Archive by Author

Status Update

See that break in activity between December 2015 and June 2018? That represents my transition from one-course-per-semester coursework to candidacy exam, prospectus writing and defense, and dissertation work. I’m not a consistent blogger. Most of the posts to this blog came from requirements or expectations of graduate coursework.

Why the burst of activity? It’s about the job market. I’m building a professional site that reflects who I am as an academic researcher, scholar, and teacher. I want to put my best persona forward, but I’ll admit, consistent blogging is hard for me. Doesn’t make it less important, just a reflection on the challenge it presents.

It’s not that I don’t write. Doctoral candidates don’t “not write.” We write emails, we write feedback on papers, we write grant applications, we write dissertations, we write positions, and we write publications. I’m writing all those things. I’ve posted drafts of my nascent teaching philosophy and research statement to represent that writing work, but so much writing is done behind the scenes, out of the public’s sight.

I’m struggling through the labor of writing my dissertation, and it turns out that a blog post is a useful distraction from that labor. But it’s also true that I’m working on finishing touches on the initial draft of my first chapter, that I’m about halfway through my review of literature, that I’ve written up one set of methods and results my pilot study, that I have completed most of my data analysis for my final results. I’ll be writing six total chapters, one more than a “standard” dissertation (whatever that means), that includes two result chapters: one addressing the results of my methods, and one addressing the issues with my methods.

We’ll see if “I’m back” to the blogging thing, if I ever was really “there” in the first place. I’ll keep writing, and I’ll try to do more of that writing that’s visible to the public here.

 

Research Statement: A Draft in Progress

As a technical communication scholar and professional, my research interests reside at the intersection of the human and technological, focused specifically on the way rhetorical agency emerges at these interstices. As technical communication scholarship and practice extends into user experience (UX), UX design, experience architecture, and usability testing, my research offers insights into changing understandings of what we mean by the term “user.” This user identity is less likely to be a human persona and more likely to be a collectivity of human activity and technological influence, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and algorithm-mediated daily experience. We have entered the realm of the posthuman, and our technical communication theory, pedagogy, and practice must adapt to posthuman UX in order to understand and design the systems, communications, and experiences that account for the technological activity intertwined in posthuman agency.

Prior Research

My research focus on the emerging topic of posthuman usability in technical communication is the combination of two primary strands of professional and pedagogical experience.

Web Development

I am a self-taught professional web developer. My only formal instruction in web development came in the form of a free HTML class I took in 1996 while a public secondary English teacher. We coded HTML using a text editor and previewed our code using the Mosaic web browser — which reveals something about my age, but also represents the strong influence Internet technology has had on my professional experience. I worked over a decade as a freelance web developer and have worked as a web manager on a higher education marketing team, either part-time or full-time, for the past 18 years. I now immerse myself in the very algorithms I study and analyze as a scholar, developing and managing search and social media marketing campaigns while improving search engine optimization (SEO) through content creation and marketing. Experience in web development reveals starkly the pervasive influence that networks, hardware, software, and algorithmic procedures have on daily life. As my research into posthuman agency has accelerated, I’ve theorized that SEO represents algorithmic usability, where human-generated content is manipulated for ease and simplicity of use by algorithmic processes that generate top-level search results. I’ve presented and published research from my experience as a technical communicator in the Proceedings of the 34th and 35th ACM International Conference on the Design of Communication.

Composition Pedagogy

Since training to become a secondary English teacher, I have taught students about writing and trained them to become better writers. Deeply influenced by the social turn in composition studies, I have focused my pedagogy on the collaborative social aspects of composing. Given the deeply mediated activity of writing through and with digital technologies, my research and teaching have focused on the collaborative affordances that composing platforms like Google’s G-Suite for Education and cloud-computing platforms like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive provide for practicing collaborative composing. I’ve collaborated with a colleague at Old Dominion University to publish works on using Google Drive for collaborative composing in the Journal of Usability Studies, in the Proceedings of the Annual Computers and Writing Conference: Vol. 1. 2016-2017 (edited by Cheryl Ball, Chen Chen, Kristopher Purzycki, and Lydia Wilkes), and in collections published by IGI Global (edited by Binod Gurung and Marohang Limbu) and Utah State University Press (edited by Rich Rice and Kirk St.Amant).

