By Jenni Moody, Chelsea Embree, and Danielle Koepke
For students and instructors alike, Spring 2020 was certainly a semester to remember. While there was definitely comfort to be found in the fact that we were able to forge new connections through this shared experience, learning and teaching in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges for every individual. This post details the experiences of three graduate students at UWM.
Jenni Moody served as the Coordinator of the College Writing and Research composition program at UWM during the 2019-2020 academic year. After completing her PhD this past semester, she is now an Assistant Professor at Mount Mary University. Chelsea Embree is a second-year masters student in Literature and Cultural Theory. The 2019-2020 academic year was her first year teaching. Danielle Koepke is a second-year PhD student in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement. During this past semester, Danielle had to balance her teaching and studies with the schooling of her children.
At the beginning of March, the WPA (Writing Program Administration) team made a short contingency plan in case COVID got worse. A few days later we had emergency meetings with the Department Chair. I sent a short email with a suggestion to take books and plants home before Spring Break, worried I was overreacting. Spring Break was extended to give teachers time to move a few weeks' worth of course content online while the university and the country assessed the situation. And you know the rest -- we didn't go back.
Our guiding principles from the beginning were honesty, flexibility, and support. Our challenge was to communicate information and resources to teachers without overwhelming them. Every teaching organization, website, and academic Twitter feed was full of op ed's on how to approach emergency online instruction. We sent emails frequently in those first days and weeks, sharing resources and ideas, clarifying broad statements from the university on grading policies, encouraging teachers to take care of themselves and each other, sharing the information we had and admitting what was still being decided by those higher up. The Interim Director of Composition sent out a survey to teachers early on asking how we could help, and those answers shaped our response. We held two optional virtual meetings for teachers to help them with technology. These provided a safe place where they could ask questions, click on buttons to see what happened, and brainstorm ways these online platforms might be helpful in their classes. We expanded our mentor groups for new GTAs into larger communities of care that included upper-level GTAs and academic staff. And then we quieted down. There were so many emails from the university about dorms closing, events cancelled, a constant spiral of change. We shifted to reaching out individually when it was needed, and keeping our composition program emails short and only for important updates. This strategy of early and honest communication that changed to less-frequent check-ins based on the emotional overload we witnessed teachers experiencing was the biggest takeaway from my time as coordinator during Covid. It made me think more critically, and with the aid of the same rhetorical awareness we teach our students, about the role of WPA communication in minimizing teacher stress.
I see teaching as a constant exercise in problem-solving, so much of the process of turning English 102 into an online course was just one big problem to solve. I learned how to make videos of my lessons using Loom (a service — which is free to educators! — that I would highly recommend), simplified my assessment practices, changed the parameters of the final project, and front-loaded a ton of content so that my students can complete the course at their own pace.
But I missed my students. A lot. When I recorded videos of my lessons, I imagined myself at the front of the classroom and visualized my students sitting in their usual spots. Pretty much every day, I worried about them. I had students who just didn’t like email under normal circumstances, and I especially worried about them because email became the only tool I could use to reach out to them. I was upset that this internet-centered experience made class so much more difficult for students who feel stronger about their discussion skills than their writing skills, and students who don’t have reliable access to high-speed internet in the first place. Once it’s safe for us to return to our in-person lives, I hope we’re all able to recognize that the internet — as amazing as it is — can’t replace everything. And I hope we collectively value our very human need to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices.
As a graduate student, I particularly missed the voices of my colleagues. Being able to spend a few hours a week discussing what we’ve read for class is really important for my learning process, and that can’t be replaced by reading online discussion boards. Even though I feel about as confident about my writing abilities as I do my speaking abilities, there’s still something that gets lost when we try to have a discussion online. An online seminar moves much more slowly, which means it’s less responsive and also takes longer to digest.
The one silver lining of this weird new lifestyle is that I’ve gotten more in touch with how my energy levels flow throughout the day, and can respond accordingly. I marked the beginning of each day with a short wake-up ritual, and I posted in my online discussions on the days I normally would have had class; otherwise, I rolled with it. I felt well rested every day, which hasn’t happened since probably childhood, and I didn’t feel like I was forcing myself to do things I didn’t have the energy for.
