Dr. Sam Perry is an assistant professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and the coordinator of the World of Rhetoric sequence. In addition to Rhetoric, he teaches Social World I and World Cultures IV. Dr. Perry was a BIC student himself in his undergraduate career at Baylor. We hope you enjoy this interview with both a BIC alum and faculty member!
Tell us some about your journey from BIC student to BIC professor. When you were a student in BIC, would you ever have imagined being in this role?
Honestly, I could not have imagined making it this far, and I certainly would not have imagined being colleagues with folks that I marveled at as a student. As an undergraduate, I was not focused in the way that I am now, but I still recognized that I was really fortunate to learn from such smart and compassionate people. Now, I work with many of the same people on a daily basis, and I am very thankful for that opportunity. I would not be where I am without the education that I received in the BIC, so I really try to take that into account every time I step in the classroom. While I could not have imagined being in this role when I was a student, I love my job and could not imagine doing anything else now.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time as a BIC student?
There are too many to choose from, but I do love the moments that carry over from undergraduate to present. Dr. Long called me The Dude during my freshman year (he still does, though now I think it is because I abide, not because I am lazy). In the opening monologue of the Big Lebowski, Sam Elliot describes “The Dude” as “Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide…” In a moment that lived up to that billing, I used the only paper I had in my dorm to print off an essay. It was pink paper that I had taken from my parents’ house. Dr. Long stared at the essay incredulously when I turned it in. If we fast forward ten years later, Dr. Long teaches many of the same students that I do, which is an opportunity not wasted on him. One of the first batches of essays that I received from students included many that were printed on pink paper supplied by Dr. Long. Every semester I get a few of these essays.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching in BIC and working with BIC students?
First, BIC students are endlessly enthusiastic about being in class. As an educator, there is nothing more helpful than having a class full of students that are excited about learning. You can have the best lesson plans and topics for discussion mapped out, but without students who want to engage the material it can all be for naught. My job is easy to enjoy because I have great students who want to dig into the material.
Second, I would say that BIC students form a community with their peers, the faculty, and the staff in a way that not all students have an opportunity to do. The BIC is nestled into the Baylor culture in a way that feels like a smaller school or liberal arts college within the larger university. It’s incredibly rewarding to get to know students who sustain that community. There are so many students going on and doing impressive things here at Baylor, in graduate school, in law school, in medical school, in their chosen professions, and the list goes on… I feel really lucky to be a small part of that community.
You currently serve as course coordinator for the World of Rhetoric sequence. What do you hope BIC students take away from these particular courses?
The rhetoric course, I hope, instills students with a sense of what is necessary to argue and argue well. We want to: instill a sense of civic responsibility, encourage strategies for empathetic engagement between parties involved in the process of arguing, and promote a high standard of researching and collecting evidence for arguments. Students should leave the rhetoric courses with the ability to craft good arguments, but we also want students to be able to recognize and assess the validity of other people’s arguments. Honestly, that all sounds a little abstract, but we really want students to leave with a sense of what they can do when they engage in processes of civil discourse. We want them also to leave with a sense of what they ought not to do. In “Creative Democracy,” John Dewey argued that the new American frontier was moral and not physical and that it would take all of us to maintain a democratic way of life. He argued, “Intolerance, abuse, calling of names because of differences of opinion about religion or politics or business, as well as because of differences of race, color, wealth or degree of culture are treason to the democratic way of life.” If students can leave our classes and the BIC more generally with that view of democracy and argument, then we have been successful.
Tell us some about your current research. What made you interested in studying this particular topic? Where do you see your research going in the future?
Right now, I am working on essays which focus on looking at moments in protests when images and descriptions of violence are used to promote social change. Most of that work focuses on the recurrence of argumentative and rhetorical structures, forms, and tropes which appear in the antilynching movement, the Civil Rights movement, and in current protests concerning racial violence. So, I have a couple of essays that have been accepted that deal in that area. One essay analyzes the speech President Obama gave after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the other essay argues that the shooting at the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, SC should be looked at in the historical context of lynching in the United States.
My other area of research that is most active at present is work with Dr. Long that examines the recruitment materials produced by Daesh (often referred to as ISIS). We look at how the representations of violence in the speeches, videos, and other media productions produced by Daesh are used to radicalize, recruit, and actuate people to acts of terrorism. We published an essay that came out earlier this year. Another has been accepted and should come out later this year. We continue to work on essays in this area of study.