By Madison Williams
During the Spring 2021 semester, I was given the opportunity to intern with Professor Maria Novotny on conducting community-based research centered on reproductive justice in Milwaukee. Ultimately, the goal of our research was to curate an art installation for UW-Milwaukee’s Hostile Terrains exhibition. The Hostile Terrains exhibition at UWM, which will take place at the Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery and opens at the end of September, will visually explore the ways in which space, policy, and power emerge in and around Milwaukee.
Through a collection of research-based art installations, Hostile Terrains hopes to draw attention to the issues of social justice embedded in the material culture and physical environment of our community. UWM faculty, students, and community partners will explore these themes from a variety of perspectives, including African American, Native American, and Latinx communities, through individual exhibits focused on Milwaukee.
Hostile Terrain 94: The Catalyst
The catalyst for this exhibition at UWM was the global participatory art exhibition Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94), which was designed by archeologist Dr. Jason De Leon to memorialize the lives of thousands of migrants who died attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border through the Sonoran Desert of Arizona over the past 30 years. Sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), HT94 is composed of over 3,200 handwritten toe tags geolocated on a wall map of the desert in the exact place where individual remains were found. In order to globally memorialize the thousands of migrants who lost their lives in the Sonoran Desert, as well as raise awareness about the death and suffering migrants have experienced as a direct result of the U.S. Border Patrol policy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence” since its implementation in 1994, the installation will be displayed simultaneously in locations around the globe in 2021.
Milwaukee's Hostile Terrains
In a conversation with David Pacifico—the Director of UWM’s Emile H Mathis Gallery and coordinator of this exhibition—he explained how Hostile Terrains at UWM aims to take the basic questions focused on in HT94 and apply them to local contexts and communities in Milwaukee. When asked about the development of the UWM exhibit’s local focus, Pacifico recalled: “The pre-pandemic team of students pointed out that the intersection of space, policy, and violence at the [U.S.-Mexico] border also plays out for African American people, Native People, Women, and myriad other groups” in various locations and contexts across Milwaukee. He continued, “For example, we're lately directed to think about anti-Asian violence in the time of Covid and to recall the long history of anti-Asian policy and action in the US.” Pacifico hopes that this exhibit will make the otherwise invisible, politicized, and even actively ignored problems experienced by specific communities in Milwaukee visible to the wider public, while also helping visitors find common ground within these polarizing topics.
To address the exhibit’s focus on the big themes and questions, Pacifico and his team reached out to UWM faculty who could adequately address them for populations near to home. The Hostile Terrains exhibition will feature art installations that explore topics including, but not limited to:
Reproductive (In)Justice in Milwaukee
As part of this larger exhibition, the project I’ve been working on with Maria, and two other graduate students, aims to shed light on Milwaukee’s multiple reproductive health crises. Issues of reproductive justice in Milwaukee disproportionately impact communities of color, and our project situates Milwaukee as a hostile terrain for those in need of reproductive healthcare services. Our research aims to examine the inequities Milwaukee citizens face in accessing affordable, safe, and knowledgeable reproductive healthcare.
Reproductive justice, which SisterSong defines “as the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” anchors the scope and goals of this project. The hostile terrains surrounding access to reproductive healthcare in Milwaukee pose a multitude of challenges, and potential consequences, for individuals in our communities. Given these challenging realities, we hope to assemble a participatory and community-driven exhibition by creating a space for the otherwise invisible, and often silenced, voices in our community to be heard.
Over the next few weeks, as the opening of the Hostile Terrains exhibition on September 30th approaches, we will be publishing several posts centered on Hostile Terrains and the research being done by the UWM students and faculty contributing to it.
