By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
I am what academics might call a community-engaged researcher. Much of my research and writing involves telling people in positions of power (teachers, healthcare practitioners, health communicators) about how much they can learn from communities and their communication practices. I am interested in learning about ways that institutions can better invest their time and money toward building relationships and supporting the expertise that is already present in the community. It’s quite simple, really, but I think it’s important work. I don’t see myself as an expert, but rather, I try to leverage my privileges and resources to support and sustain the communities that I work with. Thanks to a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship, I’m spending the 2020-2021 academic year working as a fellow at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) with their Promotores de Salud Program. My role with this work is a bit like an intern and a resident researcher. Part of my time is spent in meetings and planning activities for ongoing educational programming with the promotores and the other part is spent with research activities (like interviews, focus groups, analyzing data, and writing) that are focused on highlighting the work of the promotores. So, while my colleagues are figuring out teaching online in a pandemic, I’m figuring out what it means to do community-engaged research remotely. A topic that is constantly on my mind is access.
Access and barriers to access have long been topics of interest for healthcare practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. They impact how healthy a community is and how well (or not) a healthcare system meets that community’s needs. Networks of access include many different aspects such as transportation, food security, housing, social services, family life, and more. Not only do people face barriers to accessing quality healthcare, but institutions often also face barriers to the ways they can access and connect with communities. Many of these barriers are inherent in the ways the healthcare system is set up to privilege spaces, professionals, and language practices that are separate from local communities—especially immigrant communities. One way that institutions try to “reach” Spanish-speaking immigrant communities is through promotores de salud (health promoters). Promotores de salud are often seen as lay people who can educate their communities about health information and transmit messages from institutions that are trying to reach the people where they live. Too often, the direction of information is top-down in the ways it moves from the healthcare institution to the community.
The hope is that improving access to information can lead to a decrease in health disparities and an increase in the utilization of healthcare services by these communities. But what about the information and education that can come from the community to inform and make positive changes to institutions? Part of my work this year is to lift up the stories, experiences, and expertise of the promotores de salud to help identify ways that the healthcare system might transform into something that is more just, equitable, and accessible.
So, what do these promotores de salud do? The specific role takes on different shapes depending on where they work and what institution they’re affiliated with. The promotores that I’m working with are experts in creating confianza (trust/confidence) and connecting people to resources. By building confianza with their communities, people open up to them about all sorts of things going on in their lives. They use a curriculum (CCmás) about sexual and reproductive health that was developed with input from the community. This curriculum is taught through conversations at Home Health Parties, or Fiestas Caseras, which were modeled after the Avon business model of gathering for a party in people’s homes and working as consultants. These fiestas caseras provide the space for the promotores to facilitate conversations about a range of topics on sexual health, reproductive justice, advocacy, and empowering the community. Through the support of various grants, the promotores also support non-partisan activities for civic participation by encouraging and assisting people with filling out the census and registering to vote. With the current pandemic, some of the promotores have turned to virtual gatherings to host Fiestas Caseras, and all of them continue to help connect people to resources available for legal issues, bill payments, health services, and more.
The promotores may work in similar roles with other organizations and many of them have other jobs in addition to their work with PPWI. They live within Latinx communities across the state of Wisconsin and they understand the daily challenges and injustices that immigrants from Latin America face while helping uphold essential businesses and our economy. With an understanding of the intersecting oppressions that their communities face, the promotores see their work as part of reproductive justice. By advocating for “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” (SisterSong), they understand that the challenges immigrant communities face in reproductive healthcare is more than simply whether or not they have access to clinics and information about reproductive health. It is impacted by whether they can pay their bills, whether they have safe environments in their homes, whether they have been denied the option to choose whether or not to have more children, whether their children face danger in the U.S. or other countries, and so much more. This complex understanding of the realities that immigrant communities face in the U.S. could inform more holistic, equitable, and compassionate approaches to healthcare.
Health promoters are experts that researchers, administrators, and practitioners should learn from and compensate for their expertise. If their expertise and experience was valued as much as the credentials of our health providers, then we might see our community education models become more dynamic in the ways that institutions could be informed by communities and relationships between them could become more mutually beneficial.
Rachel Bloom-Pojar is an Associate Professor with the program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UW-Milwaukee and a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society fellow with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar, Danielle Koepke, Chloe Smith, and Madison Williams
Last month, we made a commitment to amplify, support, and engage with antiracist writing, rhetoric, and organizations across Milwaukee. We made a promise to highlight the ways that everyday writing and rhetoric are being used to advance social justice, challenge oppression, and empower communities. In order to hold ourselves accountable to these commitments, we pledged to publish an Antiracist Action update reflecting on our actions each month, and this is the first of those updates.
