By Kayla Fettig
Over the past several years, UW-Milwaukee's Rhetoric and Composition program has shifted its focus to include community-engaged research. Dr. Rachel Bloom-Pojar, who helped revamp the program said, “This came as the result of a combination of the previous plans in Rhetoric and Composition and Technical and Professional Communication with a year-long process of re-envisioning what our PhD program could do to reflect student interests and our local context.” Thus, the Public Rhetoric and Community Engagement program was born to support students that wanted to remain in academia as well as those that wanted to explore their options outside of academia once they obtained their doctoral degrees.
As a newly admitted student into the Public Rhetoric and Community Engagement PhD program, I was excited to see how thriving the program within the English department had become. I had a creative writing background but had always been interested in the non-profit sector and was drawn to the program after its revamping. I quickly saw that the program allowed students the opportunity to work side-by-side with faculty on community-engaged research, something I wanted to be a part of while still being able to opt into traditional rhetoric and composition classes.
Within the first few weeks I immersed myself into what the program had to offer, and quickly learned about the Cafecito series being held on campus. The Cafecitos project is a Community-Engaged Research “coffee hour” hosted monthly by Dr. Rachel Bloom-Pojar and third-year Ph.D student Danielle Koepke. These monthly Cafecitos give graduate students across all disciplines the opportunity to discuss what community-engaged research is all about, how it can be done, and what it looks like to collaborate with students and faculty already engaged in it.
When talking to Danielle about the Cafecitos and what inspired her and Rachel to invite graduate students to learn more about community-engaged research she said, “Dr. Bloom-Pojar and I are hosting Community-Engaged Research Cafecitos (coffee hours) because we believe that building relationships is the core of everything we do as scholars, as researchers, and as people. We want to make space for graduate students in the humanities to share experiences, questions, and concerns regarding doing work with communities. We believe the best way to do that is not through lectures but through informal conversations over food and coffee.”
The first Cafecito was held on October 13th and focused on “Community-Engaged Research in Covid Times.” The most recent Cafecito, “Making Connections Outside of the Academy,” took place on November 10th explored what it looks like to do community-engaged research and how to begin making those community connections. The conversations that arose from the second Cafecito included:
These discussions are part of the core purpose of the Cafecitos as many times students don’t know what community-engaged research is, how to make the connections, or often understand how messy the process is. One of the goals with the Cafecitos is to start building community with the attendees through discussion, guidance, and personal reflection from Danielle and Rachel. The coffee and snacks help too, but the discussions are intimate and reflect the knowledge Danielle and Rachel share.
Danielle expressed her passion surrounding the Cafecitos saying, “The goal is to foster connections across disciplines that may lead to sharing resources, support, and information as well as building a network of relations for potential research work, collaborations, or job opportunities, in the future.” Danielle continued, “As graduate students in the humanities are increasingly considering research that engages with communities, we hope to offer a space where we all can grapple with the ethical negotiations that come with that. We hope to draw in graduate students across disciplines because we have much we can learn from one another, and also much we can understand about one another. Cafecitos are a great space to share experiences and hear what others are doing in their research, writing, and work within and outside of academia.”
The Cafecitos’ goals are clear: all are invited to collaborate, discuss, and question what community-engaged research looks like and how to do it. Danielle and Rachel’s attention to detail and excitement surrounding each Cafecitos’ theme is infectious. They carefully dedicate time and space to the students' questions surrounding how to network, how to do ethical research, and how to get involved in research that communities or organizations need. Rachel confirms that these questions are important as often graduate students do not know where to start when it comes to community-engaged research and building those relationships. Hopefully, the Cafecitos can help answer those questions for students.
Rachel and Danielle have also been invited by the UWM Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) graduate chapter to continue their community-engagement conversations with a special virtual event focused on “Creating Space for the Public Work of Rhetoric as Graduate Students”. This virtual event is on Friday, December 3rd from 1-2 pm and does require advance registration (as detailed below). The goal of this sponsored event is to, “share the process of putting rhetoric to work with community writers and offer suggestions for how graduate students can foster connections between their academic interests and meaningful work in the world.”
