By Madison Williams
Historic Milwaukee's Annual Doors Open
Historic Milwaukee, Inc. (HMI) is a small nonprofit organization that is enthusiastically committed to increasing the general public's knowledge and awareness of Milwaukee history and architecture. HMI uses a number of events to open the doors of historically significant buildings to the public in order to teach the public about the history of Milwaukee, including it's buildings, businesses, and communities.
HMI's biggest and most popular annual event is Doors Open, "a two-day celebration of Milwaukee's art, architecture, culture, and history," that offers the public a behind-the-scenes look at buildings spread across the city and it's surrounding neighborhoods. Over 32,000 visitors flock to this free, citywide event to tour over 170 buildings over the span of a weekend. The event features sites clustered downtown, in the "spotlight neighborhoods," and throughout the entire Milwaukee area. The overarching goal expressed for Doors Open Milwaukee is to "showcase the architecture and community stories of Milwaukee's downtown and culturally diverse neighborhoods," to improve the perception of these neighborhoods, and foster pride in residents of the city's communities.
Each year, Doors Open selects 2-3 different "spotlight neighborhoods" to be highlighted during the event by featuring a substantial number of exciting sites clustered in those neighborhoods. The spotlight neighborhoods are usually culturally diverse, going through the process of revitalization, and contain unexpected treasures. Doors Open provides communities with the opportunity to to make connections and foster relationships; to advertise and promote local businesses and organizations; and to share their neighborhood pride and culture with others. Some spotlight neighborhoods from recent years include Lindsey Heights, Layton Boulevard West, Historic Mitchell Street, Oak Creek, and Bronzeville.
Spotlight Neighborhoods: Lindsay Heights
Lindsay Heightsis located in the heart of Milwaukee's North Side and was once the center point of Milwaukee's growing African American community following their migration from the south in the early 1900's. After decades of economic instability, largely due to the abandonment of the Park West Freeway plans that caused the demolition of thousands of homes in the area, Lindsay Heights has been revitalized.
Local businesses, organizations, foundations, and community members have united in a communal effort to rejuvenate the neighborhood to its former glory by "connecting Lindsay Heights to itself and the rest of Milwaukee" (Inouye). Some of the many organizations and businesses working to nourish the community include restaurants, like Jake's Deli and Tandem, outreach programs, like Innovation & Wellness Commons and Walnut Way Conservation Corp, and spaces for connecting to others, like Alice's Garden Urban Farm & Community Garden and the Fondy Farmers Market (Inouye). All of these locations are just a few examples of sites that have been open to visit and tour during Doors Open in the past, with new sites being added each year.
The access and opportunities provided by the sites and tours during Doors Open allow residents and visitors alike a peek inside other communities, to learn about their diverse cultures, values, and spaces. Doors Open serves as a space for rhetorical listening, which is"a stance of openness that a person may choose to assume in relation to any person, text, or culture; its purpose is to cultivate conscious identifications in ways that promote productive communication, especially but not solely cross-culturally" (Ratcliffe 25), where different people can learn, listen, and connect across community spaces.
Doors Open as an event promotes the development of an understanding of the context and identifications of those we interact with who are different from ourselves. Rhetorical listening is important to "promoting an understanding of self and other" (27), a comprehension lacking for many people within "normative" society and positions of power. Furthermore, the choice to engage in rhetorical listening, attempting to understand others experiences without relating them to our own, is the only way to begin to understand others perspectives, experiences, and ways of being. Ultimately, by engaging with community funds of knowledge through rhetorical listening we're able to integrate what we learn into our world-views and decision-making (29), be it consciously or un-consciously.
We’ve been considering the importance of community literacies, community languages, and community sites of learning. It has surfaced through some of our readings, most recently in Brokering Tareas: Mexican Immigrant Families Translanguaging Homework Literacies by Steven Alvarez.
Alvarez chronicles the experiences of immigrant parents trying to help their children through homework that they don’t fully understand and of those students who are learning to broker languages – in these cases Spanish and English – as they simultaneously learn from homework mentors and help their parents learn as well.
While most of the vast linguistic repertoires that students have is due to sites of community learning, not classroom learning, there are few places that offer an overlap or an in-between. However, the campus Writing Center may be a space in which these two sites of learning could mesh.
The Writing Center is available to all students and faculty of UWM. It is promoted as a learning site separate from the instructor and the classroom that allows students an alternate learning site.
As a tutor, I’ve learned how highly the Writing Center values their space as safe from the tensions, judgments, and pressures that may be felt in the classroom. Our job is to be readers and listeners for writers at all stages of the writing process. We never write on papers or share information about students with their instructors. It is a confidential space for students to come and talk through their writing and learning processes with other writers.
Since I also teach English 101, I’ve been comparing my relationships with students in the classroom as an instructor and in the Writing Center as a tutor. What I’ve learned from these comparative observations is the importance of valuing sites of learning outside of the classroom.
How can we incorporate local community literacies, languages, and linguistic practices into the Writing Center, since it’s promoted as a site of learning outside of the classroom?
I recently worked with a student who was frustrated about not being able to voice their own opinion in a paper. I could see their personal connection to the topic, and their struggle with adhering to the instructor’s restrictions.
