Agency and Ontology in the Rhetorics of Sexual Assault

Lourdes Fernandez

Advisor: Heidi Y. Lawrence, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Douglas Eyman, Steven Holmes

Fenwick Library, #1014 A
April 12, 2019, 10:00 AM to 01:00 PM


The project traces how sexual assault has been studied in several disciplines and proposes expanded approaches to inquiry. Methods and methodologies in technical and professional communication are discussed to show how access to data and access to inquiry sites for a topic like sexual assault require modified approaches. Using semi-structured interviews, chapter three demonstrates how Title IX operates through the work university administrators report doing as they gather information and attempt to mobilize actors in different ways to create a new ontology of sexual assault. Conducting a media narrative analysis, chapter four investigates how agency operates discursively to reinforce the authority of the university and the courts, even as victims are empowered and given rhetorical space to act. The analysis shows how the agency of victims not only depends on being granted authority, but only matters when this authority is finally granted. In chapter five I argue that a Human Centered Design (HCD) approach to course design that centers the student experience, and a narrative inquiry research framework, provides an intervention to prepare students for the workplace within social justice frameworks that amplify agency.