By Liz Angeli
For the past decade, I’ve worked with emergency medical services (EMS) agencies and fire departments to bring writing studies research to a field where writing impacts continuity of patient care, can cost millions in lost revenue, and is under addressed in training. My main goal for the departments I work with is to cultivate a culture of writing so that providers focus more on their writing process than on the product they complete at the end of a 911 call. And, as you might guess, my work involves a lot more than researching writing.
My current research projects focus on providers in training and providers in the field. For providers in training, I’m working with the Milwaukee Fire Department to build a writing curriculum that will be integrated into their three-year cadet training program. Originally, it was going to be delivered in person over a series of 90-minute sessions, but with COVID-19, I pivoted from in-person instruction to an online platform that could be delivered asynchronously. So, I reduced the number of sessions to pilot the online platform, testing early and often. We’ll launch the platform this summer.
For providers in the field, I’m working with the Kenosha Fire Department on two related studies that have one goal: to improve providers’ audience awareness. To do that, we interviewed EMS report readers to learn what they need in an EMS report to continue patient care. We also changed the interface on the electronic report writing platform to prompt providers to respond to audience expectations. Data analysis is currently underway.
When I started these studies, I returned to writing studies basics, especially audience awareness and writing process. In the EMS and fire service community, this language is new, and these concepts opened doors to present new ideas about writing. I often say to EMS providers and firefighters, “What I’m telling you isn’t new. First responders don’t go into the field because they love to write and want to write every day. Writing is hard. But why is writing in the field hard? How can we change mindsets to make it less difficult? How can you see yourself as a writer the minute the tones go off and dispatch tells you where to go?”
A research participant once told me, “EMS is 20% adrenaline and 80% routine, waiting for the other 20% to happen.” In some ways, that sums up my research. Twenty percent of my time is spent in the field, and 80% is spent making sense of what happened in the field and preparing to go back out. I write emails, applications, and research article drafts. I make phone calls and bring newly assigned Lieutenants and Captains up to speed on projects I’m running at their departments. I sign liability waivers to do ride alongs and wait to hear back on approvals, data collection, and participation rates.
The other 20% is out “in the field” to observe writing in situ. Field work locations include administration offices where we work out logistics, EMS training classrooms where I introduce studies or deliver writing training, and fire stations where I introduce the research studies and ask for participation. For one study, I accompanied the Division Chief of EMS and Medical Director on three rounds of seven station visits. That’s 21 station visits total over three full 8-hour days where I met the department’s providers, introduced the study, answered questions, and encouraged participation. Usually we met crews at the station, but some crews were out on calls. In those cases, and when permissible, we literally met crews wherever they were, as you can see in this photo. We met a crew in a school parking lot where they were testing the school’s fire alarms.
Field work also includes ride alongs that last 4-24 hours, depending on my schedule and how long the department has approved me to stay, and they start at the fire station where I meet the crew I’ll ride with. When the crews aren’t responding to patients, we’re at the station where crews catch up on paperwork, clean the station, or prepare meals. These moments are interrupted abruptly when the tones go off: The crew is dispatched to a patient, and I quickly gather my research materials to observe writing-in-action. I carry a small notebook and pen with me, I wear a 24-hour watch to timestamp observations so I can align them with the report’s timestamps, and my turnout gear pant pockets carry a supply of medical exam gloves [I have not been on ride-alongs since COVID-19 began]. Usually I ride in the back of the ambulance with the “boss” of the crew, the patient, if we’re transporting them, and sometimes another crew member or a police officer, depending on the nature of the call.
The field and the back of the ambulance hold some of the most beautiful acts of compassion and empathy I’ve been honored to witness as a writing researcher. Medic and fire crews bringing a man back to life after her suffered cardiac death in a grocery store check-out line. A medic student holding an infant’s hand. A long-time medic comforting a scared elderly patient by leaning close to him, holding his hand, saying, “It’s ok to cry. We’re going to take good care of you.” A team of medics swiftly managing a gunshot victim’s excruciating pain levels and assuaging her fears, “We got you, we got you. We’re getting to the ER as fast as we can. Hang on.”
I find myself moved to tears remembering these moments. As they happened, though, I quietly held space in gratitude for all that I witnessed. And, in a sense, that summarizes what community engagement looks like for me: bearing witness to human interaction at its most vulnerable and learning how writing fits in.
Liz Angeli, Ph.D. is a leading expert in first responder documentation practices and education. She is Associate Professor of English at Marquette University where she teaches writing and rhetoric courses, and her first book, Rhetorical Work in Emergency Medical Services: Communicating in the Unpredictable Workplace, won Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication from the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Liz also serves as a spiritual director, and you can learn more about her work on her website.
By Danielle Koepke and Maria Novotny
Social justice is collective and active. To engage in and with the concept at the heart of the social justice turn, we must work collectively and consider collective forces and effects of oppression, and we must be ready not only to recognize oppression but also to reveal, reject, and replace it: To take action - Walton, Moore & Jones
As a blog team, we’ve been striving to take part in antiracist actions and practices of social justice. Much of this work has been documented and is essential to the mission of the Writing & Rhetoric MKE blog. Coincidentally, this past fall, three of the blog editorial team enrolled in Maria Novotny’s ENG 755: The Social Justice Turn in Technical and Professional Communication course, in which social justice was a central theme. As we discussed social justice readings in the course, we also were actively working as a blog team to develop content emphasizing social justice. As such, when Maria first described the annotated bibliography project to the class and proposed that Writing & Rhetoric MKE host the bibliography, we agreed, as it could be a helpful resource for our readers who may be teaching, researching, or working in TPC. Together, Maria and I (Danielle) contextualize this bibliography within the social justice turn occurring in TPC.
