Social Advocacy & Ethical Life
SAEL 200-037
Instructor: Tiffany M. Jones                                                                   

Course Overview

Social Advocacy & Ethical Life is addressed to the nature and relationship of ethics and oral forms of expression in a variety of socio-political contexts. Students in the course will have an opportunity to critically investigate theories of ethics and principles of spoken advocacy, and to apply their inquiry in a cumulative series of exercises and performances. Both critical and practical, the work undertaken in this course offers a chance for students to: 1) question the meaning and importance of contemporary calls for civility, engaged citizenship, and deliberation; 2) investigate the roots, power, and limits of ethical discourse and its relevance to social and political decision-making; and 3) develop a working understanding of the principles of social advocacy and the ways in which oral communication constructs, supports, and remakes the grounds of ethical interaction.

Learning Outcomes
Upon the successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Define the idea of social advocacy, identify distinct forms of oral advocacy, and demonstrate an understanding of the respective values and limits of such communicative practices in a variety of social, political, and cultural situations;
  • Define sources and functions of ethical reasoning and explain its importance in the development of individual and collective life, identify key ethical concepts and recognize the kinds of social and political issues that provoke ethical questions, and critically analyze and engage ethical controversies that shape personal and social norms of responsibility;
  • Understand, perform, and critically assess the ways in which social advocacy can invent, shape, and upset personal and collective ethical commitments and the ways in which ethical frameworks enable, promote, and guide advocacy;
  • Understand and explain the fundamental concepts and frameworks that enable social advocacy, including principles of argumentation, ethical forms of persuasion, theories of the rhetorical situation and audience interaction, and modes of listening;
  • Apply and demonstrate the basic concepts of ethical social advocacy through the performance of speeches that address a variety of ethical issues and which engage audiences with diverse and conflicting ethical commitments;
  • Critically assess the ethical responsibilities entailed in social advocacy and the conditions under which advocacy may be an ethical responsibility.

Course Materials

Course readings will be made available on the course website and through Blackboard. As this course revolves around meaningful discussion and deliberation of the issues presented in our texts, you be guided on how to properly engage with assigned readings. Furthermore, as these issues may be used as research and learning tools for your own research papers and speeches, it is advised that you keep a (digital or print) course notebook of all readings, annotations, and returned speech / assignment feedback and bring it to class.

Course Structure and Required Assignments

In this course, we will engage in a variety of activities, including lecture, lecture-based discussion, group activities, student speeches, and critical evaluation of contemporary discourse. Over the semester, students in this course will be asked to undertake and complete the following assignments. Each assignment will be detailed in handouts and discussed in class.

Speeches (SP):

Students will give a total of 4 speeches in class, 3 of which should address the same topic. Topics must be pre-approved before SP 1. You will have several weeks in the beginning of class to narrow down your scope to an issue that you will address over the course of the semester. In that time, you should plan to meet with me during office hours (or schedule an appointment) to discuss your topics. Note: you will NOT be permitted to change your topic after the first speech.

  1. Imagining Advocacy: For this assignment, you will develop, compose, and deliver a 3 ½ – 4 minute speech that introduces you and your chosen platform (i.e., a social, political, and/or cultural problem that provokes your interest and for which you are willing to advocate). The speech will be developed around specific questions: For what would you advocate, and why? In these terms, the speech does not ask students to fashion a specific case but to contextualize their connection to the issue. The assignment is worth 25 points.
  2. Discovering an Issue: Building from the first speech, each member of the class will develop and deliver a 4 ½ – 5 minute speech that addresses the ethical importance of that issue. The goal of this assignment is still not to defend a particular position but to provide the audience with a clearer understanding of the issue’s roots, sides, and potential ethical significance. This speech will assess the ethical dilemma at play between the identified stakeholders (sides) and address possible outcomes if a solution / middle ground is not achieved. The assignment is worth 75 points.

  3. Making a Case: Working with the issues taken up in the “discovering an issue” speech, each student will develop and present a 5 ½ – 6 minute speech that proceeds from a specific claim about their chosen issue and which endeavors to generate interest from the audience. The goal of this speech is to move from providing information about a problem to making a specific claim about the meaning, significance, and/or appropriate resolution of an ethical issue. In this respect, the speech may contend that one perspective about an issue is rooted in a stronger argument than its counterparts or that the issue’s different sides are limited and require a new approach. The assignment is worth 100 points.