Current Research

Beginning with a “Theories of Networks” class I took with Shelley Rodrigo and Julia Romberger at ODU, my dissertation topic and research has shifted from a focus on literature and cultural studies (albeit with a technological overlay; my 1998 master’s thesis concluded with a comparison of non-linear narrative strategy in The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy with hypertext theory) toward a focus on networked agency in composing. I refined this focus with a class on theories of Technical and Professional Writing taught by Dan Richards, where I discovered the field of technical communication and realized that I had been working as a technical communicator for years without knowing it. I have honed my research to focus attention on tracing rhetorical agency as its emerges during online research practices. My dissertation seeks to trace, describe, and visualize the emergence of assemblage agency during online research as posthuman user experience. My object of study is a student conducting research using an academic library’s “one search” search interface, and my methods combine ethnographic observation with usability testing combined with mining network activity data from browser HTTP Archive (HAR) files. I’ve published my initial theoretical approach and visualization attempts in a special issue of Present Tense on platform rhetorics (edited by Dustin Edwards and Bridget Gelms) and presented these approaches at recent conferences including the International Critical Media Literacy Conference (Southern Georgia University), the Symposium on Communicating Complex Information (East Carolina University), and the annual Computers and Writing conference (George Mason University).

Research Agenda

I seek to pursue posthuman UX in future research. Assemblage agency consisting of human and nonhuman entities is relatively straightforward to theorize through work by such disparate scholars as Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti, N. Katherine Hayles, James Brown, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, and others. Assemblage agency is devilishly difficult to trace and reveal, and the methods for doing so are clumsy and untheorized. I intend to adapt existing and explore new methods that technical communication scholars can use to uncover the black box of algorithmic and procedural rhetorical influence. The result of this work, which I intend to introduce in my dissertation, is to provide accessible heuristics and pedagogies that can help scholars and students alike recognize, reveal, and understand the shared agency that emerges in algorithm-mediated daily life. While algorithmic literacy is a term that Cathy Davidson and Ted Striphas have introduced to describe this awareness, my long-term research goal is to develop posthuman UX studies as a practical approach to designing products, systems, and experiences that both recognize assemblage agency and make explicit the shared nature of agency that emerges when humans use algorithm-mediated networked products.

Since I started working as a web developer at the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies in 1999, I’ve engaged in designing online experiences for human and, increasingly, algorithmic audiences. The opportunity to study and theorize the very activities I’ve engaged in daily for the past two decades excites and engages me. I’m extending a long history of pedagogy and professional experience into the realm of knowledge making, and I’m eager to keep advancing.

Teaching Philosophy: A Work in Progress

My philosophy of teaching opens with the premise that I teach students, not professional or academic communication. Students enter the classroom with years of writing and communication experience, and among the first goals of any course I teach is to guide students to recognize their existing practices as experiences on which to build. This approach helps me better understand the strengths and challenges each student brings into the classroom, and develops an ethos of care and understanding by valuing the composing activities in which students already engage. When students report they regularly compose social media posts and text messages, we’re immediately able to examine the generic expectations emerging around different kinds of posts and messages and to identity the audience, purpose, content, and style of message genres. This rhetorical approach to communication practices both values students as writers and demonstrates the rhetorical approach to composing that I bring to any composition-intensive course.

My teaching philosophy is refined by demonstrating that I join students in a community of learners. I seek to facilitate the advancement of students’ composing practices through instruction, practice, feedback, and iteration. While I represent the class subject matter expert on composing theory and practices, I willingly share my own learning experiences, including my writing challenges and successes, to demonstrate my approach to composing as continually working toward, but not quite achieving, mastery. Rather than focusing on lecture as a primary instructional strategy, I seek to engage students in Socratic dialogues on composing strategies writ broadly. Dialogue content ranges widely, but I encourage students to make claims, recognize warrants, provide evidence, and generate counter claims about specific strategies like document design, the ethics of data visualizations, and using un-gendered language and imagery. Facilitating such dialogues provides opportunities for students to engage in community learning experiences all — students and teachers — work and learn together.

Nurturing a community of learners reflects my approach to composing as a collaborative activity, practiced in social contexts. As a result, my classroom is not only orally collaborative through Socratic dialogue, but also textually and technologically collaborative through hardware and software. I prefer to teach composition-intensive classes in a computer lab, where the technologically mediated experience of composing is obvious and clearly displayed. I require students to compose in collaborative settings through group composing activities, collaborative synchronous composing using Google Docs, and peer review sessions using Google Docs. I understand teaching as a collaboration among students and teachers, and I tend to use the classroom environment, packed with technological affordances for collaboration, to model this understanding. Like my students, I also engage in collaboration through reviewing drafts in Google Docs and providing feedback that can be seen not only by the writer, but also by the student’s composing partners. I do this not to shame students, but to demonstrate that composing happens in social environments and to provide feedback that other students may be able to apply to their own work.

