Writing & Rhetoric


Occidental expects its graduates to demonstrate superior writing ability. The Writing Program prepares students in all disciplines to write effectively: to develop complex concepts clearly and fully, to organize essays and reports logically, and to maintain the conventions of standard written English. This standard of writing performance is upheld in all College courses.

To achieve this goal, the College emphasizes expository writing and research skills in the Core curriculum, in courses emphasizing the methodologies of various disciplines, and in the composition courses in the Writing & Rhetoric Department. The foundation of the College’s Writing Program is the first-year instructional program in Cultural Studies. First-year students take year-long, sequenced seminars that help students develop college-level writing strategies in rich disciplinary content to further their knowledge and communication of the topics they study.

In addition to the Core curriculum in writing, the Writing & Rhetoric Department offers courses to students who want to concentrate on the most effective strategies for writing in and out of the academy. These include WRD 201, a class that centers on the processes and skills necessary to fine writing, and the College’s advanced writing courses, WRD 301 and WRD 401. Any student seeking individual instruction in writing or assistance with a particular paper will find support and advice available at the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE), where Writing & Rhetoric professors work as writing specialists, and where student writing advisors collaborate with student writers. The Director of Writing Programs will gladly advise students of all resources available for developing their writing ability.


Proficiency in writing is a requirement for graduation. 

Students meet this requirement in two stages, the first of which is passing the first-stage Writing Proficiency evaluation in the Cultural Studies Program. Completion of the Cultural Studies courses does not by itself satisfy the writing requirement. An additional measure of writing proficiency is required; most recently this measure has been participation in a shared intellectual experience with required reading. Frosh are expected to pass the writing exercise that culminates the experience. Those who do not pass the Cultural Studies Writing evaluations will be asked to pass with a C or better a course in the Department of Writing & Rhetoric (201) or another writing course designated by the Director of Writing Programs in conjunction with the Director of the Core Program.


In order to fulfill the First Stage Writing Requirement, transfer students must: 1) have completed two writing courses (minimum six semester units) with specific writing instruction (not simply a course offered in an English department, nor any literature, creative writing, “writing intensive” courses) prior to transferring to the College; any courses not approved by the Registrar upon entrance must be appealed through the Writing Program; or 2) complete WRD 201 or WRD 401 after entering the College; or 3) submit a petition and portfolio before the senior year. Students must contact Writing Programs at the CAE to receive instructions.

Each student should receive, at the time of declaring the major, a description of the particular Second Stage Writing Requirement for the department. However, an overview of the department options follows:


Generally compiled over the sophomore and junior years, three papers are drawn from departmental work. Revisions are encouraged or may be required. One paper may be a retrospective analysis of the student’s writing. A reflective analysis of the portfolio may be required in addition to the three papers. Portfolios are read by more than one faculty member. The requirements for submitting a portfolio are available in the Writing Programs Office. The Writing Programs Department and the Director of the Core Program make every effort to work with an individual student’s portfolio submissions.


Writing-Intensive Seminars: Most departments require a single junior-year seminar that includes a considerable amount of writing. The final product is read by more than one professor. A grade of B- is usually required, depending on the department. Fulfillment of the requirement is met through additional coursework when the grade in the seminar is not satisfactory.

Writing across the Major: Some departments have deemed all upper-division courses writing intensive. A few departments require more than one writing-intensive course in order to complete the Second Stage Writing Requirement in the major. An average grade of B- is generally required, depending on the department. See department chair for specifics.


It is recommended that students interested in creative writing choose a major or minor that will provide them background in literature. Of special interest is the Writing Emphasis in the English and Comparative Literary Studies department. The College believes that it is essential to understand a tradition of literature and authorship in order to become a writer oneself. There are also offerings in various creative arts at the College that would support such an emphasis. Students interested in journalistic writing should consider the importance of intellectual background and training available in the different programs in the humanities, arts, sciences, and social sciences. Students also have the opportunity to take independent studies in creative writing, and in special cases, to elect Senior Year Honors Projects in writing.

Specific courses that address creative writing:

THEA 201Alternative Voices in American Theater


THEA 380Playwriting


Additionally, every other year a Remsen Bird Visiting Artist gives classes and/or workshops on campus. Writers also are invited regularly to ECLS creative writing classes and to the Intercultural Community Center, events that are open to the campus at large. In the last few years the ECLS Department has sponsored several literary conferences with invited guests; the department also sponsors a literary contest with prizes for fiction, poetry, and short drama, and provides support for The Occidental Review, a literary magazine edited by students. Students also have the opportunity to work on the student newspaper, to join literary clubs, and to elect an internship course under the direction of a faculty member. Internships, arranged with the help of the Career Development Center, have included work at the Mark Taper Forum, the Getty Art Institute, the Huntington Library, the Minority Training Institute, and DreamWorks.

Students at Occidental also have the opportunity to hear distinguished writers on campus; guests in the last several years have included Alice Walker, bell hooks, Walter Mosley, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Sandra Cisneros, Amy Tan, Anna Deavere Smith, Maya Angelou, Gish offers opportunities to hear many other writers at Vroman Bookstore, Beyond Baroque, Skylight Books, and Dawson Books, among others.


Writing & Rhetoric Courses


Regular Faculty

Thomas Burkdall, chair

Director of the Center for Academic Excellence; Associate Professor, Writing & Rhetoric
B.A., Pitzer College; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA

Julie Prebel

Assistant Professor, Writing & Rhetoric
B.A., UC Berkeley; M.A., Cal State San Francisco; Ph.D., University of Washington

On Special Appointment

Paul Casey

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Writing & Rhetoric
B.A., M.A., Loyola Marymount University; Ph.D., Bowling Green State University

Robert Sipchen

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Writing & Rhetoric
B.A., UC Santa Barbara

Lisa Tremain

NTT Assistant Professor, Writing & Rhetoric
BA, Sonoma State University; MA, Felding Graduate University; MA, California State University, Northridge; PhD., University of California, Santa Barbara