Visit Hostile Terrains at UWM
The Hostile Terrains exhibition opens at UWM's Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery (located in Mitchell Hall, Rm 170) on September 30, 2021, with an opening reception taking place from 5-7PM. The exhibit will run through February 10, 2022. The exhibition can be visited during the gallery's normal operating hours, Monday-Thursday from 10AM to 4PM, free of charge. Visits are by appointment only, which can be made by contacting the gallery at: email@example.com.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
Soy una investigadora que hace proyectos que involucre comunidades. Mucho de mi investigación y escritura incluye mensajes para personas en posiciones de poder (maestros, médicos, y comunicadores de salud) sobre las cosas que necesitan aprender de comunidades y sus practicas de comunicación. Quiero aprender sobre maneras para que instituciones (escuelas, sistemas de salud, etc) puedan dar dinero y su tiempo para desarrollar relaciones y apoyar a los expertos que ya están en la comunidad. Cierto, es algo simple, pero creo que es importante. No soy una experta, pero trato de usar mis privilegios y recursos para apoyar y sostener las comunidades con quienes yo trabajo. Gracias a una beca de la Fundación de Andrew W. Mellon y ACLS, mi trabajo durante el año académico 2020-2021 está con Planned Parenthood de Wisconsin (PPWI) con su programa de los Promotores de Salud y CCmáS.
Parte de mi tiempo está en juntas y actividades de planear para los programas de educación con los promotores y la otra parte incluye actividades de investigación con los promotores (como entrevistas, grupos de enfoque, el análisis de información, y escritura). Entonces, cuando mis colegas de la universidad estaban enseñando en línea durante la pandemia, yo estuve aprendiendo a hacer investigación con comunidades en una manera virtual.
Un tema que siempre está en frente de mi mente es el acceso. El acceso y las barreras de acceso siempre han sido un tema que le interesa a los profesionales de salud, los investigadores, y la gente que hacen la política. Tienen un impacto en la salud de comunidades y cómo el sistema de salud responde (o no) a las necesidades de comunidades. Las redes del acceso incluyen muchos aspectos diferentes como el transporte, acceso a comida, las viviendas, servicios sociales, la vida familiar, y más. La gente se encuentra barreras con el acceso a atención medica de calidad, pero también las instituciones se enfrentan a barreras en como conectar con comunidades. Mucho de estas barreras son parte del sistema y como tiene preferencias para espacios, profesionales, y prácticas del lenguaje que están aparte de las comunidades—especialmente las comunidades inmigrantes.
Una manera en que las instituciones tratan de llegar a las comunidades inmigrantes que hablan español es a través de los Promotores de Salud. Los Promotores son gente que pueden educar a sus comunidades sobre información de la salud y conectar mensajes entre las instituciones y el pueblo. Con mucha frecuencia, la dirección de la información para el sistema de salud es de arriba hacia abajo. Esperan que, con más acceso a la información, las comunidades tendrán menos problemas de salud y más utilización de los servicios del sistema de salud. ¿Pero cuando deben la dirección de información viajar de las comunidades a las instituciones? Un parte de mi trabajo este año es divulgar las historias y experiencias de los Promotores de Salud que trabajan con PPWI para identificar caminos de transformación para que el sistema de salud sea con más justicia, equidad, y acceso.
¿Entonces, que hacen los promotores de salud? El rol especifico parece diferente dependiente en donde trabajan y con que institución tienen una afiliación. Los Promotores con quien yo trabajo son expertos en crear confianza y conectar a la gente con recursos. Cuando desarrollan la confianza con sus comunidades, la gente se abre y comparten muchas cosas de sus vidas. Los Promotores de Salud usan un currículo que se llama Cuidándonos Creceremos más Sanos (CCmáS). Con este currículo, facilitan discusiones sobre la salud sexual y reproductiva con familias y grupos de las comunidades hispanas en varios partes de Wisconsin. Tienen Fiestas Caseras que empezaron con la influencia del modelo del negocio Avon para juntarse en casas y tener una fiesta, discutir cosas, y tener trabajo como consultantes privados. Estas Fiestas Caseras proveen espacio para tener conversaciones sobre varios temas de la salud sexual, la justicia reproductiva, la abogacía, y como empoderar la comunidad. Con el apoyo de varias becas, los Promotores de Salud también trabajan para animar la gente con la participación cívica y apoyaron el año pasado con el Censo y la registración del voto. Con la pandemia, los Promotores de Salud han hecho las Fiestas Caseras de una manera virtual, pero esperamos que pronto volverán a juntarse en persona. Con la confianza y las conexiones que hacen los Promotores con la gente y las instituciones, pueden conectar personas con los recursos que están disponibles para pagar billes, servicios de salud, y más.
