Meet the Rhetoric & Writing Studies faculty of the English Department

From left, Dr. Virginia Crisco, Dr. Rubén Casas, Dr. Magda Gilewicz, Dr. Bo Wang, Dr. Tom McNamara and Dr. Reva Sias

~ 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 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. Here are the links to the six profiles.

Dr. Rubén Casas, assistant professor of English

“I am particularly attracted to all the ways marginal people and groups are able to influence others despite lacking access, either to the modes of deliberation we tend to see or recognize within society — such as voting, organizing, protest — or to the discourses that are intelligible within these — such as speaking English, or ‘writing well.’ My aim in looking out for and studying what some call ‘everyday rhetorics’ is to show that there exist opportunities for — and the possibility of — transforming one’s lived realities even though one may lack the status, access, or the right ‘tools’ to secure a place at the proverbial table.”

Dr. Virginia Crisco, associate professor of English and co-director of the department’s First-Year Writing Program

“First-year writing focuses, as much as possible, on the kinds of writing that exist in the world and supports students in taking up those real-world writing tasks for purposes that matter to them. We challenge ideas that one kind of writing — for example, the 5-paragraph essay — is the only kind of writing students need. We also want to make writing relevant to students, and a key way to do this is to show how real writing works in the world. So the message we send to teachers in training and to students is that anyone can be a writer, that writing is necessary for a productive civic and professional and personal life, and that there are ways to analyze writing in order to take up those writing practices and use them in new contexts.”

Dr. Magda Gilewicz, professor of English and director of the university’s Writing Center

“The question ‘how we write’ is often answered by examining features of writing that are valued or prescribed within disciplines. But that question also means something much more. How do I start writing? How do I sustain it? How do I know what to change? Where do I write? etc. … Imagine giving out a new assignment and starting writing right then and there, on the spot; or, posing a question about a draft and writing with the writer and other readers the response, and then reading your responses. That’s what engages writing-as-a-verb and as a communal act, not writing behind closed doors, solo, to nobody in particular, haunted by vicious judges with red pens.”

Dr. Tom McNamara, assistant professor of English and coordinator of the university’s Writing Across the Curriculum program

“I’ve been considering how the stories we tell about classroom inclusion and rhetorical agency leave writing instructors ill-equipped to confront the forms of racism and nativism we’re currently seeing on college campuses. … I design assignments that encourage students to bring their communities and cultures into the classroom. Most often, I do this by helping students develop small, qualitative projects that allow them to interview people from our local communities or reflect on their own experiences. My hope is that this kind of research allows students to see how their cultural and community resources allow them to speak back to the university — and introduce often-absent perspectives into scholarly conversations.”

Dr. Reva Sias, assistant professor of English

“I utilize archival records and rhetorical history methods to write about how marginalized women and people of color were silenced in larger social, political, and historical contexts, and how they wrote themselves into the American narrative, as historical artifacts may demonstrate. … I designed a 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 and course readings, students developed arguments and completed academic research essays on race, cultural stereotypes, and American discrimination.”

Dr. Bo Wang, professor of English and co-director of the department’s First-Year Writing Program

“In my writing classes, I integrate rhetorical theory into the curriculum to help students understand that literacy, in its deepest sense, means not only the skills of reading and writing, but also the rhetorical knowledge of how to use these skills in the context of one or more communities. Students learn that writing is always a response to a larger academic or civic conversation, and listening to and understanding others are the preconditions for a dialogue. … I have encouraged first-year writing students to do original research and find out the most recent conversations about critical issues that concern the people in different communities of the Central Valley. When students’ research and writing are grounded in their experiences, I help them ‘discover the writer within,’ to use one student’s words.”

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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