In collaboration with the Center for 21st Century Studies (C21) and the Center for Community-Based Learning Leadership and Research (CBLLR), Rachel and Danielle plan to continue creating space and support for graduate students interested in community engaged research in the spring semester. If you are interested in attending the RSA-sponsored event on December 3rd, it is strongly encouraged to RSVP through this linked Google form to receive the virtual meeting invite on December 2nd. I know my attendance in the Cafecitos has been enlightening and I look forward to the others that are coming, I hope to see you there for the future ones as well.
By Kayla Fettig
The Hostile Terrains UW-Milwaukee exhibition marked the first opening of the Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery since the start of the pandemic. The exhibition opened on September 30th, 2021 hosting the HT94 exhibit by Jason De León, Professor of Anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA, which raises awareness about migrant death at the US-Mexico border. As part of UW-Milwaukee's Hostile Terrains exhibition, UWM faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students contributed contextualized exhibits of similar experiences within Wisconsin.
Opening night of the exhibition brought together masked exhibit creators and masked patrons that collectively moved through the gallery exchanging thoughts and feelings provoked by each installation. Emotional conversations filled each corner of the gallery as people discussed how each exhibit exposed them to knowledge, history, tradition, policy, and violence. This isn’t surprising given the large display on the left wall detailing the goals of both De León's original exhibit and the exhibit's creations inspired by De León. The three paragraphs spanning the wall both welcome and prepare viewers for the installations they are about to view. Many people stop to read the statement plastered on the wall, while others opt to skim through it and create space for others to enter the gallery. In the first room of the exhibits, there are several installations overtaking the gallery walls for viewers to digest. Each exhibit proves that it could stir the emotions of people differently.
After viewers get a sense of the gallery's purpose by reading the three paragraphs on the north wall, they are welcomed by a long hall that opens up into a larger gallery. Whether you look to your left or right you are met with a new exhibit that, in one way or another, invokes a ray of emotions. Visitors chattered and grouped across the gallery taking in the collaborative and solo projects of 7 departments and 35 students.
The first exhibit sparking a wide range of emotions from visitors was the display: “Community Fabric”. The “Community Fabric” display by Adam Jussel and Aragorn Quinn wraps patrons in both the display and detailed commentary on its purpose linked to the exhibit. The exhibit is the only of its kind in the gallery as you are forced to actually walk through it to get to the others (although the photo displays them side by side that are actually across from one another), as the display is cast across jutting walls that face each other. The adjacent walls display different colored and textured fabric represent “traditional dress from all six inhabited continents” accompanied by driftwood provided by the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.
Many visitors examined the small, but impactful details Jussel and Quinn incorporated in their exhibit. The use of space, the layering of different fabrics, the use of multicultural textiles and colors, and the large barrier of protection of the artifacts by the driftwood. Many read the text out loud, while others stoically reflected on the exhibit itself.
The exhibit that seemed to intrigue the most guests (besides the recreation of De León’s HT94 exhibit) in the gallery was the brainchild of Leigh Mahlik, William W. Wood, and the gallery Director, David Pacifico titled “Interlinking Stories.” This community piece communicates that it “serves as spontaneous memorials after tragedy and conveys messages of inspiration in the face of challenges.” The physical presence of the fence seems to catch and overwhelm those looming over the exhibit. The exhibit invites visitors to collectively add to the links in the fence, by telling an untold story they feel needs to be told. At first many hesitate to contribute, as they chatter about how important or not their story is, and if it belongs on the fence. Few step forward, willing to be vulnerable as they do their best to convey their story but the “You Are Heard” blue dot placed on the floor in front of the display gives participants the courage to hang their stories.
“Black Milwaukee’s Long Freedom Struggle,” by Dr. Derek Handley is one of the larger exhibits in the gallery and has no problem drawing the crowd of gallery-goers closely in. The rows of spectators eventually inch towards the exhibit allowing for an up-close inspection of the map of Milwaukee and the array of black and white photos plastered over specific neighbors. Pictures of Milwaukee’s Black citizens participating in protests such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Live Matter Movement. Photos that capture the pain, anguish, anger, fear, and history black citizen in Milwaukee have historically gone through. Captivated by the trauma, many people stand silently, otherwise, remark on the photos and map and how remarkably powerful the exhibit is. A select few–including myself–silently wipe the tears from their eyes and try to compose themselves before they move to the next exhibit. Dr. Handley’s attention to detail and emotional use of photography captures the tone that many have emotionally expressed: “This struggle for freedom for Milwaukee’s Black citizens is not yet over.”