  4. Debating for Judgment: The aim of the assignment is to undertake a debate over a single issue or problem and to do so in a manner that invites an audience to undertake deliberation and judgment about the merits and implications of the question under consideration. This is a collaborative exercise in which class members will work in pairs or groups. Therefore, a new topic area – based on any of the content, artifacts, or case studies we’ve addressed over the semester – will be chosen by the group. (Groups will meet with me for approval of this topic.) Each debate will consist of a 10-20 minute performance where each member (speaking at minimum at total of 5 minutes) will take on a specific voice / stakeholder persona, thus providing contrasting and clashing views about the meaning, significance, and basis for deliberation over a particular ethical issue. The goal of the debate is not to “win” but to collaborate in a manner that enables the ethical practice of deliberation. Speeches should be practiced (meaning not improvised). Pairs/groups will sign up for a specific day and will be assessed individually as well as for their contribution to the group. The assignment is worth 100 points.

Writing Assignments (WA)

  1. (5) Discussion Posts: Some theoretical readings will be assigned on a weekly basis. Utilizing what you’ve read and annotated, you will post 1 substantive comment (approximately 150 – 250 words) on the texts (only those designated on BB) and 1 response to a peer’s post. Posts are used to encourage you to get in the habit of engaging with one another and to assess your level of comprehension. Therefore, substantive comments are those that show close reading of the text (i.e., a thorough analysis of the concepts mentioned, and creative application to real world contexts or relevant course content). The posts that only ask basic questions, summarize, or fail to show close engagement with these texts do not meet this requirement and will be assigned a zero for that submission. Posts completed without the required peer response will receive partial credit. Note: Only 5 of the 7 posts are required. Submissions should be posted to BB on Monday by 11:59 p.m., and this is even in the event of an absence, unless you suffer an extreme illness or loss (per my discretion). This component is worth 25 points.

  2. Annotated Bibliography: Each student will cite and annotate a minimum of 10 sources that inform his/her chosen research / advocacy project. You must have at least 5 sources from outside readings that deal with the topics addressed your speeches. Thus, you can use no more than 5 sources from the syllabus/class. Annotations should be 250-300 words, including ½ summary and ½ assessment of the source’s relevance to the paper’s argument(s). You can choose either MLA, APA, or CMoS style guides – preferably whichever your major/discipline uses most. The paper is worth 25 points.

    Annotated Bibliography Format

    Citation (in MLA, APA, or Chicago): See OWL Purdue website for assistance.
    Thesis: 1-2 sentences: A clear and concise summary statement of the text’s main claims / purpose.
    Themes: 2-3: Choose relevant keywords (e.g., identity, freedom, justice, utilitarianism)
    Details/Summary: 1 paragraph (describes the text for an unfamiliar reader)
    Analysis / Critique:  1 paragraph (assess this topic in relation to your chosen issue or present day state of affairs. How does the author make / his or claims? What evidence does he/she use? Is this, sufficient to meet his / her purpose and for the target audience? If not, what is missing / what case(s) would complicate the theory in question?)
    1 Discussion Questions: This should be a thought-provoking question that prompts the reader to go deeper into the text and engage with the arguments / claims presented. Do not just question the obvious.
  3. Reasoning about an Ethical Issue: Each student in the course will develop and compose a five-page paper addressed to an ethically significant social, political, or cultural issue. Working from a clear and directed thesis, the paper should 1) detail the issue in question, 2) explain its ethical significance in light of one or more appropriate ethical theories, and 3) draw from relevant ethical theories in order to build a case for how the issue can be productively addressed or resolved. The issue addressed in the paper will be the same as that for Speaking Assignment #3 – Making a Case. The paper is worth 75 points.

  4. Addressing Ethical Controversy: Each student in the course will develop and compose an eight-page paper that investigates specific ways in which ethical claims provoke opposition and how this opposition can be productively addressed. This paper will first involve a substantial revision of paper #1 (Reasoning about an Ethical Issue) based on instructor feedback and course readings. In addition, the paper will 1) detail two significant objections to the position defended in the paper, 2) identify how these objections are rooted in specific forms of ethical thought, and 3) draw from specific ethical theories to develop replies to these objections. The paper is worth 100 points. It will be submitted as your “final exam.”

Breakdown of Class Participation

  1. Attendance / In-class Discussion: This class is based heavily on your ability and willingness to participate, as most of the learning opportunities will come through our engagement and responses to the readings, media / artifacts, hot topics, and speeches. I will be prompting healthy debate and challenging everyone to explore their opinions of controversial matters, build solid arguments / analyses, and respectfully respond to others’ viewpoints. This is done with specific attention to help you apply course concepts, including how to successfully advocate for your perspective and deal with ethical dilemmas. Thus, those who consistently contribute to the conversation will be evaluated positively (given daily points for the day), whereas those who must be urged to speak or remain silent in class will be evaluated poorly (receiving a zero for the day).
  2. In-class Quizzes: If ever I deem that our discussions are deficient (i.e., there is a lack of class-wide participation), I may opt to give a quiz and test individual knowledge and comprehension of the readings. These, like our discussions, will be based on your annotations. Those who are absent forfeit these points. No make-ups are allowed.
  3. In-class Activities: At times, you may be given in-class assignments that will be used to solidify your understanding of the concepts discussed in class. Those who are absent forfeit these points. No make-ups are allowed.

