Welcome to a new school year

And so we begin. I am drafting this on Thursday, Aug. 17, the second day of move in. I rode through growing lines of cars and trucks loaded down with new students and their dorm essentials. I pedaled past the event tents topped with little green flags looking a little bit like a medieval fair (or is that faire?). Ah, an exciting time of the year.

Many of the members the community gathered on Wednesday to talk about our department’s coming year. We committed ourselves to thoughtful conversations about the undergraduate program with a particular focus on retention and graduation. We understand that it is in our best interests and, more importantly, our moral duty to help students who join us to finish their degree with us if that is in their best interest. And we will make progress toward our goal of retaining and graduating even a great portion of the students who declare communication studies as their major. Making progress will mean this: to build on the strengths of what is already one of the finest undergraduate programs on campus and making it even better. Well that’s cool.

We talked as well about the ways we hope to build our faculty in the coming years and we continue to solidify our PhD program.

These are good times in the department, aren’t they?

As more evidence (do you need more?), we have won yet another award. Allison will receive the Golden Anniversary Monograph Award at this year’s National Communication Association annual meeting in November. The GAMA is one of the most prestigious awards our community offers scholars as it marks the best essays published in the entire field of communication in the last year. Well done Allison!

Meanwhile, Evan was recently elected to a three-year position as co-chair of the Media Industries Scholarly Interest Group (SIG) at SCMS. At over 400 members, the Media Industries is one of the largest SIGs at SCMS (wow, that’s lots of acronyms!).

And we welcome Meara to our ranks as a new Assistant Professor. Meara comes to us from Rutgers and before that the University of Washington and before that Whitworth College in Spokane, WA. As most of you know by now, she will be teaching and researching interpersonal communication using cutting-edge social scientific approaches. We are so pleased to have Meara join us.

As you know as well, we will be hiring a new faculty member in race, ethnicity, and dialogue. If all goes as planned, we will be hosting candidates on campus in November.

And we have so many other things planned. We are rescheduling the Gravlee lecture with Chon Noriega as our guest to early this semester. The ACT Human Rights Film Festival will occupy the weekends of April 5-8, and April 13-14. Watch for more details on both of those events.

Can you tell that we are going to have an amazing year? We will because all of you are so remarkable. Thank you, already, for everything you do to make this community buzz with energy and purpose.

But we do this work in deeply troubled times. We all witnessed the violence of white supremacy—indeed the terrorism that has supported white supremacy for hundreds of years—in Charlottesville this weekend. We watched our president create moral equivalences between neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and avowed racists and those who resist these oppressions.

But we know better for we study communication and rhetoric. We know that power always matters; we know that saying Black Lives Matter and White Lives Matter may have the same grammatical construction but they have profoundly different rhetorical resonances. We study memory and we know that monuments built in the 1890s were not celebrations of freedom and justice but instead were materializations of white supremacy in the Jim Crow area. We know these things.

We will confront the reverberations of Charlottesville—and what those actions reveal about racism in America—in our classrooms, in the hallways, on the plaza, and in our communities. And we will be called on, in particular, as experts in communication and as disciplinary and civic citizens committed to freedom of expression. I don’t know how these confrontations will evolve nor can I offer you advice that will cover all situations. As Isocrates says, there are no rules that can certify rhetorical success ahead of the moment. But he did say that judgement, forged through careful study and practice, can offer guidance and wisdom in the heart of rhetorical moments.

My hope and wish for us as we move into this new school year is the humble wisdom Isocrates and centuries later Erasmus and centuries later again writers like bell hooks and Donna Haraway and Michael Eric Dyson offers for us.

Dyson writes, in his recent book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,

Beloved, if the enslaved could nurture, on the vine of their desperate deficiency of democracy, the spiritual and moral fruit that fed our civilization, then surely we can name and resist demagoguery; we can protest, and somehow defeat, the forces that that threaten the soul of our nation. To not try, to give up on the possibility that we can make a difference, can make the difference, is to give up on our past, on our complicated, difficult, but victorious past. . . . The problem is, instead, allowing hopelessness to steal our joyful triumph before we work hard enough to achieve it (223).

Let us move into this year with this hope that, with enough work, we can experience even small joyful triumphs.

And so, my friends, welcome to a new school year.

You know where to find me. I will keep the candy bowl stocked. I will happily brew you a pot of coffee of a cup of tea. We can, if you want to, spend a little time together over a beer.

And come Monday, we will dive fully into the school year.

Yours,
Greg