Algunos de los Promotores trabajan en roles similares con otras organizaciones y mucho de ellos tienen otro empleo afuera de su trabajo como consultantes privados con PPWI. Ellos viven en comunidades Latinx a través del estado de Wisconsin y entienden los desafíos e injusticias que encuentran los inmigrantes de Latinoamérica en el mismo tiempo que son esenciales para los negocios de nuestra economía en los Estados Unidos. Con un conocimiento de las barreras que tienen sus comunidades, los Promotores de Salud entienden su trabajo como un parte de la justicia reproductiva.
Ellos entienden que los desafíos que las comunidades inmigrantes tienen con la atención médica para la salud reproductiva es más que simplemente si tienen o no tienen acceso a las clínicas y suficiente información. Está impactado por su habilidad de pagar su renta, si están seguros en sus casas, si no tienen la opción de tener hijos, si sus hijos se encuentran en peligro en los Estados Unidos u otros países, y mucho más. Este conocimiento sobre las experiencias de las comunidades inmigrantes en los EEUU puede traer prácticas nuevas para cuidar la salud con más equidad y compasión. Los Promotores de Salud son expertos que pueden enseñar mucho a los investigadores, administradores, y profesionales. Si el conocimiento y las experiencias de Promotores de Salud son tan estimados como las credenciales de nuestros médicos y otros profesionales, podríamos ver modelos de educación comunitaria que serían más dinámicas en las maneras en que las instituciones pueden ser informados por las comunidades. También las relaciones entre las comunidades y las instituciones pueden ser más beneficiadas mutuamente.
Para la versión en inglés de este entrada, haz clic aquí. / For the English version of this post, click here.
Rachel Bloom-Pojar es una profesora con el programa de Retóricas Públicas y la Involucración Comunitaria en la Universidad de Wisconsin-Milwaukee y una Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society fellow con Planned Parenthood de Wisconsin.
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.
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 Chloe Smith
On April 7, Milwaukee voters passed the Vote Yes for MPS referendum, which will raise $87 million in funding for Milwaukee Public Schools over the next 4 years. Throughout this semester, I had the privilege of working as an intern on this campaign.
My responsibilities in this campaign were mostly writing-based—emails to the campaign’s network of supporters, text outreach, copy editing—but I also did quite a bit beyond that, like canvassing and assisting with filming testimonials at schools. (Of course, I was only a tiny facet in the immense amount of work that went into this campaign).
Spending a semester working on this campaign has helped me learn so much about the political and educational climate in Milwaukee and Wisconsin at large. I’m not from this city, and while I’ve always been well aware of certain educational struggles in my home state of Illinois, I did not know much about the issues affecting Wisconsin.
MPS is the largest school district in the state of Wisconsin, serving over 77,000 students. However, despite its size, the district received significantly less funding per student than neighboring school districts like Shorewood or Whitefish Bay. This lack of sufficient funding led to students and teachers alike not receiving the resources they deserve.
This referendum was not only necessary for supporting our students and teachers, but also long overdue. Before the 2020 vote, MPS was one of the only school districts in the state that had not passed a referendum to increase funding in recent years—the community hadn’t even had the opportunity to pass an increase in funding since 1993.
I’ve always considered myself pretty aware of issues like this, and before this internship, would have called myself rather politically active. However, working on this campaign has completely changed my disposition toward political issues. It’s really easy to think you’re doing enough by voting a certain way, by sharing certain posts on social media, and having conversations with people we know. But we so often forget—myself included—that these problems go so far beyond numbers on a page.
I’ve learned that it’s vital to remind ourselves exactly what we’re fighting for. The best way to do that is volunteering, in any capacity you can, whether it’s signing a pledge or petition, canvassing door-to-door in the community, or making phone calls to voters.