I remember the moment we got the official email – UWM would be having an extended spring break, followed by two weeks of online learning – I was in the middle of a seminar, and everyone was speculating over what the future would bring. I forwarded the email to my spouse, writing something like, “maybe we should get some extra toilet paper, just in case.” He grabbed some on his way home from work. We didn’t see any in stores for the next two months.
During Covid-19, all of my roles in life collapsed into one space – our home. My spouse worked 9-5 at our one desk, located in our main living space. My two kids shared devices and resources in order to accomplish their online school assignments each day. I balanced helping them with teaching my own English 102 students, tutoring online for the campus writing center, and doing my PhD coursework. A typical day felt like this: wake up, go over zoom schedule and assignments with older child, make coffee, help younger child get started on their school for the day. Warm up cold coffee. Lock myself in my room to tutor with writers who were stressed and anxious. Make lunch for everyone. Listen to what my spouse would have discussed with a colleague if he’d been in the office. Finish cold coffee. Respond to emails from my students, write discussion posts for one of my asynchronous seminars, prepare for my other seminar, which was synchronous. Hold virtual office hours for my students, read my own assigned texts while my kids entertained themselves by mostly watching YouTube and playing Roblox. Make dinner, which was most likely some form of pizza – rolls, bagel bites, slices.
There was not much creative capacity left in me to complete seminar projects, and sometimes, I let the kids skip an assignment because I didn’t have the energy to do things like go on a nature walk and find 20 different kinds of leaves. While I was in one space – home, which should have felt comforting – I was balancing changing school assignments for my kids, new levels of engagement as a PhD student, and supporting my students during this time.
As I reflect, I’m grateful that it is over. I’m also grateful for the grace and understanding from my own kids, my English 102 students, and my professors as I juggled many roles during this unprecedented time. From student reflections at the end of the semester, I was content that they wrote that I helped them get through this time and that I did not add stress. As we look ahead to all the unknowns of the fall, I hope I can continue to be flexible and supportive to others through my many roles as we work through new ways to be students and teachers at every level.
From the Editors
We’ve tried to offer a variety of perspectives on the experience of balancing teaching, learning, and other roles in the midst of this pandemic, but we recognize that these are merely three of the many experiences out there—and that this experience is not over. If you would like to share your own experience during these times, email us at email@example.com.
By Claire Edwards
PhD Student in Public Rhetorics & Community Engagement
UWM’s English department welcomed a batch of new Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) to the fold last month. As one of this year’s five GTA mentors for English 102, I played a role in the planning and organizing of the orientation festivities. This was a big deal for me as I am still grappling with the fact that my own first year of the PhD is already behind me. I couldn’t have imagined a year ago that I would be one of this year’s mentors, getting a whole new group ready to teach English 102.
This all got me thinking. Grad school is a weird experience as so many, including our new GTAs, will find themselves enacting the roles of both student and teacher. This is a dichotomy all GTAs must simply come to terms with, one way or another. In some ways - and I stress, only some - it is the best job: you are actively learning while capitalizing on expertise. It is a fun apprenticeship of sorts. And, you can appropriate your favorite pedagogical tricks from your own professors. In retrospect, I hope that our orientation process was able to convey that teaching is rewarding and a way of more deeply engaging with your own learning.
Our group this year represents a range of experiences both in terms of prior teaching experience and primary academic disciplines. The mentors and our director, Shevaun Watson, considered these variations as we determined mentor groups. Each group was then assigned to a mentor and will meet for weekly check-ins and will act as a trouble-shooting support group for all-things pedagogy. As mentors, we will also informally observe our mentees in their classrooms once this semester to provide suggestions and encouragement.
TAing was my own first foray into college teaching during my MA program ten years ago. I am ashamed to admit now that I never really sought out the pedagogical advice of the mentor assigned to my cohort of eight GTAs. His felt like more of an honorary position, and I was never quite sure what I could or could not ask him about. Because of that experience, it is now important to me to be available for my own mentees and to continue to encourage them to come to me for guidance and support with any aspect of teaching that proves challenging.
One of the main reasons I have the goal of guiding my mentees this year is that I myself ended up learning so much from my mentor last year. When I came to UWM’s English PhD program in 2018 with several years of college-level teaching under my belt, I assumed I would not need a mentor. But, I quickly realized that because of the hands-off nature of my MA GTA experience and the largely isolated work of adjunct teaching, I never had the opportunity to really interrogate my teaching style. My own mentor, Jenni Moody, taught me a lot about things I had not valued enough in the past: quiet space in the classroom and introversion as a strength, being two huge ones. She also ended up inadvertently teaching me about how to be a supportive and encouraging mentor.