“An Annotated Bibliography of Social Justice Connections to Technical and Professional Communication” is the culmination of a semester-long project undertaken by UW-Milwaukee graduate students enrolled in ENG 755 during the Fall 2020 semester. The bibliography represents an assemblage of how we, as a class, approached, studied, and learned from social justice movements and their relationship to our own research and TPC more broadly. Many in the class did not identify with TPC as their main area of expertise, and for some this was their first experience with TPC (You can find our author bios here, p.91-92). Knowing that the students were emergent learners in TPC and wanting to provide space for their individual research interests and also foster a social justice orientation to their research practices, this annotated bibliography is presented as a series of thematic clusters:
Introducing the annotated bibliography project, Maria explained to the course that the bibliography was an attempted response to embrace two contemporary exigencies facing instructors during the fall 2020 semester: (1) contemporary injustices marked by the murder of George Floyd inciting TPC scholars to call for explicit social justice action and (2) the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in this course being taught synchronously and online. Many of these exigencies were also being actively amongst TPC scholars and leaders in the field.
For instance, circulated after the murder of George Floyd, ATTW President Angela Haas overtly challenged the complacent inaction ATTW members have taken to counter anti-Blackness in “ATTW President’s Call to Action to Redress Anti-Blackness and White Supremacy”. Laying out three charges for the field to take up, the call to action invites critical reflection on how ATTW members may choose “to advocate for systemic justice for Black people at this kairotic moment in history” (n.p.) and suggests, that while action quietly is an option, such a choice re-centers White Supremacy and can fail to meet social justice imperatives.
Shortly after Haas’s statement was released, ATTW Vice President, Natasha Jones, and ATTW Fellow, Miriam Williams elaborated on Haas’s call for action. “The Just Use of Imagination: A Call to Action” critically engages with the work required to support anti-Blackness. Drawing from their perspectives as two Black scholars, Jones and Williams lay out a series of actions —informed through critical imagination — that Black persons have adopted to fight injustice/s and demand change. Yet, they make clear that the use of imagination as a tool to support social justice can no longer be take taken up by those, who, because of the color of their skin, are personally afflicted by injustice. Jones and Williams end with the powerful assertion “We are tired. Dismantling white supremacy requires your work. How might you make a difference?”
Other TPC scholars have already begun engaging and addressing the calls for action echoed by Haas as well as Jones and Williams. Take Cana Itchuaqiyaq’s “MMU Scholar Bibliography” which cites multiply marginalized and underrepresented scholars in technical and professional communication. Originally published in Technical Communication After the Social Justice Turn: Building Coalitions for Action, MMU scholars are encouraged to add to this growing bibliography with their publications so as to increase the visibility and ethical citation practices in the field.
Jennifer Sano-Franchini, Sweta Baniya, and Chris Lindgren have also developed a bibliography in response to Haas, Jones’ and Williams’ work. Their recent bibliography “Bibliography of Works by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in Technical and Professional Communication” serves as another on-going bibliography project attributing to the field of technical and professional communication. As they explain, the purpose of this bibliography is to amplify the perspectives of BIPOC in the field and to serve as a resource for teachers and researchers, whether for course development, research design, writing, development of comprehensive exam reading lists, or other activities” (n.p.). As another “living document”, akin to Itchuaqiyaq’s, TPC scholars are encouraged to add their work to this list.
Collectively, these calls for action and bibliographies have created an urgency for a more national and broader disciplinary discussion. For instance, CCCC chair Vershawn Ashanti Young convened with a coalition of Black scholars to participate in the Black Technical and Professional Writing Task Force. Resulting from this Task Force was the creation of the CCCC Black Technical and Professional Communication Position Statement with Resource Guide, which “contextualizes the experiences and cultures of Black peoples through research, learning, and scholarship” (n.p.). Upon the circulation of the CCCC statement, the Professional and Technical Writing Program at Virginia Tech sponsored and hosted a virtual event featuring CCCC task force members who created the statement and guide. Several students, who are contributors to this annotated bibliography, attended that event. We highlight these moments of coalitional action led (often by BIPOC) TPC scholars as they undoubtedly enriched many of the conversations and lenses by which we, as a class, examined the social justice turn in TPC.
Additionally, more localized university and department events, such as a virtual presentation given by Dr. April Baker-Bell on linguistic justice at UWM as well as broader sociocultural issues (such as the COVID-19 pandemic and presidential election) served as another backdrop which layered the scope of discussions. In fact, the reality that this graduate course would be taught as an online, synchronous course shaped part of the decision to develop this annotated bibliography. Wanting to avoid “zoom fatigue” and ensure that class discussions remained dynamic, we opted to meet for only 90 minutes online rather than the normal 120. To make up the remaining class time, Maria proposed this annotated bibliography assignment. What we present here is an assemblage of how we, as a class, have approached, studied, and learned from social justice movements and their relationship to our own research and TPC more broadly. hat we present here is an assemblage of how we, as a class, have approached, studied, and learned from social justice movements and their relationship to our own research and TPC more broadly.
