommendation statement of a problem. We’ll discuss the complexities of such a thing in class, but the end goal here is an as-clinical-as-possible write up of a situation.

3. Public Comment (15 points)

Distill your report down to a written public comment to an administrator. Your goal here is to create a document that influences some organization's policy-making process. You may write directly toward ongoing policy changes via calls for public comment (see, for example), or define your own audience. Your comment should meet the length requirements suggested by the forum in which you will be presenting your comment.

No matter the length, your comment should have: A narrow focus; Evidence, analysis and references supporting your views; Indication of public support of your view; and Positive and feasible alternatives.

The actual submission of your public comment to your target audience is strongly encouraged.

4. Presentation of Problem and Proposed Actions (25 points)

Option 1: You will give a 10 - 15 minute presentation on the last day of class (depnding on how many of us there are) in which you present your key findings and recommendations from your research report and written public comment. Think of this as a presentation you would make TO YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. View this as your time in the spotlight at an open forum where you need to convince us to get on board with your idea. Make sure you consider what type of design elements will most effectively speak to your audience's needs and expectations. Following your presentation we will open the floor to questions from the audience.

Option 2: Produce a zine. Not all activists are public speakers. Many, in fact, choose to motivate audiences through the creation of physical materials. If you choose this option, you will create a zine designed to introduce your key findings and recommendations from your research report and written public comment in such a way as to motivate your target audience to action. If you choose this option you will not give a presentation. Instead, you will distribute copies of your zine to us and we will take the 10 - 15 minutes to engage with your work. Following our engagement period we will open the floor to questions from the audience.

Final Reflection (10 points)

In roughly ~1000 words describe to me what you have learned over the course of this class, not just on your own topic, but about how activism, rhetoric, public policy, and social justice collide. In this reflection you should engage with the work presented by your classmates to consider how we might better seek to make positive, ethical change in the world.



You will fail the class if you do not attempt and submit ALL major assignments. Late assignments will receive a grade of zero (0).

Grades on assignments will be determined according to the following criteria:

A (90-99%) The document is superior. It exceeds all the objectives of the assignment. The presentation and discussion is ethical, sophisticated, thorough, thoughtful, and ideally suited for the audience. The style is clear and appropriate to the subject, purpose, and audience. The organization and design of the document make the information understandable, accessible, and usable. The mechanics and grammar are correct. Typography and design elements are sophisticated, ethical, and appropriate to audience and purpose. Outside information is cited appropriately.

B (80-89%) The document is good. It meets all of the objectives of the assignment, but requires minor improvements or contains only easily correctable errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Presentation and discussion are good, but could be addressed in more depth. Typography and design elements are good, ethical, and appropriate to audience and purpose. Outside information is mostly cited appropriately.

C (70-79%) The document is adequate. It omits useful information or requires significant improvement in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Presentation and discussion are superficial in places.Typography and design elements are not entirely suited to audience and purpose, have questionable ethics, and/or require significant improvement in order to function for their intended purpose. Some outside information is cited appropriately.

D (60-69%) The document is disappointing. It meets some of the objectives of the assignment but ignores others; the discussion is inadequately developed, omits important information, or displays numerous or major errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Typography and design elements are poorly suited to audience and purpose, lack awareness of ethics, and/or largely fail in their intended purpose. Most outside information is not cited appropriately.

F (0-59%) The document is unsatisfactory. It omits critical information, does something other than the assignment required, or displays major or excessive errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Typography and design elements fail to accomplish desired goals and/or lack ethical awareness. Outside information is not cited.

Projects submitted more than 7 days after the due date will not be accepted for a grade (they will receive a zero), though I will be happy to look over the project and offer constructive commentary.

Team Assignments

Team assignments receive grades based on group and individual work. It is possible that unsatisfactory participation in team assignments will result in a lower participation grade or a lower grade on the team assignment itself. You may be called upon to evaluate your own or your team members' performance on group assignments.


As this is a once-per-week graduate class, each unexcused absences will result in the loss of 5 points from the semester's point total.

Do not show up late to class. If a participation grade or quiz is given during the first 15 minutes and you arrive late, a grade of zero (0) will be received for that assignment.

You will be excused from attending classes or other required activities, including examinations, for documented University-approved functions (such as competing in an athletic event), or the observance of a religious holy day and the time necessary to travel for this observance. Yout will not be penalized for the absence and will be permitted to take an exam or complete an assignment missed during the excused absence. The policy applies only to the documented University-approved events and official holy days of tax-exempt religious institutions. No prior notification of the instructor is required, though is requested. Other than exceptions related to university-related events and religious circumstances, only a note from a doctor or death notice for an immediate family member will result in an absence being excused. Personal circumstances are not considered acceptable for excusing an absence. Please see Auburn University's policies for additional materials relating to what constitutes an "excused" absence.