There is a lot we want our new GTAs to go into the year thinking about, not the least of which is the concept of persona. I’ve always thought of teaching as requiring a sort of persona. While I still believe that, my perspective on what the persona can be has changed. I previously saw a persona as inherently different from a person’s “true” self and behaviors, and I was comfortable with this because it provided a sort of barrier between myself and that scary classroom in front of me. After encountering, and continuing to encounter, such varied teaching styles and approaches, I see that the persona I choose to effect can actually be me - introverted, a little weird, sometimes quiet, not at the center.
I hope all of our 2019-2020 ENG102 GTAs will find a persona and a classroom temperament that is just right for them and that allows them to make the most impact on their students, focus on what they value most, and feel comfortable in their dual roles of student and teacher during this weird grad school experience.
The other members of this year’s English 102 Mentor team include ENG102 coordinator Jenni Moody, Julie Kaiser, Joni Hayward Marcum, and Beth Vigoren. The director of composition is Shevaun Watson.
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.
Danielle: I’ve lived in the greater Milwaukee area since I was young. I graduated from Marquette University in 2013 with a degree in Writing Intensive English. For my Rhetoric and Composition MA project, I rhetorically analyzed how Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez utilizes Instagram in order to build community with her followers. I hope to do more research about the ways in which people make rhetorical choices in digital spaces. As a mom of two energetic daughters, I don’t have much “spare time,” but I love drinking coffee and finding pockets of time to read.
Chloe: I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life. As a first generation college student, I got my bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2017. I finished my masters in Rhetoric and Composition at UWM this past spring. My MA project focused on the history of “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and supporting teachers in furthering linguistic equality in their classrooms. In my free time, I enjoy cross stitching, listening to true crime podcasts, and supporting the Chicago Cubs.
As two students about to begin working toward their PhDs in UWM’s brand new Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program, we see this blog as an opportunity to spotlight important work, events, and people in our community. While Milwaukee is known for its beer and cheese, we hope to explore more deeply what is happening in and around this city, and how people are engaging with rhetoric.
We’ve both been with the blog since the beginning, in Rachel Bloom-Pojar’s Latinx Rhetorics course in Spring 2019. We’ve seen the blog in all of its uses: as a tool to recap class discussions and readings, as a highlight of community events, and as a way to connect with other academics over the woes and triumphs of qualitative research. As contributors to this blog, we’ve written pieces that connected to theories and practices in the field of Rhetoric and Composition, and we’ve workshopped with our peers to create content that both a local and extended audience would be interested in reading.
Slowly but surely, we’ve seen the connections between our program and the community being built with this blog, and we’re looking forward to keeping that momentum. Writing for the blog was sometimes challenging as part of our class assignments, as it could be difficult to write good content within the confines of the guidelines. We hope that going forward, this blog can be not only a source of information but also a conversation starter with both our local community as well as with our larger academic community.
Both UWM and the Milwaukee community as a whole has an exciting year ahead: here on campus, the English department will be officially launching our new PhD program: Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement. Through this program, students will be challenged on their notions of rhetoric and stretched to engage with the diverse communities that surround UWM. We hope to utilize this blog as a platform to highlight other writers on campus and off. People are doing rhetoric in Milwaukee in a myriad of ways and we want to celebrate and share it!
It's going to be a big year for rhetoric and writing in Milwaukee. Next March, the city will be host to the 2020 CCCC Annual Convention; in July, the 2020 Democratic National Convention. We look forward to being a place of learning, connection, and community for those in the city, those visiting, and those keeping tabs from afar.
We hope to continue adding intriguing rhetorical writing to this blog, and welcome submissions from fellow writers who are engaging with community events, organizations, individuals, or anything else that highlights writing and rhetoric in our city.
The Legacy of Virginia Burke
Virginia Burke taught writing and rhetoric courses at UWM for 31 years. She cared deeply about undergraduate students and worked tirelessly to improve access to and through college for all people. In her work, she validated the voices of Black Americans and argued against the enforcement of racist writing traditions. Virginia Burke’s career was also shaped largely by her commitment to support students and writers who speak and write in different dialects of English. She vigorously upheld the position statement from the professional Conference on College Composition and Communication on “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and she wrote extensively on linguistic variation and its cultural values.
