Argumentation & Advocacy

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The primary objective of this course is to understand the theories and practices of argumentation, apply them to generate meaningful public discussion of current events, and innovate by creating and critiquing new forms of public argumentation. We study the major theories and principles of rhetorical argumentation and review significant examples of argumentation as it is used in public and private contexts. We also examine argumentation/communication scholarship in terms of theoretical and conceptual tools that have been used, limitations of existing data, and the need for further research. Finally, we strive to create, critique, and consume nuanced, well-researched arguments AND debate them effectively.

A truly engaging course and professor

Argumentation and Advocacy was amongst the first communication classes I had the pleasure of taking at USC. I had extremely high expectations of the professors at the prestigious Annenberg School for Communication. Dr. Marcia Dawkins exceeded my expectations by miles.

I have always been a critic of the current school and university system where classrooms turn into impersonal spaces, as students and professors read about and discuss theory, theory, and more theory. Dr. Dawkins definitely did not take this approach. Rather, she turned the classroom into an institution where we were able to see the theories of argumentation come alive. From discussing graffiti as a form of argument to analyzing the debates between Obama and McCain during the 2008 election, we studied it all. I could feel myself becoming better versed in communication studies and argumentation through each activity she had planned for us. It was a most enjoyable experience, as we were exposed to forms of argumentation that no textbook could teach us. That is the sign of a true and extraordinary professor-one who is not afraid to not only explain theory, but also expose her students to relevant, real world concepts that truly define the field of study. She has been one of the most influential professors I have been so lucky to learn from and be inspired by.

Thanks to Dr. Dawkins, I have the confidence I need to excel in law school and other future endeavors. Any student who is fortunate enough to be enlightened by her, be it in a classroom or elsewhere, will find that she is a gifted individual and an absolutely wonderful professor and human being.

-Saira Zia
USC Class of 2010

Beyond the classroom

Taking Marcia's Argumentation and Advocacy course has proven to be an integral and invaluable experience in my academic career. Marcia's course not only gave me the tools to become a skillful and thoughtful arguer, but it enriched my life by giving me the opportunity to explore myself on a level often neglected in traditional academe.

For this reason, Marcia's class continues to have a profound impact on the direction I take not only in professional matters, but in personal matters as well. This is largely the product of the way in which Marcia designs her classes. Through a close examination of this mindful structure, it is evident that Marcia understands that learning is an interactive process. It requires communication and most importantly, openness. With this understanding in mind, she constructs a setting that cultivates candor by providing students with a safe and comfortable classroom environment.

Building upon this structure, Marcia implements assignments that allow her students to exercise the theories of argumentation while delving into questions that examine personal character, beliefs and life meaning. In doing so, student's discover and develop an improved perception of who they are as individuals. By working through assignments like these, Marcia aimed to create what she termed "walking arguments." People, who in any situation, have the strength and confidence to advocate what they stand for and the knowledge to argue their stance soundly and tactfully.

Whether it is through assigned readings or her passion, dedication and zeal in the classroom, Marcia inspires her students to engage with even the most challenging material. Additionally, her ability to relate the theories of rhetorical argumentation to contemporary issues is pivotal in that it encourages students to engage with and apply the concepts outside of the classroom.

It was a pleasure and honor having Marcia as a professor. I believe that her knowledge coupled with her passion and social sensitivity make her a vital asset to any institution. If it had not been for her guidance, I would not be the person I am today and for that, I am forever grateful for the experience I had in her course. Marcia truly is invaluable and instrumental to the future of the academic world and any institution would be lucky to have her.

Marlene Vigil

Wonderful Class Environment

Marcia was such an inspiration. I was originally enrolled in another section of this course, taught by a different professor. On the first day, he explained his point-based argument rating system and asked us not to participate in class discussions unless we had something original to say. As someone who is generally hesitant to speak up in class, I lost all interest in his course and dreaded the semester ahead.

Luckily, a friend was enrolled in Marcia's class and suggested I contact her about joining. When I explained the situation, Marcia agreed to add me to her section, even though it was technically full--for her, this meant more time spent grading papers, etc., but she genuinely wanted me to have a good experience, so she made the compromise.

From my very first day in her course, I felt completely comfortable offering my opinion during every one of our interesting class discussions. One of the most important parts of making a strong argument is having self-confidence, and Marcia created an environment where we all felt secure in sharing our opinions--which led to some very thought-provoking and lively debates.

One thing that truly stood out to me was that Marcia would periodically mention discussions she'd had with her friends about the subject matter of our course. Her passion for the material rubbed off on us, and I often found myself in the Annenberg lobby talking with classmates about the new things we'd learned long after we'd been dismissed for the day.

Thank you, Marcia, for creating such a welcoming and exciting academic environment!

Most passionate and inspiring educator!

