When I was 35 I did a crazy thing: I quit my job of almost ten years as a creative director and went to graduate school. Eight years later I walked across a stage at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a PhD in English, specializing in Rhetoric and Composition. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I had become hooked on teaching writing during my several-year stint in a writing center as an undergraduate. After my doctoral work I moved in the summer of 2014 from Cincinnati to New York, where I’d only been a few times, to begin a job as an Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College, part of the historic City University of New York.
I just finished a four-year project, a co-edited, born digital book titled “The Rhetoric of Participation: Interrogating Commonplaces in and Beyond the Classroom,” about participation as a graded component of college writing classes, with Paige Banaji, Katherine DeLuca, Lauren Obermark, and Ryan Omizo. The project, forthcoming from the Computers and Composition Digital Press, an imprint of Utah State University Press, examines the function of assessing a traditionally subjective aspect of pedagogy: the ubiquitous “participation grade,” looking at how such assessment plays out in ESL/transnational contexts, hybrid and online courses, writing programs and writing centers, using a variety of analytical frames such as disability studies, queer theory, feminist theory, and methods from big data analysis.
I’m currently in the final stages of a book about empathy as a rhetorical concept and a way of engaging across difference. In the “age of Trump”—a time of tremendous polarization between right and left, black and white, rural and urban, us and them—the need for ways of connecting across difference could not be more urgent. This book, the first sustained exploration of empathy in rhetorical theory, examines how writers in public, digital, and transnational locations ethically engage with one another across pronounced differences. It asks: What are rhetorical characteristics of ethical engagement? How can we foster these characteristics in students and in ourselves?
The book’s premise is that pathos, or appeals to emotions in the form of stories, forms a vital link between Aristotle’s treatment of rhetoric and poetics, and is one of the most powerful forms of persuasion and change. It attempts to theorize what may seem like a commonplace: that an effort to listen to and understand others, especially those very different from us, helps us be more human, more able to react in ethical and rhetorically effective ways, and ultimately helps sustain us in the midst of polarization and, in some cases, deep and traumatic injustice.
While empathy as a rhetorical concept has interested me for years and continues to drive my research pursuits, teaching also energizes me and truly for me is a vocation in the classical sense of the term (vocāre)–-a calling. I teach first-year writing courses with themes focused on rhetoric, language, race, whiteness, gender, identity, and digital media, and in fall 2017 developed a new course on Digital Storytelling.
I mentor graduate students at the CUNY Graduate Center who teach in the English Department at Baruch; I’m one of the faculty coordinators of the Writing Across the Curriculum program; and I direct the First-Year Writing Program at Baruch, home to around 70 faculty with an enrollment of almost 5,000 each year in two required courses.