Presidents Dissertation Award Winners

The Presidents Dissertation Award was originally created to celebrate two distinctive projects over a two-year period. Last year, the Coalition’s Advisory Board voted to adjudicate this award annually, in part to redistribute the labor of reading lengthy projects. As a result, we have the honor of reading a robust set of outstanding dissertations each year, and this year’s judges vetted and discussed 16 stellar projects over a three-month period. This was a particularly difficult competition; so many of these projects were worthy of the award.

The 2020 submissions celebrated diversity, were exceptionally constructed and elegantly composed, and rigorously engaged extant feminist research and scholarship in rhetoric and composition, pointing to the many cultural and intellectual traditions that comprise our field. In addition, the strongest projects contributed significantly to our understanding of feminist histories, theories, and pedagogies of rhetoric and composition by challenging extant frameworks; enhanced our understanding of feminist academic work in rhetoric and composition by employing unique methods and methodologies; and offered invitations for subsequent inquiry and exchange.

While we would normally confer these awards at FemRhet 2021, we have decided not to wait, especially with so much of our 2021 programming is in flux. Thus, on behalf of the 2020 Presidents Dissertation Award Committee, I am pleased to announce this year’s award recipients and honorable mention: Temptaous T. Mckoy and Johnathan Smilges (award recipients); and Nabila Hijazi (honorable mention).

Temptaous T. Mckoy, recipient of the 2020 Presidents Dissertation Award for

“Y’all Call It Technical and Professional Communication, We Call It #ForTheCulture: The Use of Amplification Rhetorics in Black Communities and Their Implications for Technical and Professional Communication Studies.”

Dr. Mckoy is Assistant Professor of English with a focus in Technical Writing at Bowie State University. In June 2019, Mckoy completed her degree in Rhetoric, Writing, & Professional Communication at East Carolina University under the direction of Michelle Eble (Chair), Matthew Cox, Erin Frost, and Natasha Jones. Dr. Mckoy is also the winner of CCCC’s 2020 Outstanding Dissertation Award in Technical Communication. One judge wrote the following of Mckoy’s project:

“This dissertation is excellently situated in technical and professional communication scholarship and deftly meshes registers between formal ‘academic’ prose and colloquial Black prose. Mckoy provides a useful intervention in TPC scholarship by articulating a theory of ‘amplification rhetorics,’ which she describes as reclaiming agency and embodiment, acknowledging and validating lived experiences, and privileging marginalized epistemologies (38). Drawing on Critical Race Theory, Womanist theory, and African American and Black rhetorics, Mckoy’s project is methodologically rich, drawing on participant observation, interviews, site visits, music video analysis, and textual analysis to argue for the importance of Black technical communication.”

Another judge concurred:

“Among the many dissertations submitted for this award, none challenged me more than this project—in a productive way. The author’s purposeful use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) was impactful. … While I had previously encountered such calls, none have made the impact that this project did. Indeed, this project’s deft, evocative, and candid analysis has invited me to rethink my own biases. Beyond this important takeaway, I was similarly struck by the project’s exploration of TRAP music through the lens of amplification rhetorics. The multimodal chapter was not only engaging but, too, one that propels the field forward. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to not only review this project but, more importantly, to learn from it.”

Johnathan Smilges, recipient of the 2020 Presidents Dissertation Award for

“Queer Silence: Rhetorics of Resistance”

Dr. Smilges is Assistant Professor of English at Texas Women’s University. In spring 2020, Smilges completed their dual degree in Rhetoric and Composition and Women’s Studies at Penn State University, under the direction of Cheryl Glenn (Chair), Debra Hawhee, Janet Lyon, and Hil Malatino. Dr. Smilges is also the winner of CCCC’s 2020 Lavender Rhetorics Award for Excellence in Queer Scholarship. One judge wrote the following of Smilges’s project:

“Smilges’s work savvily moves between theory and analysis, offering up important insights in the ways that silences work in queer and trans rhetorics. Their chapter on ex-gays is compassionate, smart, aware of its limitations, and deftly ties together queer theory and disability theory.”