I spent so much time in this position talking with teachers, parents, students, and community members about what this vote means to them. I feel invigorated to continue to volunteer for other issues that matter to me.
While the referendum passed with overwhelming success, the actual process of the election didn’t feel so positive. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court (all of whom had, interestingly, voted absentee) struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ order to delay the April 7 election, many voters were forced to choose between their health and their civic duty. The fact that so many voters still showed up, masks and all, is another reason I’m proud of this city, but I’m disappointed that it was a decision they had to face in the first place.
It says a lot about the educational needs of our community that so many were willing to put their health on the line to vote in this election.
I plan on participating in more campaigns, to whatever extent I can. I’m sure a few of them won’t be successful. But we have to try. There’s a lot of practical things I learned in this internship, but what I find most important is the necessity of going out of your comfort zone. The best way to learn about community issues and activism is to get out there and advocate for what you believe in in hands-on ways, meeting and working with the people you’re fighting for and with.
During my time in this internship, I was continually blown away by the passion, collaboration, and warmth of everyone I worked with and even met in passing. I’m so proud of the city for passing this referendum, but even if it hadn’t, I’d come away from this experience proud to now call Milwaukee home.
I realize how lucky I am that my first experience with something like this resulted in a winning campaign. Perhaps I’d be feeling differently if the referendum hadn’t passed. But then I think about the people I met: my supervisor, who was kind and enthusiastic, and taught me so much about community organizing. The parents and teachers I met canvassing, who thanked me profusely for taking what was just a bit of my time to try and help students. And the students themselves, answering doors with their parents or posing for social media photos for the campaign, who served as reminders of why we were working in the first place. And then I realize, I’d do it all over again, even if the referendum hadn’t passed.
Working on a campaign is hard enough. Working on—and concluding—a campaign in the midst of a pandemic brings a whole other set of hurdles and uncertainties. But even through a ridiculous, rainy election day, Milwaukee managed a huge victory. This city and its voters did right by its students, who deserve a fulfilling, equitable education, regardless of their zip code.
Chloe Smith is a PhD student in the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is also a co-editor of Writing & Rhetoric MKE.
by Chloe Smith
This semester, I am teaching two sections of English 102: College Writing and Research with a unique opportunity for community engagement. We are collaborating with a local organization called Learn Deep Milwaukee.
Learn Deep is focused on building a community-wide resource for career exploration for high school students in the area, and providing students the skills they’ll need for a rapidly changing workforce. According to Learn Deep’s website, to achieve this goal, “teachers and schools will need to adopt new methodologies that allow students to work in teams to explore real problems and how to get better at doing so.”
This partnership was a natural fit considering English 102’s emphasis on community-based research. The final project of the course asks students to research a topic or issue related to Milwaukee and produce an information product that could be useful to community members.
To gain more insight on issues facing communities in and around Milwaukee, the students in these 2 sections will be interviewing various professionals from the healthcare field who are associated with Learn Deep. Once the interviews are finished, we will transcribe them and code them to find topics for further research.
To prepare for these interviews, we have focused a lot on oral histories with an emphasis on ways in which they allow the person being interviewed to spend time reflecting on personal experiences and telling stories in their own conversational format. This focus will not only give students a greater chance to gain honest perspectives on issues facing the healthcare field in Milwaukee, but also allow them to foster a deeper connection with their interviewees.
Before choosing their interviewees, students spent time researching and discussing healthcare topics that interested them—with the results ranging from topics like the effects of racism on public health to hospital initiatives to the effects of vaping.
Based on their interests, students chose their interviewees from a list of professionals who volunteered to be interviewed for the project. Students have since been hard at work setting up interviews and drafting questions. We’ll spend the first week of October workshopping questions, practicing interviews, and even working with Pete Reynolds of Learn Deep and Joan Ward of Employ Milwaukee’s Center for Health Care Careers to receive feedback on interview questions and advice on coding the interviews once they’re finished.