Our goals for our Antiracist Action updates, beyond holding ourselves accountable, are to give our readers options for taking tangible actions to support the antiracist missions of local and national organizations as well as celebrate and uplift the ways in which various organizations and activists improve, empower, and fight for our local communities.
Communities across Southeastern Wisconsin continue to be in the national spotlight around issues of racial injustice and police brutality. To the right are just a few of the major events over the past month that have highlighted the need for increased anti-racist action and community organizing.
What We’ve Been Doing
Here are some actions we’ve taken in response to recent events. We encourage you to do the same.
Check your voter registration status and make a voting plan now. Decide whether or not you will be voting absentee or in person, then make the necessary arrangements—request your absentee ballot, figure out where you will go to vote in person, what time you will go, how you will get there, etc.
Call the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission and Governor Tony Evers to demand the resignation of Kenosha Police officials. Follow the link for contact information and a sample call script from the Wisconsin ACLU.
Sign Color of Change’s petition calling for Mayor John Antaramian and Kenosha City Council to fire Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskins.
Sign Color of Change’s petition demanding that the officer who shot Jacob “Jake” Blake is held accountable.
Sign Color of Change’s petition demanding that the NBA league office and team owners lift the strike ban in players’ union contract.
Discuss antiracism, protests for racial justice, and how to make sense of current events with your children. Here is a list of resources for talking to children about Race, Racism, and Racialized Violence. One of us recently bought the book Antiracist Baby and has added it to storytime with her child.
Talk to family members about current events, racism, and privilege. We’ve been working through some difficult conversations with family members who don’t understand the gravity of racial injustice and the necessity of swift antiracist action. Here’s a resource where Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, offers advice on conducting these conversations.
We Want to Hear From You!
Is there an antiracist cause, organization, or event that we should be featuring? We invite you to write a post on it. Here are our guidelines for submissions:
Send submissions and questions to writingandrhetoricmke at gmail dot com. For posts on upcoming events, please submit drafts at least 3-4 weeks prior to the event. We look forward to reading your posts!
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar, Danielle Koepke, Chloe Smith, and Madison Williams
August 2020 has just begun and educators around the country are wrapping up an unprecedented summer as they prepare for an uncertain academic year ahead. Here at Writing & Rhetoric MKE, we have been spending the summer engaging in weekly conversations about renewed attention across the country to structural racism, #BlackLivesMatter, and community-police relations. Starting in June, we began to shift our weekly team meetings to figure out how we wanted this website and blog to be more responsive to our current moment, to the historical injustices Black communities have faced, and to the ways we might more critically engage with challenging white supremacy in our daily lives. We began with some difficult conversations about the pervasiveness of whiteness on our editorial board, at our institution, and within our field of study. These topics have been part of our conversations for the past few years but we recognized that too often we were using language that was more palatable for white audiences by emphasizing the celebration and amplification of community writing and rhetoric across Milwaukee but not explicitly naming the types of writing and rhetoric we really wanted to engage with and support.
We continued our conversations week to week as institutions, businesses, and public figures released statement after statement (finally) affirming that Black Lives Matter. We discussed critiques of these statements as not going far enough and reflected on how we might take action in ways that did more than perform allyship. We didn’t want to just release another statement that did little more than check a box for public relations in our current moment. And we had to acknowledge what our desires were for engaging with the fight for justice and the limitations of what our small team and locally-focused blog could do in that fight.
We’re writing today to share a new set of pages on the site dedicated to our commitments to racial justice. These are meant to be live, evolving pages that will be updated in the coming months and years to continuously improve our reflection of antiracist work in Milwaukee. First, we invite you to check out our commitment to antiracist action, which includes details about what we hope to do over the next year and how we will try to remain accountable by reflecting on actions each month. By August 2021, we will review how this all went and what needs to be done for the following year to improve our engagement with and support of antiracist organizing, writing, and rhetoric with our local communities. We have created a page that features a list of relevant texts for learning more about racism in the U.S. and the fight for racial justice. This page also reflects that while reading is an important first step for many people, it is not enough--it must be accompanied with action. We have also included a page to emphasize how you can take action with local and national organizations to support activism, social justice, and community change.