I focus attention on the collaborative, social context of composing because I seek to prepare students to compose in workplace contexts where collaboration is the norm, not the exception. Nearly two decades of experience working in higher education marketing and communication inform this collaborative approach. Workplace composing necessarily happens in social contexts, often imbued with undertones of workplace politics, power differentials, and personality conflicts. Workplace contexts regularly require joint authorship and the sharing of rhetorical agency while navigating these undertones. I seek to create a classroom environment where collaboration among weaker and stronger composers, among native and non-native English speakers, and among speakers of multiple Englishes, is practiced, valued, and honed. I trust such activities prepare students to compose in workplace environments, even when their composition assignments are academic in nature.

I operationalize my philosophy of teaching by assigning compositions that seek to address a specific problem in society. In a classroom focused on academic composing, assignments focus on solving a public problem. In a classroom focused on business and professional communication, assignments focus on professional and workplace problems that need to be solved. In both contexts, I seek to create assignments that students have agency to shape to problems and situations in their field, major, discipline, profession, or area of interest. I also encourage open conversations about social and political issues, providing opportunities for students to make and support their own claims about contemporary issues and policies and to challenge claims made around these issues by others, either in our beyond the classroom walls. These conversations are planned around assignments toward scaffolding composing experiences from the conceptual to the practical. I facilitate classroom and online conversations; given my preference for technology-mediated classrooms, I include online discussion expectations in classroom-based, in-class/online hybrid, and online learning environments.

 I seek to improve instruction with every class I teach. Beyond formal course evaluations, I provide time and space for students to share what worked and didn’t work in each class I teach. While power differentials between teacher and students necessarily color feedback, I am pleasantly and regularly pleased that students willingly provide honest critical feedback when asked. I trust and believe this comes as a result of facilitating a community of learners in which all voices, including dissenting opinions, are not hushed, but heard and valued. I reflect on feedback I receive and combine it with personal reflections on students’ progress to adjust learning activities, instructional design, assessment rubrics, teaching style and mode, and the syllabus to ensure improvement. I seek improved pedagogies with each passing semester, and I actively seek them out when they are not immediately forthcoming from feedback or reflection. I seek out teachable moments, whether they come from campus lectures or events, blog posts or news items, emerging scholarship, conferences sessions, colleagues and students themselves, and look to incorporate them into classroom discussions, readings, and assignments when possible. I seek to adapt to student needs, to adapt to the teaching environment, and to adapt to the contexts in which instruction occurs — political, economic, social, emotional, and intellectual — in each class I teach.

For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury

The Chronicle of Higher Education — For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury: In her latest book, Roberta Ness, vice president for innovation at the University of Texas School of Public Health, says a basic mission of the American research university is eroding, with predictability prized over boldness at almost every level.

Universities increasingly judge faculty members on not just their research or teaching, but also their ability to pull in dollars. They hire scientists who pay their entire salaries through grants, an employment deal that breeds incrementalism. They use metrics biased toward short-term productivity. To guide their hiring, they use peer evaluations, which, research has shown, are naturally hostile to radical ideas.

“The lack of risk taking and associated conservatism is one of the most dispiriting aspects of modern university life,” said Andrew F. Read, a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University. “I don’t see too many people in leadership roles worrying about it.”

Something that algorithms offer, or promise to offer, is predictability. One way algorithms may be influencing humans in perceptible, concrete ways is in valuing too highly algorithmic, computational, safely predictive thinking over abstract, associational, riskily speculative thinking.

For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury

The Chronicle of Higher Education — For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury: In her latest book, Roberta Ness, vice president for innovation at the University of Texas School of Public Health, says a basic mission of the American research university is eroding, with predictability prized over boldness at almost every level.

Universities increasingly judge faculty members on not just their research or teaching, but also their ability to pull in dollars. They hire scientists who pay their entire salaries through grants, an employment deal that breeds incrementalism. They use metrics biased toward short-term productivity. To guide their hiring, they use peer evaluations, which, research has shown, are naturally hostile to radical ideas.