I’ll admit that I came into these classes feeling rather nervous. Of course, I was over the moon at the opportunity of leading students through community-engaged research, but I wasn’t sure if they would share my excitement. Luckily, my worry was unfounded.
I’m blown away by how engaged these students have been, and how willing they are to work through a research process that, for most of them, is entirely new. They’re approaching these interviews—and the prospect of the research that will come after—with enthusiasm and creativity.
The interviews will take place during the week of October 7th. To keep up with how they went, the research they inspire, and some student reflections on the process, check back later on in the semester.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
This is the second part of two posts about our new faculty members with the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program at UWM: Dr. Derek Handley and Dr. Maria Novotny. You can read Part 1 here.
What experience do you have with community-engaged teaching?
Maria: I have taught many professional writing and technical classes, which naturally lend themselves to community-engaged projects. For example, in my "Digital Rhetoric in Health and Medicine" course at UWO, students worked with the Women’s Center and Student Center on campus to create a series of multimedia, advocacy toolkits to support educating their college peers on the importance of data privacy. We reflected on the learning that occurred through these projects and shared our community-engaged projects on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative’s blog. Also, in my "Grant Writing Foundations" course, my students worked with five Oshkosh community non-profits organizations. While students gained experience researching and writing grant documents, this collaborative partnership also revealed the importance of reciprocity. As the course concluded, students remarked on the interpersonal and rhetorical negotiations they had to make in order to successfully partner with the organization.
Derek: My first year writing courses are focused on place and community. What I mean by that, is that the course focuses on issues directly affecting the local place where the students live. I have students conduct research not only in academic spaces such as the library, but also out in the community. They have to talk with people, organizations, and businesses to get a greater understanding of the various stakeholders' perspectives. For instance, when I taught in Western Pennsylvania, I developed a course around the environmental issue of Marcellus Shale fracking. Many of my students were directly connected to that industry through friends and family.
What do you envision for the future of our Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program?
Derek: I think it is important for us to develop a program that has a viable option for careers outside of academia. The academic job market is tight and there are other careers in which students should consider. To facilitate this idea, I think we should seek relationships with outside organizations and businesses and educate them on how students in our program can contribute to the goals of that organization. Perhaps we could set up summer internships for our students. The Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program serves as a perfect example of what some of our students should consider applying for after they complete their degree. The program places recent PhDs in government organizations and non-profit sectors for up two years.
Maria: I am very excited to work on the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program. My dissertation drew from my community-engaged work with the ART of Infertility. Engaged in that work, I recall moments of feeling overwhelmed not just by the doing of a dissertation but by the natural messiness of navigating and learning what it means to do community work. I hope to draw on these experiences, as well as the experiences of current graduate students, to think about how the program can be structurally organized and designed to offer mentorship and institutional support. I see my book project with John Gagnon as one scholarly trajectory that assists with this, but I’m also eager to think through the types of experiences and training we offer to our students via our curriculum. It’s an exciting program, and I think will resonate with folks across the field!
What is a graduate course you look forward to teaching?
Maria: I’m really looking forward to teaching Cultural Rhetorics in the spring. I’ve taught this for undergraduate students, but I’m eager to teach approaches to a cultural rhetorics methodology to graduate students. I am hopeful that students will also take interest, as I see cultural rhetorics offering methods useful for individuals who want to do ethical and reciprocal community work. Plus, I’m hoping that I can invite a couple of scholars who do cultural rhetorics work to join our class for some Q&A sessions.
Derek: I look forward to developing and teaching a topics course entitled African American Rhetoric and the Black Freedom Movement. The course is intended as an informed introduction to African American rhetoric, which is defined as the “communicative practices, and persuasive strategies rooted in freedom struggles by people of African ancestry in America” (Jackson and Richardson). The readings and discussions will familiarize students with various contemporary theorists whose ideas broaden contemporary conceptualization of African American Rhetoric. By the end of the course, students will have a richer understanding of how rhetoric is a tool of social change encompassing a variety of written, visual and verbal communication strategies. Readings in particular will include major thinkers like Cornel West, Keith Gilyard, Molefi Asante, and Geneva Smitherman.
