By Kayla Fettig
Over the past several years, UW-Milwaukee's Rhetoric and Composition program has shifted its focus to include community-engaged research. Dr. Rachel Bloom-Pojar, who helped revamp the program said, “This came as the result of a combination of the previous plans in Rhetoric and Composition and Technical and Professional Communication with a year-long process of re-envisioning what our PhD program could do to reflect student interests and our local context.” Thus, the Public Rhetoric and Community Engagement program was born to support students that wanted to remain in academia as well as those that wanted to explore their options outside of academia once they obtained their doctoral degrees.
As a newly admitted student into the Public Rhetoric and Community Engagement PhD program, I was excited to see how thriving the program within the English department had become. I had a creative writing background but had always been interested in the non-profit sector and was drawn to the program after its revamping. I quickly saw that the program allowed students the opportunity to work side-by-side with faculty on community-engaged research, something I wanted to be a part of while still being able to opt into traditional rhetoric and composition classes.
Within the first few weeks I immersed myself into what the program had to offer, and quickly learned about the Cafecito series being held on campus. The Cafecitos project is a Community-Engaged Research “coffee hour” hosted monthly by Dr. Rachel Bloom-Pojar and third-year Ph.D student Danielle Koepke. These monthly Cafecitos give graduate students across all disciplines the opportunity to discuss what community-engaged research is all about, how it can be done, and what it looks like to collaborate with students and faculty already engaged in it.
When talking to Danielle about the Cafecitos and what inspired her and Rachel to invite graduate students to learn more about community-engaged research she said, “Dr. Bloom-Pojar and I are hosting Community-Engaged Research Cafecitos (coffee hours) because we believe that building relationships is the core of everything we do as scholars, as researchers, and as people. We want to make space for graduate students in the humanities to share experiences, questions, and concerns regarding doing work with communities. We believe the best way to do that is not through lectures but through informal conversations over food and coffee.”
The first Cafecito was held on October 13th and focused on “Community-Engaged Research in Covid Times.” The most recent Cafecito, “Making Connections Outside of the Academy,” took place on November 10th explored what it looks like to do community-engaged research and how to begin making those community connections. The conversations that arose from the second Cafecito included:
These discussions are part of the core purpose of the Cafecitos as many times students don’t know what community-engaged research is, how to make the connections, or often understand how messy the process is. One of the goals with the Cafecitos is to start building community with the attendees through discussion, guidance, and personal reflection from Danielle and Rachel. The coffee and snacks help too, but the discussions are intimate and reflect the knowledge Danielle and Rachel share.
Danielle expressed her passion surrounding the Cafecitos saying, “The goal is to foster connections across disciplines that may lead to sharing resources, support, and information as well as building a network of relations for potential research work, collaborations, or job opportunities, in the future.” Danielle continued, “As graduate students in the humanities are increasingly considering research that engages with communities, we hope to offer a space where we all can grapple with the ethical negotiations that come with that. We hope to draw in graduate students across disciplines because we have much we can learn from one another, and also much we can understand about one another. Cafecitos are a great space to share experiences and hear what others are doing in their research, writing, and work within and outside of academia.”
The Cafecitos’ goals are clear: all are invited to collaborate, discuss, and question what community-engaged research looks like and how to do it. Danielle and Rachel’s attention to detail and excitement surrounding each Cafecitos’ theme is infectious. They carefully dedicate time and space to the students' questions surrounding how to network, how to do ethical research, and how to get involved in research that communities or organizations need. Rachel confirms that these questions are important as often graduate students do not know where to start when it comes to community-engaged research and building those relationships. Hopefully, the Cafecitos can help answer those questions for students.
Rachel and Danielle have also been invited by the UWM Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) graduate chapter to continue their community-engagement conversations with a special virtual event focused on “Creating Space for the Public Work of Rhetoric as Graduate Students”. This virtual event is on Friday, December 3rd from 1-2 pm and does require advance registration (as detailed below). The goal of this sponsored event is to, “share the process of putting rhetoric to work with community writers and offer suggestions for how graduate students can foster connections between their academic interests and meaningful work in the world.”
In collaboration with the Center for 21st Century Studies (C21) and the Center for Community-Based Learning Leadership and Research (CBLLR), Rachel and Danielle plan to continue creating space and support for graduate students interested in community engaged research in the spring semester. If you are interested in attending the RSA-sponsored event on December 3rd, it is strongly encouraged to RSVP through this linked Google form to receive the virtual meeting invite on December 2nd. I know my attendance in the Cafecitos has been enlightening and I look forward to the others that are coming, I hope to see you there for the future ones as well.