Another judge concurred:

“This project struck me—both as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and, too, as a feminist and queer rhetorician. The author’s deft weaving of historical and personal narrative to open the project is exemplary of the dissertation’s larger political importance and, too, its contributions to the field. I was drawn immediately to the parallels between the author’s narrative of reparative therapy and the historical reference to the APA. Both are haunting. But, importantly, the author’s narrative serves a purpose—it illustrates, in a profound way, this project’s theorization of queer silence (12). This term productively extends robust scholarship on silence by feminist rhetoricians and, in so doing, makes a foundational contribution to the feminist rhetorical studies. The author’s argument that ‘silence can become a strategy of resistance, wherein the absence of verbal speech forges alternative routes to signification, to making meaning in the face of a society bent on erasure’ is one that can shape much of the ways that feminist and, in particular, queer rhetoricians study and, also, practice silence (19). … This project is exceptionally well written, cogently argued, and consistently thought-provoking. I look forward to seeing it—hopefully one day soon—on rhetorical scholars’ shelves and, perhaps more importantly, in their classrooms.”

Nabila Hijazi, Honorable Mention in the 2020 Presidents Dissertation Award competition for

“Syrian Refugee Women in the Diaspora: Sustaining Families through Literacies”

Dr. Hijazi is a Lecturer in English at the University of Maryland. In spring 2020, Hijazi completed her degree in Language, Writing, and Rhetoric at the University of Maryland, under the direction of Scott Wible (Chair), Jane Donawerth, Jessica Enoch, Sara Wilder, and Wayne Slate. Dr. Hijazi is also the recipient of University of Maryland’s Dr. James W. Longest Memorial Award for Social Science Research in 2018. While Hijazi’s project did not win the award, judges felt it deserved an honorable mention for how it re/focuses feminist study on women in a diaspora that is often overlooked, especially in a nation occupied by individuals and groups who may, themselves, claim to be pluralistic in their thinking. One judge wrote the following of Hijazi’s project:

“This project is both timely and responsive to ongoing work by feminist and other rhetoricians. The realities of migration and immigration are complicated, certainly, and this project adroitly attunes the reader to the rhetorical means through which Syrian women navigate ‘the tension … between growing up in Syria and living in the United States’ (2). … This dissertation’s focus on both an expansive view of literacy as well as its qualitative engagement with these women’s stories sheds an important light on an understudied community of rhetors. The author showcases this contribution through, among other discussions, an exploration of motherhood and the home (94). Such work can productively re-orient the field beyond our engrained biases, as the author notes: ‘In constructing the home space and preserving the intact Syrian family structure in the diaspora, Syrian refugee women are reviving domestic literacy and gender role practices that may seem too backward or even oppressive from a Western, progressive perspective’ (95). Moreover, there is power in the author’s work to prove that ‘[i]nstead of … victims as often depicted … Syrian refugee women are agents in finding ways to survive and save their families through maintenance of their roles in domestic space’ (99). There is accordingly much that this research can do to extend our understandings of rhetorics of motherhood, the home and, more broadly, migration through an attention beyond the limited confines of Western rhetoric.”

In addition to congratulating these scholars on their achievements, we also want to acknowledge the following 13 individuals whose excellent work was nominated or submitted for this award: Kainat Abadi (St. John’s U); Ellen Cecil-Lemkin (Florida State); Brandon Marcell Erby (Penn State); Autumn Adia Griffin (U Maryland); Nancy Henaku (Michigan Tech); Gavin P. Johnson (Ohio State); Darlene Johnston (Bowling Green State U); Gina Lynn Kruschek (East Carolina U); Shewonda Leger (Michigan State); Katelyn S. Litterer (U Mass Amherst); Molly J. Mann (St. John’s U); Prairie L. Markussen (U of Arizona); Megan Poole (Penn State).

As the Coalition looks ahead to a new year, we will be announcing more awards calls, as well as an inaugural nominations process for the new Shirley Wilson Logan Diversity Scholarship Award. Coalition members do exceptional work and lead exceptional lives. We look forward to your nominations and applications next year!

Tarez Samra Graban
Immediate Past-President
Awards Chair 2020–2022

and members of the 2020 Presidents Dissertation Award Committee

Angela Clark-Oates
Jessica Enoch
Michael Faris
Cory Geraths
Kathleen Ethel Welch