“The lack of risk taking and associated conservatism is one of the most dispiriting aspects of modern university life,” said Andrew F. Read, a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University. “I don’t see too many people in leadership roles worrying about it.”

Something that algorithms offer, or promise to offer, is predictability. One way algorithms may be influencing humans in perceptible, concrete ways is in valuing too highly algorithmic, computational, safely predictive thinking over abstract, associational, riskily speculative thinking.

Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula

Insider Higher Education — Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula: Rutgers faculty members, citing philosophical concerns and errors, are pushing back against the use of Academic Analytics to evaluate their productivity.

Martínez-San Miguel [professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies at Rutgers] gave the company the benefit of the doubt, guessing that at least some of the errors in her profile were the result a working algorithm that doesn’t value many of the interdisciplinary and Spanish-language journals she’s published in, as opposed to pure inaccuracy. Still, she asked, “How is this going to affect the next generation? Will they only publish in journals that are ranked, and does that preclude taking intellectual risks?”

Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula

Insider Higher Education — Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula: Rutgers faculty members, citing philosophical concerns and errors, are pushing back against the use of Academic Analytics to evaluate their productivity.

Martínez-San Miguel [professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies at Rutgers] gave the company the benefit of the doubt, guessing that at least some of the errors in her profile were the result a working algorithm that doesn’t value many of the interdisciplinary and Spanish-language journals she’s published in, as opposed to pure inaccuracy. Still, she asked, “How is this going to affect the next generation? Will they only publish in journals that are ranked, and does that preclude taking intellectual risks?”

When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm

MIT Technology Review – When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm: How Uber controls its drivers despite its claims to be a neutral platform

She [Carnegie Mellon University researcher Min Kyung Lee] found that much of the time they were happy with the “algorithmic management” that assigned fares and raised rates during busy periods. But drivers also complained that they were sometimes pushed to do things that seemed unreasonable, such as make pickups that weren’t nearby.

When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm

MIT Technology Review – When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm: How Uber controls its drivers despite its claims to be a neutral platform

She [Carnegie Mellon University researcher Min Kyung Lee] found that much of the time they were happy with the “algorithmic management” that assigned fares and raised rates during busy periods. But drivers also complained that they were sometimes pushed to do things that seemed unreasonable, such as make pickups that weren’t nearby.

Curating a MediaCommons Collection on Algorithms

screen capture

MediaCommons website screen capture: November 24, 2015

I was flattered a few months ago to be asked to develop a MediaCommons Field Guide survey on the general topic of algorithms. In consultation with (and following the sage advice of) the MediaCommons editorial team, I formulated the following question to be addressed by respondents:

What opportunities are available to influence the way algorithms are programmed, written, executed, and trusted?

This survey question seeks to explore ways that digital humanities pedagogy and praxis might influence, produce, direct, or capitalize on the automated activities of algorithms. As algorithms seek to more intelligently predict what we might like using profile data mined from our archived and ongoing online activities, how might our access to ideas and experiences may be limited or expanded by the predictive power of self-learning algorithm-based decisions? Will our access to and ability to explore the vast range of opportunities available to us be enhanced, or will the predictive authority of algorithms reshape the landscape and horizons of our existence? Might the predictions algorithms make prove so accurate that we have little need to see or experience beyond the horizons shaped by algorithms? Contrastingly, are there positive implications for the ways in which algorithms shape our various digital experiences? The question encompasses composing or running an algorithm along with the results of algorithmic activity.

Responses may explore any aspect of the question; some possible approaches include:

  • The role(s) of algorithms in the digital humanities
  • Ways algorithms are involved in communication
  • (Dis)connections between artificial and human intelligences
  • Coding ethical algorithms
  • Influences of algorithms on humanistic pursuits
  • Computer games as algorithmic praxis
  • “Hidden” and/or “visible” algorithms that influence human activity
  • Algorithms, surveillance, and privacy
  • Government and corporate interest/investment in algorithms
  • Big data, data analysis, algorithms and humanities research

I reached out to a wide range of colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and heroes of scholarship I’ve encountered in my doctoral studies and asked for 600± word responses to this question.

The response and results are exceeding my wildest expectations. Responses to my email requests for contributions were greeted with warmth and encouragement. Those who were unable to contribute made their apologies with grace and recommended other scholars I might consider contacting to request contributions. I followed up with those scholars, too, who turned out to be as warm and receptive as the first round of respondents; several of them, in turn, contributed to the project. The experience of requesting contributions has been pleasant, as has the process of collecting those contributions and getting them posted.

