The Rhetorical Situation and Penn State: Apologies, Emotions, and the Call for Unity

Open Access
Alt, Rebecca Anne
Area of Honors:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jeremy Engels, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lori Ann Bedell, Honors Advisor
  • rhetoric
  • rhetorical situation
  • Penn State
  • Sandusky Scandal
This thesis serves to critically examine the Rhetorical Situation at The Pennsylvania State University in the wake of what has been named “The Jerry Sandusky Scandal.” Specifically, the functions of this project are, (1) to dissect, identify, and explain the unique parts of the Rhetorical Situation (exigence, audience, and constraints) at Penn State in the initial two weeks after the news broke nationally (Nov 5-20), (2) examine and criticize the many texts from several particular audiences that make up the “Fitting Response” part of the rhetorical situation, and (3) apply several rhetorical constructs derived from existing literature and theory to the situation as to better understand the specific chain of events and their rhetorical significance. This essay utilizes ancient and contemporary rhetorical theory to provide a thorough rhetorical criticism of the textual evidence provided by the audiences of Penn State Administrators, Penn State students, and Penn State faculty, specifically the Academic College Deans. While the focus of the criticism is on a short-two week timeline of events and texts, that specific period of time serves as a microcosm to understanding the rhetorical action at Penn State as a whole in the aftermath of shock and disaster. Research questions include (1) does the rhetoric of this scandal fit into a pre-existing rhetorical category or genre, and (2) how has this rhetoric impacted Penn State University—both the institution and its people?