While not all of the works annotated here are rooted in TPC, the purpose of the annotation invites readers to think inter- and intra- disciplinarily about the resources annotated in this bibliography. We learned throughout the semester that this type of thinking can better inform a social justice lens and can lead to new possibilities for the field of TPC. Social justice work is being done in academia and in communities in important ways that we as scholars can learn from, and that we as community members can amplify, support, and take part in. As the blog moves forward, we hope to incorporate resources that highlight both antiracist and social justice initiatives. To that end, we will continue connecting our readers - and ourselves - with resources that can educate and inform but that can also inspire action. For at its core, the social justice movement is a movement – To fight for social justice is to act. And to act is to be part of the movement.
Curatorial Contributors to the Annotated Bibliography (in alphabetical order):
Daphne Daugherty, Wendy Pawlyshyn Fitch, Gitte Frandsen, Sheila Kilb, Danielle Koepke, Joni Hayward Marcum, Maria Novotny, Kristiana Perleberg, Mohammad Anis Rahman, Amanda Reavey, Juan Rodriguez, Gurkirat Singh Sekhon, Chloe Smith, Angelyn Sommers, Madison Williams, and Emily Zorea.
*Special thanks to Angelyn Sommers and Kristiana Perleberg for copy-editing the annotated bibliography.
By Derek Handley
While walking in the northern Milwaukee suburbs, I have noticed an exponential increase in the number of Black Lives Matter signs. Most of them have been placed in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The signs come in different types; Some with black fists, some couched with other phrases like ‘believe science,” some simply in bold black lettering with a white background. Although I am very happy to see the visible support of social justice, what I find ironic about these signs is that they appear in neighborhoods where African Americans (or anyone that is not of the “Caucasian Race”) were excluded from buying a home up until 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed. With less than 5% African Americans in many of these suburbs, some have labeled Milwaukee as the most segregated city in America. This segregation is due in large part to the racially restrictive housing covenants, which was a cornerstone of institutional racism.
The history of racially restrictive housing covenants and their central part in institutionalizing racism has returned to the forefront of our national consciousness with the emergence of Black Lives Matter (BLM) activism and ongoing movements for racial justice. In the first half of the 20th century, racial covenants prohibiting non-white people from buying or occupying housing and certain parcels of land were used throughout U.S. cities for segregationist purposes. A covenant is a type of contract included in a property deed referring to the conditions attached to housing or land. The violation of covenant conditions comes with the risk of foregoing a property. Racially restrictive covenants began appearing in deeds with greater frequency at the turn of the century, becoming commonplace and withstanding court challenges throughout the 1910s, 20s, and 30s (To learn more about restrictive covenants see Mapping Prejudice).
But these covenants did not go unchallenged by African Americans. The resistance to housing covenants in cities such as Milwaukee highlights the impact Black residents in northern cities had on housing debates and civil rights activism. Black agency in challenging racial covenants strategies of resistance have shaped and continue to influence movements for racial justice.
To depict this struggle visually, Anne Bonds of the UWM Geography department and I have begun working on a digital project called “Mapping Racism and Resistance in Milwaukee County” (MRR-MKE). With the help of the University of Minnesota’s Mapping Prejudice team, our public humanities project will examine racial housing covenants and resistance to them in Milwaukee County through GIS mapping, archival research, and rhetorical analysis. Analyzing and depicting Black agency from within the contested space of Milwaukee County will provide a more complete narrative of the impact of racial housing covenants, as well as expand our understanding of the various methods of resistance across scales employed by Black community members. One example of resistance was when Zeddie Quitman Hyler asked his white friend to buy property in Wauwatosa (a suburb of Milwaukee) and then sell it to Hyler. Despite community resistance, Hyler built his house in 1955 and remained there until his death in 2004. Through mapping and rhetorical analysis, we seek to better understand Black Milwaukeeans--such as Hyler--and their allies as complex actors in the narratives of their own lives.
Our research is animated by the following questions: What is the historical geography of racial covenants in Milwaukee County and how does this spatial patterning connect with contemporary geographies of segregation and racial inequality in the Milwaukee metropolitan area? How did racial covenants operate in the specific urban and racial context of Milwaukee County, together with other discriminatory housing policies and racialized patterns of development? Finally, how and where were restrictive covenants enforced and how did Milwaukee County residents resist them?
To answer these questions, we will be working with community partners and local residents to help with the research. Our plan is to recruit citizen researchers by holding community workshops on racial covenants in Milwaukee and surrounding suburbs; to visit high school and college classes; and to use various social media platforms. The outcomes from this research will include an interactive, digital resource about covenants and challenges to them in Milwaukee County, a collaboratively produced map visualizing the geographies and temporalities of covenants and covenant resistance, and a dataset of racial covenants that will be accessible to the community, policy makers, and other researchers.
Working with the community means that the MRR-MKE project is more than just an academic endeavor. Through community workshops that will engage Milwaukee County residents in the process of examining racial covenants, our project will support broader conversations and dialogue about structural racism and resistance to it in one of the nation’s most segregated metropolitan areas. We hope that this scholarly project—co-produced with the local community—will help us to get a little closer to understanding how systemic racism works in our country, and to begin thinking of new ways to address housing problems in Milwaukee. It will also provide a concrete way for those wonderful people who have placed Black Lives Matter signs in their yards to support ending systemic racism.