A New Kind of Ceremony
The Virginia Burke Awards honor the memory of this remarkable teacher by recognizing excellence in First Year Writing by students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In past years, the awards ceremony included a formal reading by students of their papers.
This year, winners were chosen by the UWM English 102 Digital Commons Editorial Board, which includes Ann Hanlon, Head of UWM’s Digital Humanities Lab, and UWM English graduate students and teachers Storm Pilloff, Katherine Dixon, Ryan House, Julie Kaiser, and Jenni Moody.
Winners worked closely with English 102 Coordinator Storm Pilloff to transform their papers into formal presentation posters. These posters will form a gallery space for attendees to peruse and to interact with writers.
In organizing the Virginia Burke Awards this year, we also wanted to highlight the writing opportunities for undergraduates in our Creative Writing department and important campus resources like the Writing Center. In addition to the gallery space, publications like cream city review and Furrow will have tables where undergraduates can learn about internship opportunities, publishing courses, and professional careers in writing.
Rethinking Award Categories
Led by UWM’s Director of Composition, Shevaun Watson’s new approach to the English 102: College Writing and Research curriculum that focuses on information literacy, the Virginia Burke committee this year worked to incorporate these values into the awards through creating new categories. Instead of awarding a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for each of the three First Year Writing classes, we collaborated on forming categories that would showcase the variety of skills students need to succeed in their writing and research in the twenty-first century.
We’re excited to present these categories and winners:
2019 Virginia Burke Award Winners
Persistence: This award recognizes work that shows the writer’s persistence despite not finding answers, thereby achieving an expert researcher’s disposition. The willingness to resist easy answers and persevere through the frustrations and challenges of research helps writers develop new perspectives and insight. Winner: Gregory Kontny
Rhetorical dexterity: This award celebrates a student's remarkable ability to recognize a variety of means of persuasion. The ability to recognize different contexts for communication leads writers to use a variety of strategies to communicate effectively within these contexts. Winner: Emma Maude Knox
Creative thinking: This award recognizes work that stretches the writer’s creative capacity to meet specific writing needs and situations. This ability to push conventional boundaries and glean insight from divergent perspectives leads writers to effective problem solving. Winners: Brandan Naef, Terese Radke, Amanda Straszewski, Mai Chue Yang
Risk-taking: This award celebrates a student’s bravery and innovation in their composition and/or research practices. This willingness to take risks in practice and learn from potential failures helps writers and researchers imagine new ideas. Winner: Noah Steinhilber
Social Justice: This award recognizes work that focuses ethically on building a more just world for marginalized people. Using rhetoric for good is at the heart of education. Winner: Olivia Swanson
Community Engagement: This award celebrates a student’s investment and contribution to the community represented in their work. Recognizing the importance of the communities we are situated in diversifies academic spaces in realistic ways. Winner: Amanda John, Annika Noorlander
Multimodality: This award celebrates a student’s ability to compose effectively across a variety of modes. Delivering research in a variety of modes assures reaching a variety of audiences. Winners: Haley Steel, Luis Sanchez-Guevara
Research Practices: This award recognizes exemplary work that shows the researcher’s breadth and depth of source types used. Hearing from a variety of source types more ethically represents the range of voices “at the table.” Winners: Morgan Ellis, Erica Phillips
Please join us to celebrate work by these writers at the Virginia Burke Awards Ceremony this Friday, April 19th, from 2:30 – 4:00pm in the 4th Floor Conference Center of the Golda Meir Library on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.
-- Storm Pilloff, English 102 Coordinator
-- Jenni Moody, English 102 Mentor
Happy New Year, readers!
As Writing & Rhetoric MKE comes up on its one year anniversary, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we've done and where we hope to go. I'm Rachel Bloom-Pojar, the professor who has asked her students to write for this blog, but who hasn't written a post, herself, until now.
I've been more behind the scenes with this whole project--helping give feedback on content, designing assignments that lead to the posts, and thinking big about where we're going in the future. As we were wrapping up the fall semester, my students asked why I hadn't written for the blog yet and argued that I should. They made a great point that resonates with an important piece of writing pedagogy--don't ask your students to do something that you haven't done (or wouldn't do). So, here I am, taking on the task to write more for the blog in 2019, starting with a little explanation of what I hope we're doing here.
