~ By Jefferson Beavers, communications specialist, Department of English

The Fresno State faculty who are teaching in the Rhetoric & Writing Studies program in the Department of English are working to change the conversation about writing on campus, in the community and beyond. This fall, we will introduce you to these professors and tell you about the ways in which their research, teaching and service to both the university and to the discipline intersect.

In our fifth installment, meet Dr. Reva Sias, an assistant professor of English who came to Fresno State in 2016.

Question: What is your area of focus within Rhetoric & Writing Studies, and how does that inform your teaching of writing?

Answer: My area of focus highlights the intersections of ethnic/cultural rhetorics, race, languages, and literacy practices, whereby the writing and rhetorical tools and strategies of marginalized women, people, cultures, and groups reflect identities, voice, activism and agency.

I am particularly interested in how individuals and groups enact discursive and non-discursive literacy practices, such as the utilizations of printed discourses, social justice protests, social media platforms, visual and material rhetoric, museums and collections, film/documentary representations, oratorical utterances and education as counter-narratives to hegemonic powers and as push back of pervasive, systematic racism and discriminations.

The active introduction of ethnic/cultural rhetorics, race, languages and literacy practices inform my teaching in higher education and community spaces, as a lens for rich discussions and engaged pedagogy. For instance, in the writing classroom, I hope that the social, cultural and political interplay within and between the intersections will facilitate students’ critical thinking and interrogation of public and private discourses and texts, as well as encourage students’ own use and examination of writing and rhetorical tools and genres for their own needs, cultures, communities, and purposes.

Q: How does your research and work as a teacher/scholar engage the campus, community, and the discipline as a whole, on the conversation about how and why we write?

A: While my pedagogical approach in the classroom tends to “look forward” from a contemporary framework, my scholarship and research tend to “look back” between 18th-century and early 20th-century, to recover and discover omissions of rhetorical activism, voices and literacy practices of marginalized women and people of color. In effect, I utilize archival records and rhetorical historiography methodologies to write about how marginalized women and people of color were silenced in the larger social/political/historical context, and how they wrote themselves into the American narrative, as historical artifacts may demonstrate.

Currently, I am writing a chapter for a rhetoric, composition and literacy studies (RCL) collection that questions the ethics and representation in feminist rhetorical inquiry. Using this perspective, I reflect on archival research methods and methodologies that I used to recover lost artifacts related to the Myrtilla Miner School for Colored Girls, which was founded in 1851. My chapter questions my own writing, archival practices and ethical considerations as an observer/researcher who is removed by time and space. I question the negotiations, that I have made and will make as an African American woman, on how best to tell the story of the free black women who were enrolled at the antebellum school, who can no longer speak for themselves.

On the one hand, I am blessed and humbled by the lived experiences of the free black women who now speak from dusty boxes and through forgotten discourses in collections and archives. On the other hand, I am terrified that I will not represent the fullness and beauty of their lives, as they fought to acquire knowledge at the first colored normal school for the African race in America.

As a historian of RCL, I am compelled to search for primary artifacts that demonstrate tangible rhetorical education and literacy practices and lost voices, even as I recognize that writing is hard, but can be rewarding. It is the struggles and rewards of writing and research that I want share with my colleagues and students.

Q: How do you involve or impact students, both graduate and undergraduate, in your research work and projects?

A: I want students to appreciate the challenges and rewards of writing and research. With that in mind, I designed an English 160W class that required undergraduate students to visit the “Sorting Out Race” exhibition at the Henry Madden Library. Students viewed items of the collection in a mock thrift shop, which presented the commercialization of racism and stereotypes. Students developed case study field notes of their visits. Using their evaluation of the artifacts (i.e., common household items, such as salt and pepper shakers, children’s books, dolls, games, etc.) and course readings, students developed arguments and completed academic research essays on race, cultural stereotypes and American discrimination.

In turn, using a grounded theory research design, I studied my students’ writing, as they evaluated and wrote about their own voices and/or lack of voices, as displayed in the commercialized representations of racism and cultural stereotypes. Still, in the classroom, the entire research and writing experience produced lively discussions and feedback, as students recognized the pervasive and systematic marginalization of women and people of color.

For my graduate students, I believe that one of my goals as a professor is to introduce and professionalize students into the field of rhetoric and composition. This year, in recognition of the National Day on Writing, as sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), I asked graduate students who are enrolled in my English 270, Composition Pedagogy, class to develop NCTE-like conference posters. Students were asked to (1) reflect and make connections with previous class discussions and readings on composition pedagogy, (2) research trends in composition scholarship, (3) identity a favorite writing theory, and (4) develop and visually represent a lesson plan and/or writing exercises to celebrate writing.

Much like an NCTE annual convention, the graduate students’ conference posters were presented at Fresno State’s National Day on Writing open house, on Oct. 20.

Q: What are your other research interests?

A: I am also interested in early examples of 19th-century African American oratorical discourses that utilize neoclassical forensic rhetoric. While there are several examples of epideictic and deliberative forms, there are few rhetoricians that employed neoclassical forensic rhetoric as a political/rhetorical strategy. I am in the early stages of thinking about this research area, but I look forward to my time in the archives to find answers to my questions.