By Madison Williams
On Wednesday, October 21st, UW–Milwaukee hosted a long awaited and much anticipated virtual talk with Dr. April Baker-Bell on her book, Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy. During her talk, Baker-Bell discussed how Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and white linguistic supremacy are normalized through teacher attitudes, curriculum and instruction, and pedagogical approaches. Her talk was followed by a critical discussion with participants, facilitated by Baker-Bell, to engage in more intimate conversations about Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and how to implement Antiracist Language Pedagogies in the classroom.
With over 100 attendees from all over the country, Baker-Bell’s virtual talk was undoubtedly a huge hit—and it couldn’t have come at a more kairotic moment. The urgency of Baker-Bell’s call for an Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy is proven critical given everything that’s happening in the world right now: the recent protests against racial inequality and police brutality; exacerbation of inequalities as a result of the pandemic; toxic partisanship in the U.S. along racial, ethnic, and religious lines; and increased attention to systemic racism nationwide. Linguistic Justice is a call to action in pursuit of Black Language liberation through the critique, resistance, and reconstruction of the linguistic status quo.
A Call to Action
In her book, Baker-Bell presents Anti-Black Linguistic Racism as “a framework that explicitly names and richly captures the type of linguistic oppression that is uniquely experienced and endured by Black Language-speakers” (Baker-Bell 8) in schools and in everyday life. Using ethnographic examples to illustrate how Black students navigate and negotiate their linguistic and racial identities across multiple contexts, Baker-Bell demonstrates the negative impact traditional pedagogical approaches have on Black students’ language education and self-perception. As a response to this injustice, Baker-Bell makes space for a new way forward through Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy, a pedagogical approach that intentionally and unapologetically places Black language at the center to critically interrogate white linguistic hegemony and Anti-Black Linguistic Racism.
Dr. April Baker-Bell began her virtual talk by discussing the importance of raising critical consciousness and recognizing Black Language as a language in its own right. Baker-Bell emphasized the way Black Language represents lived experience, beginning with her positionality having grown up in Detroit with Black Language as her mother tongue. It wasn’t until she began teaching that she was faced with the “myth of standard English” and developed a full understanding of language politics at the intersection of language, race, and power. Baker-Bell argued that little has changed over the past 80 years in pedagogical approaches to Black Language education, as English teachers are still expected to teach (and privilege) White Mainstream English (WME).
According to Baker-Bell, previous Black Language Pedagogies (such as Eradicationist and Respectability approaches) share common features in that they center whiteness and perpetuate anti-blackness. The counterstories shared by Baker-Bell’s students in her book challenge existing pedagogies and common beliefs that code-switching functions as a strategy for survival, as Baker-Bell indicates, “These instances are clear reminders that code-switching into White Mainstream English will not save Black people and cannot solve racial or linguistic injustice, and we cannot pretend that it will” (31). Therefore, antiracist pedagogies cannot be centered on whiteness, which is why Baker-Bell’s Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy takes a transformative approach by centering Black Language instead.
In navigating pushback to this pedagogy, Baker-Bell explained the need to critically engage in conversation to show understanding and do the contextual work so that students (and parents) understand the historical, political, and cultural context surrounding Black Language and White Mainstream English. She demonstrated how “what we want to believe to be true” (like doing well in school will translate to equality and equity) hasn’t worked in past approaches to Black Language Pedagogy, and if the classroom doesn’t mirror the facts of existence in the real world, we’re doing pedagogy wrong. As Baker-Bell powerfully articulated during her talk, “Black lives in your classroom won’t matter if Black Language doesn’t.”
Doing the Work
Baker-Bell prefaced the critical discussion following her talk by stating that she would not be answering questions that recentered whiteness because we need to dismantle the system, not adjust to it. While fielding questions about how to implement an Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy in the classroom on an individual level, especially within institutions that may be resistant to the idea, Baker-Bell maintained that the work of Black Linguistic Justice is both micro and macro. She supports anything that goes against typical language standards because any move in the right direction is valuable, no matter how small--we need to take the opportunity wherever and whenever it presents itself.
Many of the participants were concerned with how to deal with pushback to this pedagogy, especially from parents. Baker-Bell pointed out that code-switching hasn’t helped or changed anything so far; we can’t make it work just because we want it to, so we need to do something different. Moreover, when dealing with people who are explicitly racist, Baker-Bell explained: “If you come up against racist nonsense, you have to put it in a box and avoid it.” Although participants taking part in this critical discussion were located all over the country, we all shared a common interest in learning how, as teachers, we might utilize our individual privileges to further social justice pursuits and push for Black Linguistic Justice within our various contexts with the resources we have available.
In both her book and virtual talk, Baker-Bell consistently emphasized the gravity of this call to action for linguistic justice within the current racial and political climate, advocating for “linguistic, racial, and educational justice for Black students” through her framework for an Antiracist Black Language Pedagogy (34). Baker-Bell contends, “the Anti-Black Linguistic Racism that is used to diminish Black Language and Black students in schools is not separate from the rampant and deliberate anti-Black racism and violence inflicted upon Black people in society” (3). Baker-Bell challenges us all to go beyond limited ideas about what writing is, where it happens, and what counts as “good” writing by responding to her call to action for Black Linguistic Justice. To learn more about Baker-Bell and her work, watch the book trailer for Linguistic Justice here.