Beyond creating these pages, we commit to the following actions:
In order to hold ourselves accountable to these commitments, we will publish Antiracist Action Updates every month for the next year while also inviting our readers to engage in conversations across social media about how we all are taking action for social justice in our communities. We invite you, our readers, to hold us accountable and actively participate in the evolution of this blog’s commitment to antiracist action. You can connect with us through email at email@example.com or on Twitter @writingmke.
by Claire Edwards
Gustavo Arellano describes Steven Alvarez’s “taco literacy” as an “examin[ation of] Latino immigrant communities through the seemingly simple acts of eating and talking about Mexican food.” Alvarez started this project of sorts while working in Kentucky and continues it now in New York, showcasing the variety and expansiveness of Latinx and Latinx-inspired cuisine in two very different parts of the country.
Having been born and raised in Southern California, the Midwest initially struck me as largely void of Mexican food options. But, I quickly learned that that was just ignorance on my part, an ignorance that I was relieved of the first time I ate at Conejito’s Place in Walker’s Point and had the best chicken mole of my life. As noted on their website, Conejito’s was opened in 1972 by Jose “Conejito” Garza and has been in operation ever since.
So, indeed, I first came to my limited understanding of Milwaukee’s Latinx community through food, a positioning that Alvarez seems to advocate. Conejito’s Place is located at 539 W Virginia St, placing it in the southside neighborhood of Walker’s Point which Visit Milwaukee describes as an “industrial area [that] is now a cultural and foodie hotspot.” Walker’s Point has an interesting Latinx history as Mexicans immigrated to the area in the early 1900s, many working at the Pfister & Vogel tannery. One notable example is Federico Herrera who moved to Walker’s Point in 1927 and was a part of establishing the city’s first Spanish-language newspapers.
Today, Walker’s Point is home to a high percentage of Hispanic individuals and families, though demographics on the exact percentage are inconsistent. Unfortunately, Walker’s Point is currently experiencing what many affordable, diverse, and previously industry-oriented urban neighborhoods have experienced over the last several years. With businesses like Colectivo Coffee and microbreweries opening in the neighborhood due to profits and affordability, the focus on Walker’s Point cultural history can be easily missed.
Milwaukee’s Latinx history and presence is also easily overlooked due to its absence from much of the popular conception of the city as a French and German American city. Not to mention the harmful ways that this European discovery story marginalizes American Indians, it also neglects to adequately focus on the current -- and long-standing -- diversity of the city. This skewed perception is due in large part to the primacy of the written record in historical accounts of the city’s origins. As for why these accounts often fail to emphasize significant immigrations in the 20th century, particularly those from Spanish-language countries, the answer to that is less clear.
To learn more about Milwaukee’s Hispanic-focused, -supported, and -hosted events, check out the following resource compiled by Visit Milwaukee: https://www.visitmilwaukee.org/about-mke/diversity-and-inclusion/hispanic/
Other resources & consulted works:
Claire Edwards is a third-year PhD student in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UWM. She spent several years in teaching, tutoring, and administrative positions at community colleges and online universities in Southern California before moving to Milwaukee to pursue her doctorate. She spends her free time watching movies with her husband and cat.
By Maria Novotny
During the spring 2020 semester, I taught a Cultural Rhetorics graduate seminar at UWM and I must admit that this course feels as if it took place a lifetime ago. So much in the world has since happened: the continued spread of COVID-19, the announcement made by many universities that students should expect to return to campus in the fall, as well as the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of protests supporting Black Lives Matter. With all that has since happened, I want to reflect on what my Cultural Rhetorics course may offer us now – in these increasingly precarious times.
In their Introduction to the Special Issue: Entering the Cultural Rhetorics Conversation, Phil Bratta and Malea Powell offer four defining pillars of cultural rhetorics: (1) the idea of story as theory, (2) engagement with decoloniality and decolonial practices, (3) constellative practices as a way to build community and understanding, and (4) the practice of relationality or honoring our relatives in practice. As a class, we discussed these pillars frequently and many students often questioned how these pillars help guide cultural rhetorics as a methodological practice. Here, I’d like to suggest how these pillars can support stakeholders in higher education so they may engage in accountable community allyship to dismantle the bricolage of injustices we face.
Story as Theory
Orients us to critically engage with whose stories are told, who is trusted to hear some stories, and why who listens matters.
Stories wield power and can influence how quickly we may adopt change. Yet, we know from the murders of Black and brown people in this country, that not all stories are told nor are they heard equally, even when they are shared. Take black maternal health for example. The Black Mammas Matter Alliance report that mistrust and racist bias in medical and hospital settings are leading factors contributing to the spiking black infant and black maternal mortality rate. Black women, their lived experiences, and the stories that they may or may not share (depending upon how safe they feel) are too often disregarded.