At the heart of this project is a simple idea: I wanted to create a space to highlight and amplify the excellent work that communities around Milwaukee are already doing with writing, rhetoric, and literacy.
In learning about this work and connecting it to what we're studying at UWM, I've been asking students to recognize the ways rhetoric and writing are used for social justice and community-building around Milwaukee. I've placed community expertise next to academic expertise and have asked my students (most of whom are also teachers) to think critically about the knowledge-building and writing practices we value in schools. We study the historical and contemporary oppression and biases that are linked to the designation of certain types of writing and speaking as "better" than others. And they ask great questions about how to challenge the racism, sexism, and classism that are deeply embedded in people's ideologies about language in and outside of school settings. Through finding concrete practices and local connections to what we study about language, race, culture, and power, they are able to better understand theory as something that is alive and open to change.
I think these writers have done an excellent job highlighting a variety of spaces, events, organizations, and ideas that take up writing and rhetoric in innovative ways around our city. While the website needs some work with categorization and navigation, I'm happy with how far we've come in one year with two classes of smart, emerging scholars who have taken on my challenge to write something a bit different for their graduate seminars.
As we look forward to fully launching our new PhD program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement, I hope that Writing & Rhetoric MKE can develop into something more than a space for public writing with graduate classes. I want it to become something dynamic that is run by our graduate students and I hope they will help shape the vision for what this could be. I hope it will be a space that invites contributions from writers outside of our program and UWM. I hope it can provide content that supports and engages with diverse voices and perspectives of everyday writing and rhetoric around Milwaukee. In the coming weeks and months, I plan to write more posts as this vision develops, and these will feature conversations with the individuals who will help build the future of Writing & Rhetoric MKE. For now, I'll leave you with a quote that has inspired my vision for how the blog and our program can actively participate in sustaining social movements, resisting violence, and doing the work of social justice:
"What literacy, composition, and rhetoric might do is further explore the language and literacy practices of...activists, organizations, and everyday resisters historically and contemporarily, and apply them as models to construct radically intersectional methodologies, theories, and pedagogies that emerge from or grow the coalitions that build and sustain these movements. Language is a crucial element in resisting this violence, and as scholars of literacy, composition, and rhetoric we are especially skilled and thus charged with developing new and affirming existing practices that do the work of social justice." -Eric Darnell Pritchard (251-252)
I attended a presentation entitled The vMLK Project: Crafting a Necessary (Digital) Space to Explore Rhetorical Leadership and Civic Transformation. The vMLK project is an immersive, ambient recreation, including sound and visual renderings, of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1960 speech, “Fill Up the Jails” of which there are no known recordings (UWM, 2018) using virtual reality (VR) technology. Drawing from Minor Re/Visions: Asian American Literacy as a Rhetoric of Citizenship by Morris Young, I use this post to make connections between Re/Visions and the vMLK project. “Re/vision (a term familiar to writing teachers) is a key process in the connections between literacy, race, and citizenship, where we work with existing material, negotiating ideas and arguments, but also work to re/vision what these ideas and arguments can be, what they can teach us and others” (p.8). With the opportunity to talk to Morris Young in class via Skype, the author discussed his work & his book published in 2004. From the class discussion, the question was raised, how we might apply the narratives to today’s climate and how is it evolving?
The existing materials in this case are the resources of photos, videos, documentaries and people who lived through the civil rights era to re/create the historical event. To move the project beyond the existing materials to virtual reality, different disciplines were drawn on to produce the reenactment of the MLK, Jr. speech by an actor (from theater world) to try and capture the “voice” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The physical environment of the church where the speech took place was demolished. Architects & designers relied on photos of the church to recreated in a virtual reality environment; and the sound engineers who worked to re/create the sound effects of the public address system based on both the speech reenactment and the physical aspects of the church. The project tries to provide an experience the audience member can feel as an embodiment of the event as if one was there.
Young states regarding narratives, “When we read stories, we attempt, whether consciously or unconsciously, to make a connection between stories and our lives"(p. 26). Although the MLK, Jr. speech, “Fill Up the Jails” happened over 50 years ago, we still are captivated by the stories of the people who were engaged in the civil rights struggle. To read their stories not only to see ourselves, but to understand history and what they had to go through to fight for citizenship, their identity, and their rights. It is the narratives about the struggle, knowledge, ideas, arguments and the language/writings during the civil rights area which help to shape the public discourse and the laws we have today.