By Kayla Fettig
The Hostile Terrains UW-Milwaukee exhibition marked the first opening of the Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery since the start of the pandemic. The exhibition opened on September 30th, 2021 hosting the HT94 exhibit by Jason De León, Professor of Anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA, which raises awareness about migrant death at the US-Mexico border. As part of UW-Milwaukee's Hostile Terrains exhibition, UWM faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students contributed contextualized exhibits of similar experiences within Wisconsin.
Opening night of the exhibition brought together masked exhibit creators and masked patrons that collectively moved through the gallery exchanging thoughts and feelings provoked by each installation. Emotional conversations filled each corner of the gallery as people discussed how each exhibit exposed them to knowledge, history, tradition, policy, and violence. This isn’t surprising given the large display on the left wall detailing the goals of both De León's original exhibit and the exhibit's creations inspired by De León. The three paragraphs spanning the wall both welcome and prepare viewers for the installations they are about to view. Many people stop to read the statement plastered on the wall, while others opt to skim through it and create space for others to enter the gallery. In the first room of the exhibits, there are several installations overtaking the gallery walls for viewers to digest. Each exhibit proves that it could stir the emotions of people differently.
After viewers get a sense of the gallery's purpose by reading the three paragraphs on the north wall, they are welcomed by a long hall that opens up into a larger gallery. Whether you look to your left or right you are met with a new exhibit that, in one way or another, invokes a ray of emotions. Visitors chattered and grouped across the gallery taking in the collaborative and solo projects of 7 departments and 35 students.
The first exhibit sparking a wide range of emotions from visitors was the display: “Community Fabric”. The “Community Fabric” display by Adam Jussel and Aragorn Quinn wraps patrons in both the display and detailed commentary on its purpose linked to the exhibit. The exhibit is the only of its kind in the gallery as you are forced to actually walk through it to get to the others (although the photo displays them side by side that are actually across from one another), as the display is cast across jutting walls that face each other. The adjacent walls display different colored and textured fabric represent “traditional dress from all six inhabited continents” accompanied by driftwood provided by the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.
Many visitors examined the small, but impactful details Jussel and Quinn incorporated in their exhibit. The use of space, the layering of different fabrics, the use of multicultural textiles and colors, and the large barrier of protection of the artifacts by the driftwood. Many read the text out loud, while others stoically reflected on the exhibit itself.
The exhibit that seemed to intrigue the most guests (besides the recreation of De León’s HT94 exhibit) in the gallery was the brainchild of Leigh Mahlik, William W. Wood, and the gallery Director, David Pacifico titled “Interlinking Stories.” This community piece communicates that it “serves as spontaneous memorials after tragedy and conveys messages of inspiration in the face of challenges.” The physical presence of the fence seems to catch and overwhelm those looming over the exhibit. The exhibit invites visitors to collectively add to the links in the fence, by telling an untold story they feel needs to be told. At first many hesitate to contribute, as they chatter about how important or not their story is, and if it belongs on the fence. Few step forward, willing to be vulnerable as they do their best to convey their story but the “You Are Heard” blue dot placed on the floor in front of the display gives participants the courage to hang their stories.
“Black Milwaukee’s Long Freedom Struggle,” by Dr. Derek Handley is one of the larger exhibits in the gallery and has no problem drawing the crowd of gallery-goers closely in. The rows of spectators eventually inch towards the exhibit allowing for an up-close inspection of the map of Milwaukee and the array of black and white photos plastered over specific neighbors. Pictures of Milwaukee’s Black citizens participating in protests such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Live Matter Movement. Photos that capture the pain, anguish, anger, fear, and history black citizen in Milwaukee have historically gone through. Captivated by the trauma, many people stand silently, otherwise, remark on the photos and map and how remarkably powerful the exhibit is. A select few–including myself–silently wipe the tears from their eyes and try to compose themselves before they move to the next exhibit. Dr. Handley’s attention to detail and emotional use of photography captures the tone that many have emotionally expressed: “This struggle for freedom for Milwaukee’s Black citizens is not yet over.”
The Hostile Terrains exhibition offers not only a glimpse at De León’s original HT94 exhibit but has also allowed faculty and staff to invite the public to understand that Wisconsin too has its own history of hostile terrains. Each exhibit (and they are many more than showcased in this quick snapshot) tells their own story, invokes their own emotions, and engages with visitors differently.
To experience it for yourself, UW-Milwaukee invites you to stop by the Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery located in Mitchell Hall, Room 170. The exhibition will run through February 10, 2022. The Mathis Gallery is open Monday through Thursday, from 10 am-4 pm, or you may make an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.