This month, the research team that Rachel, Madison, and Chloe are on (along with graduate students Claire Edwards, Gitte Frandsen, and Anis Rhaman as well as Dr. Maria Novotny) received a grant from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for our project entitled “Antiracist Teaching Practices for Writing Across Disciplines at UWM.” Our project proposal was selected as part of the Antiracist Action Grant Program—an initiative to promote antiracist action across campus—funded by the Office of Research and the Division of Global Inclusion and Engagement at UWM.
Through this project, we hope to motivate UWM instructors to critically examine their language ideologies when responding to student writing, foster cross-campus dialogues about the ways that racism impacts teaching practices, and provide resources for taking anti-racist approaches to writing instruction and assessment. Ultimately, our goal is to foster spaces of honesty, collaboration, and social justice so that this project can encourage instructors to support, sustain, and learn from our students’ diverse literacy practices.
To pursue these objectives, our plan is to develop and facilitate an Antiracist Pedagogy Seminar during Summer 2021. Instructors from all departments will be invited to attend this Antiracist Pedagogy Seminar, which will include a series of discussion groups and workshops, to discuss readings, examine their implicit biases, and develop anti-racist writing pedagogies. The desired outcome of this seminar is threefold:
Next semester, we will be sending out a survey for students to provide input on their experiences with writing feedback and instruction at UWM. The responses to this survey will inform our summer seminar and future public presentations about anti-racist writing pedagogy. After the seminar, we will create a set of webpages with resources for any teacher interested in combating racism in their teaching practices and uplifting the diverse literacies of our students and their communities.
As the grant program’s FAQ page states, “this program arose from a conversation around what we can do to dismantle racism here on campus. How can faculty, researchers, teaching and administrative staff and others have a voice in resolving some of the issues that people are talking about and people are experiencing on our campus?” We couldn’t be more excited to work with our campus community in an attempt to create lasting, tangible, and socially just change in the lives of students and instructors alike. We’ll keep you updated as the project moves along!
As we’re approaching the end of October, we also approach Election Day (November 3rd). We’re sure you’ve been seeing it everywhere, but please remember to vote. If you haven’t already, make your voting plan now! For those of you in Milwaukee, this website gives you everything you need to know about absentee ballots, early in-person voting, voting schedules and locations, and more.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
I am what academics might call a community-engaged researcher. Much of my research and writing involves telling people in positions of power (teachers, healthcare practitioners, health communicators) about how much they can learn from communities and their communication practices. I am interested in learning about ways that institutions can better invest their time and money toward building relationships and supporting the expertise that is already present in the community. It’s quite simple, really, but I think it’s important work. I don’t see myself as an expert, but rather, I try to leverage my privileges and resources to support and sustain the communities that I work with. Thanks to a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship, I’m spending the 2020-2021 academic year working as a fellow at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) with their Promotores de Salud Program. My role with this work is a bit like an intern and a resident researcher. Part of my time is spent in meetings and planning activities for ongoing educational programming with the promotores and the other part is spent with research activities (like interviews, focus groups, analyzing data, and writing) that are focused on highlighting the work of the promotores. So, while my colleagues are figuring out teaching online in a pandemic, I’m figuring out what it means to do community-engaged research remotely. A topic that is constantly on my mind is access.
Access and barriers to access have long been topics of interest for healthcare practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. They impact how healthy a community is and how well (or not) a healthcare system meets that community’s needs. Networks of access include many different aspects such as transportation, food security, housing, social services, family life, and more. Not only do people face barriers to accessing quality healthcare, but institutions often also face barriers to the ways they can access and connect with communities. Many of these barriers are inherent in the ways the healthcare system is set up to privilege spaces, professionals, and language practices that are separate from local communities—especially immigrant communities. One way that institutions try to “reach” Spanish-speaking immigrant communities is through promotores de salud (health promoters). Promotores de salud are often seen as lay people who can educate their communities about health information and transmit messages from institutions that are trying to reach the people where they live. Too often, the direction of information is top-down in the ways it moves from the healthcare institution to the community.
The hope is that improving access to information can lead to a decrease in health disparities and an increase in the utilization of healthcare services by these communities. But what about the information and education that can come from the community to inform and make positive changes to institutions? Part of my work this year is to lift up the stories, experiences, and expertise of the promotores de salud to help identify ways that the healthcare system might transform into something that is more just, equitable, and accessible.
So, what do these promotores de salud do? The specific role takes on different shapes depending on where they work and what institution they’re affiliated with. The promotores that I’m working with are experts in creating confianza (trust/confidence) and connecting people to resources. By building confianza with their communities, people open up to them about all sorts of things going on in their lives. They use a curriculum (CCmás) about sexual and reproductive health that was developed with input from the community. This curriculum is taught through conversations at Home Health Parties, or Fiestas Caseras, which were modeled after the Avon business model of gathering for a party in people’s homes and working as consultants. These fiestas caseras provide the space for the promotores to facilitate conversations about a range of topics on sexual health, reproductive justice, advocacy, and empowering the community. Through the support of various grants, the promotores also support non-partisan activities for civic participation by encouraging and assisting people with filling out the census and registering to vote. With the current pandemic, some of the promotores have turned to virtual gatherings to host Fiestas Caseras, and all of them continue to help connect people to resources available for legal issues, bill payments, health services, and more.
