University course explores how argument styles differ among cultures

Students presented examples of Aztec, West African and Western style of communication at the University of Nevada, Reno’s first diversity conference held in March

5/9/2014 | By: Patrick Harris  |

Diversity, equity and inclusion were main topics discussed March 28 at the University of Nevada, Reno's inaugural Exploring Diversity and Equity in Higher Education conference. One of the key lectures led by Associate English Professor Lynda Walsh and her students demonstrated the diverse communication tactics students can learn at the University.

"My discussion was about an English course I teach about global argument traditions," Walsh said. "We get used to doing things a certain way for so long, they are assumed to be the right way. This class interrupts that thinking. Our argumentation is not the only way, there are others."

The lecture, "Teaching Non-Traditional Argument Traditions," gave an overview of the English class premise of culturally inclusive curriculum. Different argument styles taught by Walsh include Classical Arabic, Malian, Aztec, Chinese and Western. Students demonstrate their understanding of these styles by creating an argument from each culture. At the end of the class, students are responsible for individually researching a subculture and analyzing their communication and argument traditions. Ending presentations include argument analysis of Greek life, Mormon evangelism and the "Brownies," among other subcultures.

"Argumentation is the use of words to form community," Walsh said. "By understanding other communities and their argument styles, we make progress in respecting others' ways to communicate."

Following Walsh's presentation, three of her students delivered short demonstrations about diverse argument styles. University undergraduate student Amy Rice presented Aztec, which uses visuals and pictograms. Graduating senior Jesus Pena demonstrated West African argumentation, which uses poetry and repetition and is a common communication style for politicians and rappers. Richard McIver exhibited Western style, which is most common in the United States. With origins in Greece, Western style argumentation often resolves with a clear winner and loser after both arguers make their points.

"It was a very interesting class that taught me a very valuable and indispensable skill," McIver said.

From the class, McIver learned the Rogerian argument style, which emphasizes reconciliation and compromise. Rather than seeking to win an argument, McIver used Rogerian communication with his friends and family to find a middle ground and satisfy both parties.

"It has helped me interpret the way other people say things and to see other standpoints," McIver said.

Throughout the class, students are trained to avoid stereotypes and parody, and strive to have inclusive arguments.

"The University has a well-focused diversity initiative and is developing a more diverse group of students," Walsh said. "This class and the diversity conference aided those efforts by teaching students to include, not exclude."

The Exploring Diversity and Equity in Higher Education Conference featured a day's worth of speeches, lectures, panel discussions and exercises to discuss diversity at the University. The main topics of the summit were curriculum-driven inclusion, equal opportunity and diversity. Additional topics discussed included recruitment innovation by The Reynolds School of Journalism Dean Alan Stavitsky, an experiment on discrimination and hugs by Education Professor Tara Madden-Dent, and resources on campus to explore diversity.


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