**Each day you have been deemed to effectively contribute to class (i.e., engage in discussion or provide thoughtful commentary on activities and speeches) or sufficiently complete the in-class activity or quiz, you will earn 1 pt. for that day. You only need 25 days of successful participation to satisfy this component. Note: We have a total of 27 class meetings.  Thus, use unexcused absences and / or days of apathy wisely. In-class participation is worth 25 points.

Grading Scale

Total Possible Points: 660 A

100%-90% (660-593)


89-86% (592-561)


85-80% (560-528)


79-76% (527-502)


75-70% (501-462)


69-60% (461-396)


Below 60 (<395)

*If you have a question about a grade you receive on an assignment, please feel free to discuss it with me.

Course Schedule

Week 0: Welcome to SAEL!
R: Discussion of the Syllabus / Course Policies

Week 1: On Social Advocacy
T: Read Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action (Advocacy)
Artifact: Clint Smith, “The Danger of Silence” / What Kind of Social Advocate Are You Test
Note: Bring Tablet or Computer
R: Trolley Problem / Introduction to Ethics?

Week 2: On Argument and Delivery
Discussion Post #1 Due by 11:59 pm Monday
T: Read Aristotle and Cicero; Review and Discussion of Live Speeches
R: Hot Topics and Practice Debate (Case Study / Topic TBA)
Supplemental Readings: David Zarefsky, Public Speaking: Strategies for Success

Week 3: On Happiness and Values
Discussion Post #2 Due by 11:59 pm Monday
T: Read Shafer-Landau and Nozick
R: Hot Topics and Practice Debate (Case Study / Topic TBA)

Week 4: On Liberty
Discussion Post #3 Due by 11:59 pm Monday
T: Read Rachels and Mills; In-class activity / Worksheet
R: Hot Topics and Practice Debate: (Case Study / Topic TBA)

 Week 5: On Equality
Discussion Post #4 Due by 11:59 pm Monday
T: Read Rawls and Vonnegut – Accompanying Video and Worksheets
Rawls Worksheets Cont’d; M&M Activity (Model for Resource Distribution)
R: First Round of SP4 – Debate teams #1 and #2; Discussion

 Week 6: Imagining Advocacy – Speech Day
Annotated Bibliography Due on BB
TR: Speeches, In-class Discussion, and Feedback

Week 7: On Justice
Discussion Post #5 Due by 11:59 pm Monday
T: Read Mandela and Socrates (Crito); In-Class Activity
R: Debate teams #3 and #4; Discussion and Privilege Walk Activity (no talking)

Week 8: On Impartiality
Discussion Post #6 Due by 11:59 pm Monday
T: Read Burke and Young; and Discuss Privilege Walk reactions
R: Fall Break (no classes)

 Week 9: Discovering and Issue Speech (SP 2) Due
TR: Speeches, In-class Discussion, and Feedback

Week 10: On Logic and Fallacy
Discussion Post #7 Due by 5pm Monday – Last day for Posts
T: Read Shulman; Read Paul and Elder; Review video from The Fallacy Project
R: Debate teams #5 and #6; Discussion

Week 12: On Argument and Opposition
**WA# 2 – Reasoning and Ethical Dilemma Paper Due
T: Readings on Rogerian argument (TBA); In-class activity: Rogerian Argument worksheet
R: Debate teams #6 and #7; Discussion

Week 13: On Research and Reason Pt. 1
T: November 8th – General Election Day (no classes)
R: Readings (TBA); Plagiarism / Real World Examples; Debate teams #8 and #9;

Week 14: On Research and Reason Pt. 2
T: Read Brockreide and Ehninger; In-class Workshop / Bring Rogerian and Toulmin Worksheets
Note: Bring Tablet or Computer
R: Plagiarism Tutorials and Tests; Complete Toulmin Worksheet
Note: Bring Tablet or Computer

Week 15: Making a Case (SP 3) Due (Part 2)
T: Speeches, In-class Discussion, and Feedback
R: No Class Thursday – Happy Thanksgiving!  

Week 16: Making a Case (SP 3) Due (Part 3)
T: Speeches, In-class Discussion, and Feedback
R: Speeches, In-class Discussion, and Feedback; Final Thoughts

Final Exams
Addressing Ethical Controversy (WA 3) Due