I’m currently in the process of curating the collection of contributions, encouraging conversations and engaging other scholars in the dialogue that’s emerging around these posts. You can join the conversation at MediaCommons. I’m taking this opportunity to share with you what’s out there and to encourage you to join the conversation. More posts are coming after the Thanksgiving holiday, when I’ll add a post to include them.

  1. Curator’s Introduction: Organisms in a World of Algorithms — Daniel Hocutt, University of Richmond & Old Dominion University
  2. Algorithms and Rhetorical Agency — Chris Ingraham, North Carolina State University
  3. The Essential Context: Theorizing the Coming Out Narrative as a Set of (Big) Data — Marc Ouellette, Old Dominion University
  4. Algorithmic Discrimination in Online Spaces — Estee Beck, UT-Arlington
  5. Toward Ambient Algorithms — Sean Contrey, Syracuse University
  6. How Will Near Future Writing Technologies Influence Teaching and Learning in Writing? — Bill Hart-Davidson, Michigan State University
  7. algorithms at the seam: machines reading humans +/- — Carl Whithaus, UC Davis
  8. How Are We Tracked Once We Press Play? Algorithmic Data Mining in Casual Video Games — Stephanie Vie, University of Central Florida
  9. Crowdsourcing Out the Sophistic Algorithms: An Ancient View — Walt Stevenson, University of Richmond

If you’re interested in the way algorithms are being used across a variety of fields, disciplines, industries, and situations, you will find something interesting among the posts in this collection. These contributions are intended to generate conversation — I hope you’ll read one or more and join the conversation. I can attest that the scholars whose contributions you’ll be reading are approachable and more than willing to enter into dialogue.

Curating a MediaCommons Collection on Algorithms

screen capture

MediaCommons website screen capture: November 24, 2015

I was flattered a few months ago to be asked to develop a MediaCommons Field Guide survey on the general topic of algorithms. In consultation with (and following the sage advice of) the MediaCommons editorial team, I formulated the following question to be addressed by respondents:

What opportunities are available to influence the way algorithms are programmed, written, executed, and trusted?

This survey question seeks to explore ways that digital humanities pedagogy and praxis might influence, produce, direct, or capitalize on the automated activities of algorithms. As algorithms seek to more intelligently predict what we might like using profile data mined from our archived and ongoing online activities, how might our access to ideas and experiences may be limited or expanded by the predictive power of self-learning algorithm-based decisions? Will our access to and ability to explore the vast range of opportunities available to us be enhanced, or will the predictive authority of algorithms reshape the landscape and horizons of our existence? Might the predictions algorithms make prove so accurate that we have little need to see or experience beyond the horizons shaped by algorithms? Contrastingly, are there positive implications for the ways in which algorithms shape our various digital experiences? The question encompasses composing or running an algorithm along with the results of algorithmic activity.

Responses may explore any aspect of the question; some possible approaches include:

  • The role(s) of algorithms in the digital humanities
  • Ways algorithms are involved in communication
  • (Dis)connections between artificial and human intelligences
  • Coding ethical algorithms
  • Influences of algorithms on humanistic pursuits
  • Computer games as algorithmic praxis
  • “Hidden” and/or “visible” algorithms that influence human activity
  • Algorithms, surveillance, and privacy
  • Government and corporate interest/investment in algorithms
  • Big data, data analysis, algorithms and humanities research

I reached out to a wide range of colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and heroes of scholarship I’ve encountered in my doctoral studies and asked for 600± word responses to this question.

The response and results are exceeding my wildest expectations. Responses to my email requests for contributions were greeted with warmth and encouragement. Those who were unable to contribute made their apologies with grace and recommended other scholars I might consider contacting to request contributions. I followed up with those scholars, too, who turned out to be as warm and receptive as the first round of respondents; several of them, in turn, contributed to the project. The experience of requesting contributions has been pleasant, as has the process of collecting those contributions and getting them posted.

I’m currently in the process of curating the collection of contributions, encouraging conversations and engaging other scholars in the dialogue that’s emerging around these posts. You can join the conversation at MediaCommons. I’m taking this opportunity to share with you what’s out there and to encourage you to join the conversation. More posts are coming after the Thanksgiving holiday, when I’ll add a post to include them.