Marcia is not only one of the most intelligent and passionate professors I have ever had, but moreover, a sincere, inspiring, and benevolent person. She never goes exactly by the book, and takes contemporary examples from the world around us and uses academic theories and ideas to examine them. In this way, never was there a boring day in class. Each day, nearly everyone contributed to the intellectual discussion. Marcia's exceptional course design and passion made the course one of the most valuable and unique learning experiences I had at USC, and Marcia herself became a mentor and inspiration to us all. She was so much more than a professor to me. I know we all admired her so much. She cares so much for everyone around her. I've never met someone with such open ears to listen to EVERYTHING you say. She is brilliant, pensive, thoughtful...and more importantly, an open heart that considers everyone else and their beliefs and ideas. Never will she shoot an idea down before taking it into genuine consideration. If you ever have a chance to take a class with Marcia, it's a once in a lifetime academic experience!!!!!
--Justin Feldman

One of the best classes I took at USC

I took Marcia's class in the Fall of 2008 and it was by far my favorite class of the semester. She is such a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher who really asks her students think about the world. The journals we had to write weekly, while some of us grumbled about them, really caused me to think about my stance on different issues. Until I had to analyze a quote and think about what it meant, I never realized how much could be portrayed in one or two sentences. Overall, it was an amazing class! I was so sad that she was not there for future semesters because when anyone would ask me who my Comm 322 teacher was I would always rave about her.


Marcia is one of the best professors that I've ever had! Not only is she enthusiastic and encouraging, but she presents the subject matter in challenging and engaging ways!

I was never a huge fan of debate, but Marcia made it fun and exciting. I learned a lot in the class and would definitely recommend her to others!

Marcia is a unique talent! I'd highly recommend her for any of her future endeavors!


11 September 2009

One of the best courses I enrolled in at USC was in Fall 2008, with Marcia Dawkins, a mentor with whom I keep close contact. Of teachers I have met in U.S. and international schools, Marcia is a rare soul who shares and shares—and keeps on sharing—her love for discovery and knowledge through class and conversation. In many ways, I am indebted to Marcia for her guidance and generosity, sending me to Shanghai to work and study and sharing life experience over e-mails and lunches. While the added value in my life subsequent to meeting Marcia may not be entirely reflective of others’ experiences, I wholeheartedly believe that students with curiosity and thirst for knowledge seek teachers like Marcia.

Her genuineness to further young people outside of her busy schedule is what draws not only me, but other students as well, back to her as the years go forward. How Marcia fundamentally succeeds at her commitment is by building environments and relationships open to honest discussion about controversial topics. In the Fall 2008 course, Argumentation and Advocacy, the course’s end-of-semester project was a policy debate on topics of our own choosing. The results were amazing. My peers and I conducted adrenaline-rushed, passionate deliberations on abortion, abolishing the meat industry, teen pregnancies and many more topics. Furthermore, the debates’ significance went beyond the class, since debate teaches students of rhetoric the importance of real-time performance.

Several months after Argumentation and Advocacy, Marcia and I continued to stay in touch about receiving her Ph.D. and my plans to work and study in Shanghai. Not only did she honor me with the wonderful news of her fruitful ambition, she also wrote a brilliant recommendation highlighting my strengths and experiences that helped land a Freeman scholarship for my studies at Fudan University. She saw this financial capital’s importance to my future career in communication and in business, helping me learn about the city’s history, culture and international presence.

Marcia’s dedication to her teaching and eagerness as a mentor make her a valuable individual to any institution. She is a determined teacher with an eye out for all of her students, creating not only valuable but also practical learning experiences. I highly recommend Marcia to institutions who search for good teachers. I hope that other students may gain as much as I did through Marcia.

Mr. Rune Huang

A long overdue thank you

Hi Marcia,
I have to apologize for sending this so late in the summer, but I owe you a huge thank you! After reading the article "The Coolhunt" by Malcolm Gladwell for your class, I was able to find the most amazing summer internship. The advertising agency mentioned in the article, the Lambesis Agency, is in my hometown of San Diego. I have always been interested in advertising as a career path. After reading the article I got in touch with the chairman and founder, Nick Lambesis, to see if he was looking for summer interns. Luckily, he was, and I have been interning there for the past 2 months. It has been a truly amazing experience. I have been working directly with Mr. Lambesis on many projects and I am learning so much about the advertising industry. I owe it all to your class and the great reading materials you assigned us. So, I just wanted to say thank you, thank you, thank you for giving us such relevant articles to read and giving me the opportunity to get into the career I have always wanted. Hope all is well with you, and that you are having an amazing summer as well. Thanks again, Marcia!
Dana Dufour

Our Class

Hi Marcia,

Thank you for the exciting email! I had such a good time in your class. I feel honored and lucky to have had you as my professor. You are truly my favorite so far. Thank you for all the effort and support. I will be sure to update you on my summer abroad program. Hope you have a wonderful summer!

Caroline Ellis
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Southern California

Thank You :)

I just wanted to thank you again for an amazing semester and for being such a dedicated, enthusiastic professor. I really looked forward to coming to class and I hope I have the opportunity to have another class with you in the future. I was in
Boston this past weekend for my brother's graduation, and I found myself constantly talking about you and our class, telling
them how much my writing has improved (just from writing 2 page journals and reading your sincere comments), and also talking to them about general knowledge I had learned from our class discussions. I hope to see you again soon and I would love to stay in touch- thank you again!
Rachel Sherman