The promotores may work in similar roles with other organizations and many of them have other jobs in addition to their work with PPWI. They live within Latinx communities across the state of Wisconsin and they understand the daily challenges and injustices that immigrants from Latin America face while helping uphold essential businesses and our economy. With an understanding of the intersecting oppressions that their communities face, the promotores see their work as part of reproductive justice. By advocating for “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” (SisterSong), they understand that the challenges immigrant communities face in reproductive healthcare is more than simply whether or not they have access to clinics and information about reproductive health. It is impacted by whether they can pay their bills, whether they have safe environments in their homes, whether they have been denied the option to choose whether or not to have more children, whether their children face danger in the U.S. or other countries, and so much more. This complex understanding of the realities that immigrant communities face in the U.S. could inform more holistic, equitable, and compassionate approaches to healthcare.
Health promoters are experts that researchers, administrators, and practitioners should learn from and compensate for their expertise. If their expertise and experience was valued as much as the credentials of our health providers, then we might see our community education models become more dynamic in the ways that institutions could be informed by communities and relationships between them could become more mutually beneficial.
Rachel Bloom-Pojar is an Associate Professor with the program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UW-Milwaukee and a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society fellow with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar, Danielle Koepke, Chloe Smith, and Madison Williams
Last month, we made a commitment to amplify, support, and engage with antiracist writing, rhetoric, and organizations across Milwaukee. We made a promise to highlight the ways that everyday writing and rhetoric are being used to advance social justice, challenge oppression, and empower communities. In order to hold ourselves accountable to these commitments, we pledged to publish an Antiracist Action update reflecting on our actions each month, and this is the first of those updates.
Our goals for our Antiracist Action updates, beyond holding ourselves accountable, are to give our readers options for taking tangible actions to support the antiracist missions of local and national organizations as well as celebrate and uplift the ways in which various organizations and activists improve, empower, and fight for our local communities.
Communities across Southeastern Wisconsin continue to be in the national spotlight around issues of racial injustice and police brutality. To the right are just a few of the major events over the past month that have highlighted the need for increased anti-racist action and community organizing.
What We’ve Been Doing
Here are some actions we’ve taken in response to recent events. We encourage you to do the same.
Check your voter registration status and make a voting plan now. Decide whether or not you will be voting absentee or in person, then make the necessary arrangements—request your absentee ballot, figure out where you will go to vote in person, what time you will go, how you will get there, etc.
Call the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission and Governor Tony Evers to demand the resignation of Kenosha Police officials. Follow the link for contact information and a sample call script from the Wisconsin ACLU.
Sign Color of Change’s petition calling for Mayor John Antaramian and Kenosha City Council to fire Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskins.
Sign Color of Change’s petition demanding that the officer who shot Jacob “Jake” Blake is held accountable.
Sign Color of Change’s petition demanding that the NBA league office and team owners lift the strike ban in players’ union contract.
Discuss antiracism, protests for racial justice, and how to make sense of current events with your children. Here is a list of resources for talking to children about Race, Racism, and Racialized Violence. One of us recently bought the book Antiracist Baby and has added it to storytime with her child.
Talk to family members about current events, racism, and privilege. We’ve been working through some difficult conversations with family members who don’t understand the gravity of racial injustice and the necessity of swift antiracist action. Here’s a resource where Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, offers advice on conducting these conversations.
We Want to Hear From You!
Is there an antiracist cause, organization, or event that we should be featuring? We invite you to write a post on it. Here are our guidelines for submissions:
Send submissions and questions to writingandrhetoricmke at gmail dot com. For posts on upcoming events, please submit drafts at least 3-4 weeks prior to the event. We look forward to reading your posts!
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar, Danielle Koepke, Chloe Smith, and Madison Williams
August 2020 has just begun and educators around the country are wrapping up an unprecedented summer as they prepare for an uncertain academic year ahead. Here at Writing & Rhetoric MKE, we have been spending the summer engaging in weekly conversations about renewed attention across the country to structural racism, #BlackLivesMatter, and community-police relations. Starting in June, we began to shift our weekly team meetings to figure out how we wanted this website and blog to be more responsive to our current moment, to the historical injustices Black communities have faced, and to the ways we might more critically engage with challenging white supremacy in our daily lives. We began with some difficult conversations about the pervasiveness of whiteness on our editorial board, at our institution, and within our field of study. These topics have been part of our conversations for the past few years but we recognized that too often we were using language that was more palatable for white audiences by emphasizing the celebration and amplification of community writing and rhetoric across Milwaukee but not explicitly naming the types of writing and rhetoric we really wanted to engage with and support.
We continued our conversations week to week as institutions, businesses, and public figures released statement after statement (finally) affirming that Black Lives Matter. We discussed critiques of these statements as not going far enough and reflected on how we might take action in ways that did more than perform allyship. We didn’t want to just release another statement that did little more than check a box for public relations in our current moment. And we had to acknowledge what our desires were for engaging with the fight for justice and the limitations of what our small team and locally-focused blog could do in that fight.