Cultural rhetorics reminds us that these stories matter. While Black women’s stories often do not align with dominant narratives of maternal health, cultural rhetorics offers theoretical tools to question why Black women’s stories are often muted or distrusted. The pillars of cultural rhetorics help retrain and reorient how we listen to stories, whose stories we are listening to, and how we may mistrust what we are trained to assume are “dominant” or “normative” narratives.
Want to learn more? I suggest reading: Lee Maracle’s book Oratory: Coming to Theory.
Engagement with Decoloniality
Helps us identify colonial systems of power that have become so ingrained into the “everyday” whereby inequity is easily disguised.
Recent calls to ‘defund the police’ have been met with polarizing viewpoints. While a recent poll finds that 61% of Wisconsinites support Black Lives Matter, a Marquette University Law poll finds that 70% oppose defunding the police. Such polls indicate clear misunderstandings about the rationale to defund the police as a supportive action of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cultural rhetorics serves as a theoretical lens to better understand how systematic structures, like the police, operate as a colonial construct reinforcing racism. For instance, by adopting a Cultural Rhetorics lens to arguments supportive of defunding the police, more clarity emerges as to why defunding is essential in order to “delink” (a term coined by Walter Mignolo) from what Toni Morrison has called ‘the white gaze’. This gaze is a practice adopted through many police practices whereby black and brown bodies must navigate how their bodies are read and thus become constructed as non-white targets which allows for public suspicion, police surveillance and/or unjustified acts of violence. Take the recent video of Amy Cooper as an example whereby a white woman uses her whiteness to reinforce her superiority over a Black man by calling the police with no warranted reason. Engaging with the pillars of cultural rhetorics – particularly decolonial theory – helps us dismantle misconstrued threats against our safety, such as the installation of fear in white bodies if we remove all policing.
Want to learn more? I suggest reading: Alex Vitale’s book The End of Policing.
Constellate with Communities
Reminds us that community work happens through intersectional coalitions, bringing together a variety of perspectives.
The ripple effect of events occurring over these last four months – from March to June – have without doubt emerged at a time that has caused many to reflect on threats in their own lives. For instance, NPR ran a recent story noting because of asymptotic spread and political mishandling of the pandemic, many white people suddenly could relate to feeling as if their own bodies were at risk. This yielded increased support and allyship for Black Lives Matter. Yet, to truly constellate with communities we must think about all bodies in relationship with our own positionality.
Cultural rhetorics demands that our work be reflective as we work in constellation with others, not self-serving to reduce privileged feelings of guilt or shame. It must be in the trenches of injustice and as such it may be uncomfortable for more privileged bodies. As Natasha Jones and Miriam Williams in “A Just Use of Imagination: A Call to Action” write, “In this historic moment, when yet again the collective Black community is called forth to proclaim that our lives matter, that Black Lives Matter, we extend this idea of critical imagination to calls for justice and equality.” They conclude with this powerful statement: “Dismantling white supremacy requires your work. How might you make a difference? Just use your imagination.” Constellating with communities invites a critical reimagination of other stakeholders – beyond the Black community – that must engage in work supportive of equity and change.
Want to read more? I suggest reading Academic #BlackLivesMatter: Black Faculty and Graduate Students Tell Their Stories.
Acknowledge All of Our Relations
Demands our embodied experiences are reflected upon and accounted for in the community work we engage.
What does true allyship look like in practice? How do we make transparent the reasons for our actions, given the positionalities we embody? Ellen Cushman in “The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change” articulates the difference between what she calls ‘missionary activism’ and ‘scholarly activism’. For Cushman, the latter option may engage in activism by either empowering communities through the achievement of goals by providing necessary resources, facilitating action through language or literacy, or situating our own ethos as a tactic to move forward a community’s need. We may do well to reflect on how our commitment to activism appears to those communities we seek to work alongside, as an accountability tool forcing us to be transparent about the objectives of our allyship.
Cultural rhetorics draws on Indigenous theory to tend to the ever-evolving process of not just developing but learning from our relationships. Such a process asks us to engage in reciprocal practices with our communities and favors methods that allow our actions to be taken as what Andrea Riley Mukavatez calls “speak[ing] with and alongside” (122) our community partners. Relationality asks us to make our own body transparent alongside the other bodies that we work in coalition building with – often this is messy and takes time. We would do well to remind ourselves of this as the protests dwindle and calls for action become less vocal. We must remain accountable to the communities we work alongside.