The Hostile Terrains exhibition offers not only a glimpse at De León’s original HT94 exhibit but has also allowed faculty and staff to invite the public to understand that Wisconsin too has its own history of hostile terrains. Each exhibit (and they are many more than showcased in this quick snapshot) tells their own story, invokes their own emotions, and engages with visitors differently.
To experience it for yourself, UW-Milwaukee invites you to stop by the Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery located in Mitchell Hall, Room 170. The exhibition will run through February 10, 2022. The Mathis Gallery is open Monday through Thursday, from 10 am-4 pm, or you may make an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lauren Janikowski
Before I began interning with Professor Maria Novotny last semester, I had never heard of reproductive justice. However, working with Maria on her Hostile Terrains exhibit opened my eyes to the reproductive health crisis that is happening in communities of color all over Milwaukee. As part of Maria’s team, our goal for Hostile Terrains was to showcase the problematic realities many women of color are facing every day when it comes to their reproductive rights. To achieve this goal, we spent time reaching out to organizations working to combat reproductive injustice in Milwaukee. Through our communication with community activists and organizations, I was introduced to Nataley Nueman and Nijeria Boone of Reproaction.
Reproaction’s vision is to “increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice” (About Reproaction). They are vigilantly increasing accountability and empowering others to get involved in their movement towards reproductive justice. Reproaction believes in normalizing abortions and helping others to understand that woman’s rights are human rights. They are also committed to racial justice because reproductive rights are closely tied to racial issues for women.
Coincidentally, both Nataley Nueman and Nijeria Boone attended UW-Milwaukee. Nataley majored in Women’s and Gender Studies at UWM and is now working for Reproaction. Her work with Reproaction is focused on reversing Wisconsin’s Act 292, or the “Unborn Child Protection Act.” At the time of this interview, Nijeria was one semester away from graduating with a degree in Political Science. Her focus with Reproaction is on working toward equitable access to abortion in Milwaukee. I recently had the chance to talk with both of these amazing women about their work with Reproaction. We discussed reproductive issues going on in Milwaukee/Wisconsin as well as how to get involved when all of it is new to you. Here are some of the questions and important answers that followed.
Lauren: So, how did you learn about reproductive justice?
Nataley: I learned about reproductive justice as I was just being introduced to Women’s and Gender Studies. I took my first class, I think, in Fall of 2014. And I was just really into it right away. But, I think I first learned about it through the Combahee River Collective and when 12 Black women coined the term in 1994. That was a very big part of some of my studies.
Lauren: What got you involved in reproductive justice?
Nataley: I kind of noticed a gap in student activism around sexual assault and reproductive justice, or even just like reproductive health and rights, but more focused on sexual assault advocacy and awareness. When I was a student at UWM there had been some instances where people had been drugged at parties or sexually assaulted on campus… So, I wanted to start a Sexual Assault Awareness organization that was student led and student backed. I started it with a ton of other fantastic feminists and organizers. We started Panthers Against Sexual Assault, also called P.A.S.A.
Lauren: How did you get involved with Reproaction?
Nataley: In March 2018, I had been browsing jobs online, like just nonprofit jobs. And I stumbled across a Reproaction job description. It was a little intimidating, but I was really intrigued by it because it said something about a willingness to learn about drug policy or substance use and reproductive rights, and I had never really been in that space. So, I was intrigued and obviously willing to learn so I applied, went through a few interviews, and got the job which was awesome… But I mean, if people are wondering how to find a certain job, how I did it was I kind of went through other related organizations.
Nijeria: I ran across this ad on Indeed.com. But what Reproaction has been doing is to ensure that everybody has equal access to abortion. And instead of centering these movements on white cisgender women, we focus on marginalized people. So, if a trans person has access to abortion, or a black woman has access to abortion, or all these different marginalized people—if they have access then cisgender white women won't have issues having access.