Dropping the Course

If you drop the course, you must do so in person at the Office of the Registrar. I cannot drop you from the course. It is your responsibility to make yourself aware of the drop dates.

Due Dates and Submission Technology

You will fail the class if you do not attempt and submit ALL major assignments. Late assignments will receive a grade of zero (0). It is your responsibility to turn in your work on time. Computer-related excuses will not be accepted. In the event of difficulties with our course management system (i.e., Canvas), you may email me your work to get it in on time, though you will still be responsible for submitting it through the appropriate channels when the difficulties are resolved. If you believe you have a legitimate excuse for submitting late work you may submit to me a formal appeal. I reserve the right to reject your appeal.

If you are absent the day a physical assignment is due, I will not accept the work via email. You must make arrangements with me to submit work before the deadline or put your work in my department mailbox. If extenuating circumstances apply (see below), your work will be due the day after your return from your athletic event or the day after you attend the emergency appointment or funeral.

Electronic documents must be saved in the following format: lastname_firstinitial_assignmentname.

Documents saved in the .docx format are generally compatible across systems. However, formatting is a major aspect of this class. To that end, you may wish to save your file as a .pdf to insure that all formatting appears to me exactly as you intended. There are several free options available to you, beyond those offered by most office software suites, including bullzip,pdfill, and cutepdf, among others. The excuse "it didn't look like that on my computer" will not be accepted.

I may give quizzes at any time during the class. These quizzes cover the specified readings, but they may also cover material introduced in previous classes/chapters. I do not offer make-up quizzes for any reason other than absences for university business (and only with proper university documentation), documented illness (a clinic must document the episode of illness if you have a chronic illness), or the death of an immediate family member. Additionally, late homework exercises will not be accepted under any circumstances.

Basic Technology Requirements


You are expected to be familiar with the day-to-day operation of computers including email (and sending attachments) and standard software. If you are not familiar with basic computing skills, speak to me as soon as possible, so that we can familiarize you with basic procedures.

You are also expected to have regular access to computing technology whether it be your computer at home or the computers provided by the university. The statement, "I don't have access to a computer" is not acceptable.

Hardware and Disk Media Requirements

It is your responsibility to ensure that the computer(s) and disk(s) you use are functional and that you have, in the case of technological failure, backed up your data. Bring a USB drive to class, or use the cloud, keep your work on it, and keep your work updated.

Email Requirement

You are required to have a viable email account. When sending email to me, your instructor, or to your classmates, please ensure the subject line is formatted as: RE: ENGL 7030- [Your Last Name]

Identifying emails from students is difficult, especially when sent from accounts outside of the university. If you do not include a valid subject line it may go straight to junk mail, or I may delete your email myself.


Plagiarism includes any use of words or ideas of another writer that would allow readers unfamiliar with the source to assume that the words or ideas originated with you. THIS INCLUDES USE OF IMAGES. Policy does not allow me to judge whether an instance of plagiarism is accidental or deliberate. If I find in your work 1) another writer's work inserted without quotation marks or acknowledgment, 2) a close, unacknowledged paraphrase of someone else's writing, or 3) another writer's research or analysis presented without acknowledgment, then I will treat it like a plagiarized assignment and deal with it appropriately. Sanctions range from failing the assignment to expulsion from the university. I take the issue of plagiarism very seriously, and will enforce the university's plagiarism policies to their full extent.

Please see Auburn University's policies relating to plagiarism and penalties.

Special Needs

Auburn University makes reasonable accommodations for people with documented disabilities. I will adapt methods, materials, or testing for equitable participation. Students who need accommodations are asked to electronically submit their approved accommodations through AU Access and to make an individual appointment with the instructor during the first week of classes – or as soon as possible if accommodations are needed immediately. If you have not established accommodations through the Office of Accessibility, but need accommodations, make an appointment with the Office of Accessibility, 1228 Haley Center, 844-2096 (V/TT).

Religious Holidays

Students requiring to miss class due to the observance of an officially recognized religious holy day are asked to consult with me in advance so we can schedule missed work accordingly.

Diversity Statement

This classroom is a safe space for all students, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, physical ability, nationality, age, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, and veteran status. As Auburn's Office of Inclusion and Diversity notes, "These and other socially and historically important attributes reflect the complexity of our increasingly diverse student body, local community, and national population." I will not tolerate any language or action which diminishes those around you, and encourage you to speak to me, or the Office of Inclusion of Diversity, if you have questions or concerns regarding the treatment of others.