Want to read more? I suggest reading “Decolonial Directions: Rivers, Relationships, and Realities of Engagement on Indigenous Lands” by Rachel Jackson and Phil Bratta.
I want to close by acknowledging that these reflections are a work in-progress and still very much in formation. I come to cultural rhetorics as a white cis woman and all the privileges such identities afford me. As such, I still have much to learn and many to listen to as I try to teach cultural rhetoric practices to support community engaged activism here in Milwaukee.
Maria Novotny is an Assistant Professor with the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program at UW-Milwaukee. Her research uses cultural rhetorics as a lens to understand and support the community advocacy practices of those diagnosed with infertility.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Gitte Frandsen
When COVID-19 disrupted our F2F classes this semester and we moved online, a Cultural Rhetorics framework helped me make sense of my online teaching and focus my efforts to maintain a classroom community. Though the second half of the semester created a stressful and difficult learning environment for the students, it also gave me an opportunity to examine what I value in teaching and to reflect on how I can create a better learning environment for my students.
A Cultural Rhetorics framework helped me to understand my classroom dynamics, and especially the dynamics between the students and myself once we moved online. Cultural Rhetorics highlights the notion that all cultures are constituted by rhetorical practices that help members make sense of their world and build community. Cultural Rhetorics studies how members make meaning in and through relationships. It focuses on how material bodies interact with each other, and how our embodied experiences shape and are shaped by that relationality. Cultural Rhetorics studies cultures such as Native American cultures, workplace cultures, and crafting cultures; I would argue that a classroom is also a specific culture, albeit a temporary and perhaps more loosely knit one.
Though we had only just started developing relationships in the classroom when COVID-19 happened, I was struck by the relationships I developed with many students in spite of the distance. I had wanted to maintain a collaborative learning model online to continue learning with and from each other, but realizing how many access issues COVID-19 caused for the students, I dropped the collaborative element to simplify the expectations. I remained in touch with everyone regularly though. Students expressed feeling isolated, lonely, and longing for the relationships in the classroom, but simultaneously they cultivated their relationships with me. They reached out about their circumstances and shared personal stories. They expressed extreme gratefulness for the fairly simple acts of kindness I provided by being understanding and flexible. I couldn’t help but reflect that, ironically, though the virus forced us apart, it also made visible how interconnected we are. Models of the contagion particularly demonstrated how many people’s lives we touch, so the models became a strange metaphor for the relationality between us.
These changing and meaningful relationships with my students happened while I was struggling with isolation from many other personal relationships, and while I had to adjust to new relationships with my family, as we were all home, working and being home-schooled. All of us were trying to negotiate our new life which was difficult. I, too, was sharing my struggles with my students. And somehow there was a silver lining in these positive relationships that found a new way to grow.
Cultural Rhetorics also centers storytelling, and the potential for stories to create meaning and build community. Because my students clearly yearned to tell stories about their experiences, I gave them an option to write a research project that centered their stories on how COVID-19 had affected their lives, workplaces, or communities. I had students who were working as RNAs at hospitals and nursing homes, or who worked in retail or at restaurants. I had students who suddenly became the breadwinners of their families; students who got ill with COVID-19, or who witnessed people die from COVID-19. I had students who were struggling with their school work because retaining learning was difficult in an online learning environment, and students whose teachers suddenly gave them way more homework. There were so many stories. It was clear they wanted to tell those stories in order to make sense of all the confusion and pain COVID-19 had caused. Although the goals for the research project shifted to center personal stories over “rigorous” research, the stories that emerged had strong voices and rhetorical awareness. The students thought carefully about the genres they picked, the modalities they used to tell their stories, the audiences they wanted to engage.
COVID-19 certainly was and will continue to be tough. It has amplified many of the access and accessibility issues students face under normal circumstances: technology, food and housing security, supporting families, childcare, and physical and mental health problems. Still, I value the lessons I learned from and with my students this semester which I will take with me into future classrooms. I think the relationality between students and the teacher, as well as among the students themselves, can be strengthened by sharing each other’s stories. We can listen to, validate, and learn from others’ and our own stories and use those stories to develop research questions, explore our positionality, and think rhetorically about how those stories can make meaning and maybe make a difference.
Gitte Frandsen is a 2nd year PhD student at UWM in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement. Her teaching and research focus on linguistically, culturally, and socially sustaining pedagogies.