Lauren: Is Reproaction more focused in Milwaukee or worldwide?
Nataley: Let me just give you a little bit of a background about Reproaction quickly. Reproaction was founded in 2015 by our co-founder and former co-director, Erin Matson. As I said, it was started in 2015, with two co-founders, with the mission to advance reproductive justice and increase access to abortion. Since then, we've grown a lot over the past six years. It's mainly United States, like national issues. We have full-time staff members on the ground in Missouri, Virginia, Washington DC, Wisconsin, etc. My campaign—the Wisconsin Act 292 campaign that aims to eliminate the “Unborn Child Protection Act” in Wisconsin—is specific to Wisconsin as a whole.
Lauren: How does RJ and Reproaction relate to Milwaukee?
Nijeria: So, Milwaukee is number one in the country for infant and maternal mortality. Black women are five times more likely than their white counterparts to die within a month and a half of giving birth. And Black babies are three or four times more likely to die than white babies within their first year. In Milwaukee specifically—being an impoverished place—we think that if you don't want kids, or if you can't afford kids, don't have them. But for the people who don't want to have them, they don't have the access to not have them. So, they either are forced to carry on with a pregnancy that they don't want or do an unsafe self-performed, at-home abortion that, again, could kill them.
Lauren: Do you, as a Black woman in Milwaukee, have any experiences with lack of access to your reproductive rights?
Nijeria: I personally have not, but I know a bunch of people who have had issues with the 24-hour waiting period to receive an abortion. And a person I know, she goes to school out of state and couldn’t access her constitutional right because of all these unnecessary hurdles. Most recently, I was doing research about abortion access in Milwaukee, and the two abortion clinics are right next to each other and they're both over five miles away from the poorest zip code. And I think they are both about an hour to an hour and a half ride on the bus.
Lauren: How can someone learn more about the personhood law in Wisconsin and get involved in the movement?
Nataley: If people, especially in Wisconsin, are very concerned about this law, like personhood laws in general, I would recommend just kind of starting to look at substance use in pregnancy in general, because there are a lot of myths that surround substance use and pregnancy that make pregnancy and substance use a very taboo subject… I think going forward Reproaction is also going to be doing more educational opportunities for people to learn about the myths behind substances and pregnancy—myths versus facts and how to talk about it—because I think people avoid the subject because they don't know how to talk about it.
Lauren: What would your advice be to undergrad students who want to get involved in an organization? How would they go about doing that?
Nataley: So, even just googling and trying to find other organizations in your area that are already doing the work and shooting them a message and saying, hey, I would love to talk to you or get more information about this sometime, that would be a really great first step. Personally, I love when people reach out to me and are like, hey, I want to meet with you and learn about this more, because it really shows that you want to learn more about the issue and that you're kind-of committed and that you're willing to put in the work. It's just about making that first connection and kind of going off of that. I feel like once you're in that sort of area, a whole door will open for you.
Nijeria: We have webinars. I think there's a webinar, maybe two or three every month, and that's a serious way you can get involved. Following our social media for when we have events. We recently did something really cool talking about tying in astrology to reproductive justice, because astrology is so big right now. We have tweet storms sometimes. So, just staying up to date with our social media, and then that'll keep everyone up-to-date with what we're doing.
I’ve learned a lot about reproductive justice from both my work with Maria as well as my interviews with Nataley and Nijeria. Not only has it given me an in-depth look at how to conduct community research and what getting involved in movements actually takes, but it has also taught me more about my communities in Milwaukee. This work has opened my eyes to struggles I had no idea existed because I am a cis-gender white woman.
Reproaction has recently release their documentary, PERSONHOOD: Policing Pregnant Women in America, all about Act 292 and the rise of the “fetal personhood” movement. PERSONHOOD brings the human impact of these policies to light as it follows the story of a rural Wisconsin mother who was incarcerated for pre-conception drug use as she rebuilds her life and fights to overturn Wisconsin’s unconstitutional laws. I had the pleasure of watching Reproaction’s documentary, and it left me ready to get involved.
Lauren Janikowski is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying Rhetoric and Professional Writing.
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. Appointments can be made to visit the exhibit outside of these hours 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.