I encouraged them to see if the instructor would be willing to allow a personal voice in this paper, given the community connection that the student had to the topic, as it added a richness to the rhetorical situation of the assignment. Their powerful vocalization was deftly and rhetorically woven into their writing (in non-academic English) for a topic that affected a community they identified with.
I wanted to change the assignment for them. I wanted to show the instructor the linguistic and rhetorical choices this writer had made in order to craft this well-written (albeit first-person) paper. While I couldn’t change the assignment, or change how the instructor would grade the student, I could offer myself as a listener.
I listened as with thick emotion in their voice they shared about this difficult topic tied to their sense of identity in their community. I was reminded of Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening, which we read earlier this semester. She encourages us to find a space of listening in which we don’t project ourselves onto the speaker, but instead disengage ourselves from identifications and simply (thought it’s not simple) listen.
Alvarez and Ratcliffe stress the importance of listening in order to respect the identities of others and the community knowledge they possess. We offer a space for students to be heard and [rhetorically] listened to; how can we incorporate more than shadows of classroom practices? How can we make space for community literacies, languages, and learning practices?
In the Writing Center, there are still pressures, constraints, and consequences coming from the classroom, and students feel them. And so, I don’t really leave this post with an answer, but rather a question:
How can UWM’s Writing Center learn from local community sites of learning in order to better its vision and realization of being a safe site of learning outside of the classroom?
The reading that produced this week’s discussion was Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening, a book that asks its readers to consider the rhetorical value of listening consciously to the beliefs and experiences of others. Ratcliffe calls this practice rhetorical listening, which “signifies a stance of openness that a person may choose to assume in relation to any person, text, or culture” (17). In order to explore how this happens, Ratcliffe delves into the history of rhetoric, theories of identity, and strategies for listening to others rhetorically.
As a class, some issues we focused on were those of identity vs. identification, non-identification, invisible whiteness, and Ratcliffe’s overall message for the field of Rhetoric and Composition.
Identity vs. Identification
Ratcliffe spends ample time discussing identity vs. identification. In class wondered if there was much of a difference between the two, and, if so, what was the significance? We came up with a few thoughts, but what resonated with me the most is the idea that all of our individual identifications are part of what makes up our identity. The significance of this lies in the fact that if we try to read someone based on one identification, we can easily lead ourselves to stereotyping. Because of this, Ratcliffe urges us to focus on non-identification as a tool for rhetorical listening.
Because one can (even inadvertently) use identification to objectify people, non-identification asks us to see the whole person and to “admit that gaps exist” (73) in what we know about those we are listening to.
With a need to clarify non-identification further, we wondered, does a place of non-identification mean that one does not claim their marginalized identity? We considered how one goes about non-identifying. Through discussion we determined that maybe non-identification means you’re not putting up barriers as the listener. It’s, as one classmate said, “disidentifying yourself, not for the sake of yourself, but for the sake of what they’re saying” because learning happens when we use “the capacity to hear” and feel the “obligation to listen.”
We also wondered whether one can really be in a space of non-identification, especially if identification is not just how you see yourself, but how society sees you. After all, we’re constantly being shaped by the concepts and tropes around us, and we also reproduce them.
Despite this, Ratcliffe seems to emphasize that all people need to search for understanding and connection with others. To develop understanding, those in spaces of power need to recognize unearned privilege, while also engaging in discourses other than their own. Rhetorical listening requires us to, as another classmate put it, “understand the context, but still make the choice to not let that context inform the relationship, the listening.” By being accountable for our social positions, we can practice non-identification and aim to listen without objectifying others.
Ratcliffe’s work makes it clear that not having to acknowledge race is a privilege. Often times in America, race may be invisible to white people, but it remains visible to non-whites. This invisibility of whiteness is something many don’t want to discuss, but Ratcliffe argues that choosing to not discuss race isn’t the answer. She makes it clear that avoiding racial discussions perpetuates the privilege of not having to talk or think about racial issues in our society. While some white people may feel uncomfortable discussing race, non-white people have to deal with the day-to-day realities of not being white, putting them in a position that forces the issue of race into their lives.
One classmate pointed out that “White people might not think of white in terms of a race category,” whereas other races are seen as categories, “in silos, so to speak.” One key idea that stood out to me is that Americans in the dominant culture often see their culture as “that’s what America is,” but it’s only one view of the country. However, this isn’t the case because, even if they think their life is the norm, Rachel reminded us, “everyone else has a qualifier in front of them.” This racial qualifier is an identification often pushed upon people, one that often gets falsely equated with identity, rather than a single identification.
Implications for Rhetoric and Composition Studies
With this knowledge, Ratcliffe hopes that, first and foremost, we practice listening rhetorically, and discussing the gender and race issues that makes us uncomfortable. One person reminded the class that, “So often, when these issues are addressed, it’s in a non-productive, narcissist way.” The focus is on the self, not on society and others. By utilizing rhetorical listening strategies, we can work to avoid this self-centered trap.
Some strategies that stood out to the class included:
Rhetorical listening asks us to listen in spaces and ways we are not used to. We must spend time thinking through how we can responsibly and respectfully hear the words around us in order to move past dysfunctional silences and into a place of productive listening.