By Chloe Smith
On April 7, Milwaukee voters passed the Vote Yes for MPS referendum, which will raise $87 million in funding for Milwaukee Public Schools over the next 4 years. Throughout this semester, I had the privilege of working as an intern on this campaign.
My responsibilities in this campaign were mostly writing-based—emails to the campaign’s network of supporters, text outreach, copy editing—but I also did quite a bit beyond that, like canvassing and assisting with filming testimonials at schools. (Of course, I was only a tiny facet in the immense amount of work that went into this campaign).
Spending a semester working on this campaign has helped me learn so much about the political and educational climate in Milwaukee and Wisconsin at large. I’m not from this city, and while I’ve always been well aware of certain educational struggles in my home state of Illinois, I did not know much about the issues affecting Wisconsin.
MPS is the largest school district in the state of Wisconsin, serving over 77,000 students. However, despite its size, the district received significantly less funding per student than neighboring school districts like Shorewood or Whitefish Bay. This lack of sufficient funding led to students and teachers alike not receiving the resources they deserve.
This referendum was not only necessary for supporting our students and teachers, but also long overdue. Before the 2020 vote, MPS was one of the only school districts in the state that had not passed a referendum to increase funding in recent years—the community hadn’t even had the opportunity to pass an increase in funding since 1993.
I’ve always considered myself pretty aware of issues like this, and before this internship, would have called myself rather politically active. However, working on this campaign has completely changed my disposition toward political issues. It’s really easy to think you’re doing enough by voting a certain way, by sharing certain posts on social media, and having conversations with people we know. But we so often forget—myself included—that these problems go so far beyond numbers on a page.
I’ve learned that it’s vital to remind ourselves exactly what we’re fighting for. The best way to do that is volunteering, in any capacity you can, whether it’s signing a pledge or petition, canvassing door-to-door in the community, or making phone calls to voters.
I spent so much time in this position talking with teachers, parents, students, and community members about what this vote means to them. I feel invigorated to continue to volunteer for other issues that matter to me.
While the referendum passed with overwhelming success, the actual process of the election didn’t feel so positive. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court (all of whom had, interestingly, voted absentee) struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ order to delay the April 7 election, many voters were forced to choose between their health and their civic duty. The fact that so many voters still showed up, masks and all, is another reason I’m proud of this city, but I’m disappointed that it was a decision they had to face in the first place.
It says a lot about the educational needs of our community that so many were willing to put their health on the line to vote in this election.
I plan on participating in more campaigns, to whatever extent I can. I’m sure a few of them won’t be successful. But we have to try. There’s a lot of practical things I learned in this internship, but what I find most important is the necessity of going out of your comfort zone. The best way to learn about community issues and activism is to get out there and advocate for what you believe in in hands-on ways, meeting and working with the people you’re fighting for and with.
During my time in this internship, I was continually blown away by the passion, collaboration, and warmth of everyone I worked with and even met in passing. I’m so proud of the city for passing this referendum, but even if it hadn’t, I’d come away from this experience proud to now call Milwaukee home.
I realize how lucky I am that my first experience with something like this resulted in a winning campaign. Perhaps I’d be feeling differently if the referendum hadn’t passed. But then I think about the people I met: my supervisor, who was kind and enthusiastic, and taught me so much about community organizing. The parents and teachers I met canvassing, who thanked me profusely for taking what was just a bit of my time to try and help students. And the students themselves, answering doors with their parents or posing for social media photos for the campaign, who served as reminders of why we were working in the first place. And then I realize, I’d do it all over again, even if the referendum hadn’t passed.
Working on a campaign is hard enough. Working on—and concluding—a campaign in the midst of a pandemic brings a whole other set of hurdles and uncertainties. But even through a ridiculous, rainy election day, Milwaukee managed a huge victory. This city and its voters did right by its students, who deserve a fulfilling, equitable education, regardless of their zip code.
Chloe Smith is a PhD student in the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is also a co-editor of Writing & Rhetoric MKE.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
Greetings from a socially-distant Milwaukee. Our city and lives have taken quite a different turn since our last post. By now we had hoped to welcome so many teachers, students, writers, and researchers to our wonderful city of Milwaukee for the 2020 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). We all have experienced a huge shift in our daily lives since the start of March, and we hope you are staying home, healthy, and safe amid these uncertain times. While everyone on our local arrangements’ team agreed that cancelling the conference was for the best, it still was quite a disappointment that we couldn’t see this experience come to fruition—one that we started preparing for last summer. For a few weeks now, I have wanted to write a post about all of the amazing local work that went into preparing for Cs because my students, colleagues, and our community partners did so much to make this conference one that would have been truly special. Today, I write to share a small snapshot of that local work along with a note for moving forward here at Writing & Rhetoric MKE.