We’re writing today to share a new set of pages on the site dedicated to our commitments to racial justice. These are meant to be live, evolving pages that will be updated in the coming months and years to continuously improve our reflection of antiracist work in Milwaukee. First, we invite you to check out our commitment to antiracist action, which includes details about what we hope to do over the next year and how we will try to remain accountable by reflecting on actions each month. By August 2021, we will review how this all went and what needs to be done for the following year to improve our engagement with and support of antiracist organizing, writing, and rhetoric with our local communities. We have created a page that features a list of relevant texts for learning more about racism in the U.S. and the fight for racial justice. This page also reflects that while reading is an important first step for many people, it is not enough--it must be accompanied with action. We have also included a page to emphasize how you can take action with local and national organizations to support activism, social justice, and community change.
Beyond creating these pages, we commit to the following actions:
In order to hold ourselves accountable to these commitments, we will publish Antiracist Action Updates every month for the next year while also inviting our readers to engage in conversations across social media about how we all are taking action for social justice in our communities. We invite you, our readers, to hold us accountable and actively participate in the evolution of this blog’s commitment to antiracist action. You can connect with us through email at email@example.com or on Twitter @writingmke.
by Claire Edwards
Gustavo Arellano describes Steven Alvarez’s “taco literacy” as an “examin[ation of] Latino immigrant communities through the seemingly simple acts of eating and talking about Mexican food.” Alvarez started this project of sorts while working in Kentucky and continues it now in New York, showcasing the variety and expansiveness of Latinx and Latinx-inspired cuisine in two very different parts of the country.
Having been born and raised in Southern California, the Midwest initially struck me as largely void of Mexican food options. But, I quickly learned that that was just ignorance on my part, an ignorance that I was relieved of the first time I ate at Conejito’s Place in Walker’s Point and had the best chicken mole of my life. As noted on their website, Conejito’s was opened in 1972 by Jose “Conejito” Garza and has been in operation ever since.
So, indeed, I first came to my limited understanding of Milwaukee’s Latinx community through food, a positioning that Alvarez seems to advocate. Conejito’s Place is located at 539 W Virginia St, placing it in the southside neighborhood of Walker’s Point which Visit Milwaukee describes as an “industrial area [that] is now a cultural and foodie hotspot.” Walker’s Point has an interesting Latinx history as Mexicans immigrated to the area in the early 1900s, many working at the Pfister & Vogel tannery. One notable example is Federico Herrera who moved to Walker’s Point in 1927 and was a part of establishing the city’s first Spanish-language newspapers.
Today, Walker’s Point is home to a high percentage of Hispanic individuals and families, though demographics on the exact percentage are inconsistent. Unfortunately, Walker’s Point is currently experiencing what many affordable, diverse, and previously industry-oriented urban neighborhoods have experienced over the last several years. With businesses like Colectivo Coffee and microbreweries opening in the neighborhood due to profits and affordability, the focus on Walker’s Point cultural history can be easily missed.
Milwaukee’s Latinx history and presence is also easily overlooked due to its absence from much of the popular conception of the city as a French and German American city. Not to mention the harmful ways that this European discovery story marginalizes American Indians, it also neglects to adequately focus on the current -- and long-standing -- diversity of the city. This skewed perception is due in large part to the primacy of the written record in historical accounts of the city’s origins. As for why these accounts often fail to emphasize significant immigrations in the 20th century, particularly those from Spanish-language countries, the answer to that is less clear.
To learn more about Milwaukee’s Hispanic-focused, -supported, and -hosted events, check out the following resource compiled by Visit Milwaukee: https://www.visitmilwaukee.org/about-mke/diversity-and-inclusion/hispanic/
Other resources & consulted works:
Claire Edwards is a third-year PhD student in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UWM. She spent several years in teaching, tutoring, and administrative positions at community colleges and online universities in Southern California before moving to Milwaukee to pursue her doctorate. She spends her free time watching movies with her husband and cat.
By Maria Novotny
During the spring 2020 semester, I taught a Cultural Rhetorics graduate seminar at UWM and I must admit that this course feels as if it took place a lifetime ago. So much in the world has since happened: the continued spread of COVID-19, the announcement made by many universities that students should expect to return to campus in the fall, as well as the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of protests supporting Black Lives Matter. With all that has since happened, I want to reflect on what my Cultural Rhetorics course may offer us now – in these increasingly precarious times.
In their Introduction to the Special Issue: Entering the Cultural Rhetorics Conversation, Phil Bratta and Malea Powell offer four defining pillars of cultural rhetorics: (1) the idea of story as theory, (2) engagement with decoloniality and decolonial practices, (3) constellative practices as a way to build community and understanding, and (4) the practice of relationality or honoring our relatives in practice. As a class, we discussed these pillars frequently and many students often questioned how these pillars help guide cultural rhetorics as a methodological practice. Here, I’d like to suggest how these pillars can support stakeholders in higher education so they may engage in accountable community allyship to dismantle the bricolage of injustices we face.
Story as Theory
Orients us to critically engage with whose stories are told, who is trusted to hear some stories, and why who listens matters.