The principal researcher of the project, Dr. Victoria J Gallagher of North Carolina University, specializes in rhetorical criticism of visual and material culture. Her explanation in the difference in approaches between King and the Reverend Douglas Moore (i.e., their ideas) to engaging social justice was interesting. Within the context of the civil rights movement, Dr. King believed in the traditional rhetorical approach – the art of persuasion, of to not only to inspire people to engage but to inform the masses of their rights during the political climate at this time. Dr. Moore believed in a direct-action oriented approach, a type of tactic in organizing a group (i.e., a strike or protest). Thus, the June 23, 1957, non-violent protest at the Royal Ice Cream Company.
Dr. Gallagher explained MLK, Jr. was of course a very influential leader but also, ordinary people showed courage and engaged in social justice. By examining rhetoric and civic transformation of past events through digital humanities, their contribution (narratives) helps to educate and empower all with knowledge or literacy significant to American citizenship.
You can read more about vMLK Project at https://vmlk.chass.ncsu.edu/.
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 UWM Archives is one of the only institutions in Wisconsin with a social justice collection strength. Combined with its focus on Milwaukee and UWM history, the repository is filled with local stories of community organizers and activists. UWM’s Latino Activism collection contains photos, correspondence, press releases, newspaper clippings, and official university documents that detail the struggle for Latino rights on campus. In the early 1970s, Milwaukee’s Latino population exploded, but the number of Latino students on campus was pitifully low in comparison. University staff and community members attributed these low enrollment rates to the lack of support for Latino students on campus, so Latino activists took their case to Chancellor Klotsche. After sit-ins, protests, camp outs, and several arrests, the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, later called the Roberto Hernandez Center, began to connect with and assist UWM’s Latino population. I took a look at some of the records in the Latino Activism collection to see what they had to say about the power of Latinx rhetorics and community.
Community was the backbone of the Latino activism movement at UWM in the 1970s. This flyer, titled “Latin community takes over UWM Chancellor’s office”/ “Comunidad Latina retoma la oficina del rector de UWM,” is an explicit call to community for assistance in direct action. Calling themselves “the latin community,” there is no distinction between students and non-students, only the call to “support” in occupying the Chancellor’s office. This blending of community and use of family support has been a class trend for Milwaukee-based Latino activism. They rhetorically link their purpose in protesting to Klotsche’s absence at a community meeting, asserting their occupation as a direct response to disrespect and disinterest. This connection between administrative absence and occupation is an interesting rhetorical strategy that simultaneously legitimizes their tactics and calls attention to institutional buffoonery. The flyer is also written in English and Spanish, indicating the varied languages within Latino community in addition to their attempt to garner support from non-Spanish speaking allies.
After the Latino occupation of Chancellor Klotsche’s office, UWM acquiesced to the creation of a Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. This document is the official proposal and “commitment” of the institute, outlining ten guiding principles. This record is drastically different from the flyer in several ways. First, this record does not make a direct call to any community. It mentions the “Spanish speaking community,” but later refers to the issues of “non-English speaking” students as if they are interchangeable. Second, the rhetorical strategies suggest that the creator of the record, the Council for the Education of Latin Americans (CELA), was interested in “solv[ing] the problems of the Spanish speaking community,” rather than rectifying the institutional inequality related to these problems. The document explicitly details the disappointingly low number of Latino students that UWM was willing to support through the institute, indicating tokenization rather than inclusivity. Lastly, this document is only written in English, suggesting that its intended audience was not the Spanish speaking people it was supposedly addressing, but the English speaking CELA and UWM administration.
UWM’s Latino Activism archive details the community activism and rhetorical power used to create the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. Milwaukee’s Latino activists and the community that supported them are directly responsible for the resources and connections available to contemporary Latino students. While some of these historical documents indicate a deliberate disregard for a multilingual community, the UWM archive has done some work to alleviate this. The metadata for the records, which is necessary for searching, browsing, and researching, is available in both English and Spanish. It’s important that these records are available in multiple languages since they directly pertain to the Spanish speaking community. The Archive also follows Library of Congress subject terms which are typically limiting and outdated. The collection subject terms include "Hispanic Americans," which we've discussed several times in class as homogenizing and eurocentric. Aside from these criticisms, the UWM Archive is a great place to dive into the rich history of Latino activism on campus.