A Note of Thanks and an Invitation
There are many people to thank for all of the work that went on behind the scenes locally for this great conference-that-never-was. I want to take a moment to thank some of those people and to invite you to spend time with the webpages and resources that were put together with a deep attention to access, inclusion, and local communities. I want to first thank my colleague and friend, Maria Novotny, for everything she did as the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) chair to plan and coordinate an excellent conference that would have highlighted the diverse community organizations and initiatives happening around our city. I also want to thank my fellow LAC sub-committee chairs, Lilly Campbell, Margaret Fink, and Heidi Rosenberg, and all of their volunteers for putting in the time and effort to prepare for this conference. We are especially grateful to Margaret, the Accessibility Committee, and the members of the CCCC Committee on Disability Issues in College Composition for their fantastic accessibility guide. Please read through that if you haven’t already done so. It is full of great advice and details that, while specific to what 4C20 would have been in Milwaukee, anyone attending or planning for a conference should be familiar with to make their gatherings more accessible. It can also serve as a set of resources for navigating accessibility around downtown Milwaukee. I hope you have had the chance to browse all of the detailed content on our VisitingMKE pages that were put together thanks to the tireless time and efforts of Lilly’s Information, Hospitality, and Special Events/Services committee. Finally, I want to thank the CCCC American Indian Caucus, Andrea Riley Mukavetz, Margaret Noodin, and Chloe Smith for putting together our Land/Water Acknowledgement and best practices for utilizing that.
I also want to express my deepest gratitude to the editorial team for this blog: Danielle Koepke, Chloe Smith, and Madison Williams. The time and labor they poured into planning, designing, writing, and editing the 4C20 pages went above and beyond what was asked of them as LAC volunteers. Meeting on a weekly basis since summer 2019, coordinating with other LAC sub-committees to assemble content, and responding to requests from various stakeholders each week on top of the demands of their own graduate coursework and family lives leaves me incredibly proud and grateful for their dedication to this project.
Where do we go from here?
Right before our hiatus on blog posts, we had started rolling out a series of posts written by LAC members for CCCC visitors: a Newcomer’s Guide to CCCC, sober options for socializing around the city, vegan-friendly dining options, new features and events for 4C20, the Milwaukee Public Library and local bookstores, and brewery tours. The editorial team kicked off this series by sharing highlights from the resources and webpages they worked on with other local arrangements’ volunteers over the past year to help visitors navigate the city and conference. We had a few more blog posts on local dining, community spaces, and LGBTQ+ friendly establishments that we hope to post once we are on the other side of Wisconsin’s safer-at-home order and people are able to visit these businesses and organizations again. These web pages and blog posts were always one part of a larger project and blog: Writing & Rhetoric MKE. So, as we had planned to do after the conference, we now look forward to returning to the work of #writingmke.
What does a website dedicated to highlighting community spaces and practices do while we are in a time of a global pandemic and “social distancing?” We hope to highlight how community practices of writing, rhetoric, and care are still happening in this uncertain and challenging time. If you would like to submit a blog post about how you’re connecting with others across Milwaukee, how your organization is using writing and/or rhetoric to bring people together, and/or what challenges have surfaced for everyday writing, rhetoric, and literacy practices, please consider submitting a blog post. You can read more about submission details here. This includes a special call for UWM graduate teaching assistants to share stories of adjusting to remote instruction, homeschooling children, navigating “quarantine” and social distancing in the city, and more.
As we move forward with this blog amid an ever-changing landscape with Covid-19, we hope to highlight stories of people, places, and organizations that demonstrate what has defined Milwaukee for many years: resilience in challenging times. We have already seen multiple examples of peoples’ resilience and determination, from showing up to vote and voicing concerns for public health in our recent primary election to translating Coronavirus information and addressing food insecurity on the South Side with Ayuda Mutua MKE. We will continue to see how writing (social media, texts, news reports, and more) and rhetoric (i.e. demands to “reopen” the economy or persuading people to support local food banks) remain central to navigating daily life amid this pandemic. Whether local in Milwaukee or across the country, we will only get through this by recognizing our interdependence, making connections with others, and continuing to care for our communities.
Rachel Bloom-Pojar is an Assistant Professor with the Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement program at UW-Milwaukee. She is also the faculty advisor for Writing & Rhetoric MKE.