What's something you like to do in your free time?
Derek: Exploring Wisconsin. My family and I are still new to the Midwest so we’re looking forward to taking some day-trips to go hiking, kayaking, and canoeing, especially when the leaves start to change colors. Also, we just adopted a 5 year-old Labrador Retriever named Obi, so we want to get him out of the city and get some strenuous exercise.
Maria: I’m a Wisconsin girl at heart. Raised here, in the summer I am an avid musky fisherwoman. I caught a 41 inch one this summer with my dad. In the spring, I help a family friend on their maple syrup farm. Taking walks in the woods, listening to storms roll through, and establishing a connection to the land has helped me stay grounded when the stress of academia can seem intense.
Thanks to Derek and Maria for their time and interest in contributing to Writing & Rhetoric MKE. I’m looking forward to building community with you in our program and around Milwaukee! -RBP
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
Fall 2019 marks the official launch of our program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UWM. My colleagues and I are also excited to welcome two new faculty members to our program: Dr. Derek Handley and Dr. Maria Novotny. To help everyone get to know them better, I asked Derek and Maria a series of questions about their experience and vision for the new program. In this post, we’ll learn a bit about Derek and Maria’s background with research and part 2 will focus on their teaching and goals for the future of the program.
What is your experience with community-engaged research?
Maria: I draw on my work with the ART of Infertility to inform my community-engaged scholarship. As a resource organization, I host multimodal art workshops for reproductive loss patients to depict their experiences with grief and the reproductive healthcare industry. Once patient pieces are created, I invite patient-participants to narrate their infertility experiences through their artwork. Today, the organization has over 200 pieces of narrative art, of which, I incorporate into art exhibitions around the U.S. I understand these exhibits as evidence of how art rhetorically translates technical, scientific, and medical experiences into accessible experiences for non-experts to grasp and ignite community-engaged action. My purpose is to act as an ally to remove the embedded cultural stigma of receiving an infertility diagnosis and create resources that educate healthcare providers, and the public at-large, on the sociocultural challenges faced by the reproductive loss community.
Derek: My research focuses on African American community rhetorical histories which means I have to do research in the archives and in the local neighborhoods. I conduct interviews with community members, walk the locations where historical events took place, and attend community events. I also like to take students on walking tours of these historic neighborhoods.
What are you currently working on?
Derek: I am currently working on my book project, “The Places We Knew So Well Are No More:” A Rhetorical History of Urban Renewal and the Black Freedom Movement. In particular, I’m focusing on the Milwaukee section of the book where rhetorical education played a significant role in helping residents understand the complexities of urban renewal. In addition, I’m working on a conference paper (National Communications Association) about St. Paul, Minnesota, which will also be featured in my book. My paper explores how race is implicated in the contested spaces and places of urban renewal policies. But more importantly, it will examine the rhetorical actions taken by residents in St. Paul in an effort to save their community from the wrecking balls of eminent domain during the 1950s and 60s.
Maria: I’m currently co-editing special issues for The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics on “Curation: A Multimodal Practice for Socially-Engaged Action”, Computers and Composition on “Rhetorics of Data: Collection, Consent, & Critical Digital Literacies”, and Reflections on “Rhetorics of Reproductive Justice in Public and Civic Contexts”. While on the surface those themes may appear distinct, the calls emphasize scholarly contributions that consider how curation may act as a response for social action.
Related, I’m working on a co-authored book project with Dr. John Gagnon (University of Hawaii-Manoa). We published “Research as Care: A Shared Ownership Approach to Rhetorical Research in Trauma Communities,” which offers a cultural rhetorical framework for collaborating with trauma participants for rhetorical research. Our book project tentatively titled, Care as a Practice: Reorienting Research in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, offers a cultural rhetorics infused methodological framework to inform the design and ethical enactment of community-engaged research projects. Our manuscript expands on and explains the idea of care as a research practice, demonstrates the efficacy of a care-centered research paradigm, and delivers concrete models for how to enact care methodologically.