Stories wield power and can influence how quickly we may adopt change. Yet, we know from the murders of Black and brown people in this country, that not all stories are told nor are they heard equally, even when they are shared. Take black maternal health for example. The Black Mammas Matter Alliance report that mistrust and racist bias in medical and hospital settings are leading factors contributing to the spiking black infant and black maternal mortality rate. Black women, their lived experiences, and the stories that they may or may not share (depending upon how safe they feel) are too often disregarded.
Cultural rhetorics reminds us that these stories matter. While Black women’s stories often do not align with dominant narratives of maternal health, cultural rhetorics offers theoretical tools to question why Black women’s stories are often muted or distrusted. The pillars of cultural rhetorics help retrain and reorient how we listen to stories, whose stories we are listening to, and how we may mistrust what we are trained to assume are “dominant” or “normative” narratives.
Want to learn more? I suggest reading: Lee Maracle’s book Oratory: Coming to Theory.
Engagement with Decoloniality
Helps us identify colonial systems of power that have become so ingrained into the “everyday” whereby inequity is easily disguised.
Recent calls to ‘defund the police’ have been met with polarizing viewpoints. While a recent poll finds that 61% of Wisconsinites support Black Lives Matter, a Marquette University Law poll finds that 70% oppose defunding the police. Such polls indicate clear misunderstandings about the rationale to defund the police as a supportive action of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cultural rhetorics serves as a theoretical lens to better understand how systematic structures, like the police, operate as a colonial construct reinforcing racism. For instance, by adopting a Cultural Rhetorics lens to arguments supportive of defunding the police, more clarity emerges as to why defunding is essential in order to “delink” (a term coined by Walter Mignolo) from what Toni Morrison has called ‘the white gaze’. This gaze is a practice adopted through many police practices whereby black and brown bodies must navigate how their bodies are read and thus become constructed as non-white targets which allows for public suspicion, police surveillance and/or unjustified acts of violence. Take the recent video of Amy Cooper as an example whereby a white woman uses her whiteness to reinforce her superiority over a Black man by calling the police with no warranted reason. Engaging with the pillars of cultural rhetorics – particularly decolonial theory – helps us dismantle misconstrued threats against our safety, such as the installation of fear in white bodies if we remove all policing.
Want to learn more? I suggest reading: Alex Vitale’s book The End of Policing.
Constellate with Communities
Reminds us that community work happens through intersectional coalitions, bringing together a variety of perspectives.
The ripple effect of events occurring over these last four months – from March to June – have without doubt emerged at a time that has caused many to reflect on threats in their own lives. For instance, NPR ran a recent story noting because of asymptotic spread and political mishandling of the pandemic, many white people suddenly could relate to feeling as if their own bodies were at risk. This yielded increased support and allyship for Black Lives Matter. Yet, to truly constellate with communities we must think about all bodies in relationship with our own positionality.
Cultural rhetorics demands that our work be reflective as we work in constellation with others, not self-serving to reduce privileged feelings of guilt or shame. It must be in the trenches of injustice and as such it may be uncomfortable for more privileged bodies. As Natasha Jones and Miriam Williams in “A Just Use of Imagination: A Call to Action” write, “In this historic moment, when yet again the collective Black community is called forth to proclaim that our lives matter, that Black Lives Matter, we extend this idea of critical imagination to calls for justice and equality.” They conclude with this powerful statement: “Dismantling white supremacy requires your work. How might you make a difference? Just use your imagination.” Constellating with communities invites a critical reimagination of other stakeholders – beyond the Black community – that must engage in work supportive of equity and change.
Want to read more? I suggest reading Academic #BlackLivesMatter: Black Faculty and Graduate Students Tell Their Stories.
Acknowledge All of Our Relations
Demands our embodied experiences are reflected upon and accounted for in the community work we engage.
What does true allyship look like in practice? How do we make transparent the reasons for our actions, given the positionalities we embody? Ellen Cushman in “The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change” articulates the difference between what she calls ‘missionary activism’ and ‘scholarly activism’. For Cushman, the latter option may engage in activism by either empowering communities through the achievement of goals by providing necessary resources, facilitating action through language or literacy, or situating our own ethos as a tactic to move forward a community’s need. We may do well to reflect on how our commitment to activism appears to those communities we seek to work alongside, as an accountability tool forcing us to be transparent about the objectives of our allyship.
Cultural rhetorics draws on Indigenous theory to tend to the ever-evolving process of not just developing but learning from our relationships. Such a process asks us to engage in reciprocal practices with our communities and favors methods that allow our actions to be taken as what Andrea Riley Mukavatez calls “speak[ing] with and alongside” (122) our community partners. Relationality asks us to make our own body transparent alongside the other bodies that we work in coalition building with – often this is messy and takes time. We would do well to remind ourselves of this as the protests dwindle and calls for action become less vocal. We must remain accountable to the communities we work alongside.
Want to read more? I suggest reading “Decolonial Directions: Rivers, Relationships, and Realities of Engagement on Indigenous Lands” by Rachel Jackson and Phil Bratta.
I want to close by acknowledging that these reflections are a work in-progress and still very much in formation. I come to cultural rhetorics as a white cis woman and all the privileges such identities afford me. As such, I still have much to learn and many to listen to as I try to teach cultural rhetoric practices to support community engaged activism here in Milwaukee.
Maria Novotny is an Assistant Professor with the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program at UW-Milwaukee. Her research uses cultural rhetorics as a lens to understand and support the community advocacy practices of those diagnosed with infertility.