No town in America is as closely associated with beer as Milwaukee. Did beer make Milwaukee famous, or was it the other way around? Our brewing history extends to the mid-19th century, as does beer’s indelible effect on the city and its residents, culture, and image. Despite the vast and constant changes that have defined Milwaukee over that time, one thing remains consistent: Milwaukee makes beer! It’s no surprise, then, that the craft brewery explosion of the last three decades has breathed new life into that old tradition, and that Milwaukee now has a lot of breweries of all sizes. Touring one is a great way to engage with the essential Milwaukee as any other, and it’s a lot of fun to boot.
Now, you won’t learn all there is to know about brewing from a tour, or even much about it at all, so don’t go expecting a lot of technical detail (I’m a home-brewer, and I’m afraid I made that mistake). Instead, expect to be entertained while getting a little local history, a slice of Milwaukee culture, a few tasty samples, and a little knowledge about beer, anyway. Below I’ve provided a few links with many options and details, but I’ve selected a few options that are closer to CCCC and have weekday tours available. For those who prefer spirits, there’s also a local distillery tour listed below. Don’t drink but still interested? They all serve soft drinks as well. Most of these tours do not require reservations, but it’s a good idea, and most offer discounted group tours also.
Miller Brewery (Biggest Brewery)
Starting with the biggest, not the closest, there is of course Milwaukee’s most famous beer. Miller’s daily public tour (they offer a longer, more detailed one on Tuesdays) starts every 30 minutes and runs 80 minutes. This is an indoor/outdoor walking tour with 46 mandatory steps (and even more optional ones – this tour includes the cave seen above), so this isn’t the most accessible, but they do offer special needs tours if given 24 hours’ notice. The Tours run all week but take a weekday one to see the brewery in action.
Lakefront Brewery (Biggest Restaurant)
Though actually located on a riverbank, not a lakefront, this is one of my favorite local breweries, and the one tour on this list that I’ve attended. Lakefront is closer to CCCC, and they actually have many tour options available, so you’ll want to check out the site linked to above. Weekday tours are shorter than Friday-Saturday tours because they cannot go through some portions of the brewery during production. They even offer tours en Español! (If you’re around on Sunday and want those aforementioned technical details, they now offer that as well.)
Their tours are 45 minutes, and include 4 6-oz samples, a souvenir pint glass, and a rousing rendition of the Laverne and Shirley theme song. They also have a full-service restaurant that seats billions and a pretty good fish fry (the local staple food).
Milwaukee Brewing Co. (Closest to CCCC)
This brewery is even closer to CCCC and has a few great beers as well! MKE, as they are called locally, runs tours from Friday to Sunday. They’re pretty new, so while I can say they make some tasty beer, there’s not much history to relate. Tours last “about an hour” and include unspecified (one site said “unlimited”) beer samples, a souvenir pint glass, and a token for a free beer at a local participating tavern.
Pabst MKE (Quickest Tour)
While not the brewing powerhouse they once were, Pabst is still a big name in Milwaukee, so they should be included. They’re a little more remote and a shorter tour at 25 minutes, and starting at 4 pm on weekdays makes for a short diversion before hitting the tap room. They’re just down the road from a more historically-oriented tour, however, so you might combine them.
Best Place Beer History Tour (No Actual Brewery Tour)
Another Pabst option that could be coupled, if you like, with the previous one just down the street, this is the tour for those who want to learn about Milwaukee’s beer history in greater detail. By focusing on the founding and growth of the Pabst Brewery, this tour engages the most with the early history of Milwaukee and the importance of brewing to that history. Tours run throughout every day.
Great Lakes Distillery (Least Hoppy)
Maybe beer isn’t your thing, or you’ve already toured a brewery? Great Lakes Distillery produces vodka, gin, rum, absinthe, whiskey, brandy, and liqueurs! Their one-hour tour explains how they do that, and includes a flight of six samples. Reservations are recommended for this fully accessible tour.
More information and options are available at these links:
Visit Milwaukee – Brewery Tours
Milwaukee Brewery Tours
OnMilwaukee Tour Guide
Milwaukee Magazine – 9 Unique Tours
Joe Serio is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at UWM and presenter at CCCC. His work focuses on classroom play, community building, Technical Communication, and Media Studies. His dissertation involves analysis of emergent genres in tactical technical documentation created by members of online underground music collectors. He brewed his first beer – an Amber Ale – in 1990 and has been exploring beer styles and history while making his own beer, cider, and mead ever since.