  1. Curator’s Introduction: Organisms in a World of Algorithms — Daniel Hocutt, University of Richmond & Old Dominion University
  2. Algorithms and Rhetorical Agency — Chris Ingraham, North Carolina State University
  3. The Essential Context: Theorizing the Coming Out Narrative as a Set of (Big) Data — Marc Ouellette, Old Dominion University
  4. Algorithmic Discrimination in Online Spaces — Estee Beck, UT-Arlington
  5. Toward Ambient Algorithms — Sean Contrey, Syracuse University
  6. How Will Near Future Writing Technologies Influence Teaching and Learning in Writing? — Bill Hart-Davidson, Michigan State University
  7. algorithms at the seam: machines reading humans +/- — Carl Whithaus, UC Davis
  8. How Are We Tracked Once We Press Play? Algorithmic Data Mining in Casual Video Games — Stephanie Vie, University of Central Florida
  9. Crowdsourcing Out the Sophistic Algorithms: An Ancient View — Walt Stevenson, University of Richmond

If you’re interested in the way algorithms are being used across a variety of fields, disciplines, industries, and situations, you will find something interesting among the posts in this collection. These contributions are intended to generate conversation — I hope you’ll read one or more and join the conversation. I can attest that the scholars whose contributions you’ll be reading are approachable and more than willing to enter into dialogue.

Universal Accessibility Remains Elusive

As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind in Chronicle for Higher Education.

I know this story is hardly news, as the first comment to the story reiterates. But it’s an important reminder to those of us who teach: we need to seek out universally accessible technologies and tools for our classrooms. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on technology creators and distributors to provide universally accessible tools. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on content providers to provide universally accessible content. And we need to remind our students and ourselves that everything — EVERYTHING — we post should be accessible to as many readers and viewers as possible.

Christian P. Vogler, director of the technology-access program at Gallaudet University, an institution for the hearing-impaired in Washington, D.C., said he would not use videos without captions. That policy can be limiting, he said, but it’s important that he lead by example. “When I’m looking for any video, that’s a requirement,” he said through an interpreter. “The first thing I check is to make sure it’s captioned.”

Vogler’s position is not easy, but it’s one I think I can get on board with as a start.

Universal Accessibility Remains Elusive

As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind in Chronicle for Higher Education.

I know this story is hardly news, as the first comment to the story reiterates. But it’s an important reminder to those of us who teach: we need to seek out universally accessible technologies and tools for our classrooms. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on technology creators and distributors to provide universally accessible tools. We need to exert whatever pressure we can on content providers to provide universally accessible content. And we need to remind our students and ourselves that everything — EVERYTHING — we post should be accessible to as many readers and viewers as possible.

Christian P. Vogler, director of the technology-access program at Gallaudet University, an institution for the hearing-impaired in Washington, D.C., said he would not use videos without captions. That policy can be limiting, he said, but it’s important that he lead by example. “When I’m looking for any video, that’s a requirement,” he said through an interpreter. “The first thing I check is to make sure it’s captioned.”

Vogler’s position is not easy, but it’s one I think I can get on board with as a start.

Rhetoric of Email and Text Messages in Cases of Rape

Trigger warning: This post addresses acquaintance rape and victim blaming.

I read this February 17 Chronicle of Higher Education article with interest about the use of texts and emails in rape cases, especially the bit about facing the “court of public opinion”: In Rape Cases, Students’ Texts and Emails Face the Court of Public Opinion. The title caught my attention because I was curious about the rhetorical use and purpose of those texts and emails — and especially who the sender of the messages was, the victim or the defendant.

Here’s how the article framed the issue:

Because of the nature of the crime, campus rape cases can be complicated for colleges to adjudicate. In the absence of witnesses or physical evidence, determining whether an accused student is responsible is often a matter of weighing one party’s word against another’s.

But what happens when the words they exchanged privately — emails or texts or Facebook messages, for example — are posted online for anyone to see?

In recent weeks, national news outlets have published two accounts of campus rape cases that drew on the individuals’ electronic correspondence, before and after the alleged rape, in an effort to characterize their relationships.

The article title suggests that the “texts and emails” faced the court of public opinion, but of course what the article is really reporting — what the article writers are really reporting — is that electronic conversations between the defendant and the victim, both before and after the rape, were released or uncovered in public spaces by national news outlets in reports about these two cases.

I’m focusing on the human agents and the words, rather than the medium and the location, as I engage with this text because I think the article too quickly objectifies both the messages and the humans in the story. And to be clear, the victim is the only one really “fac[ing] the court of public opinion” in this article.

The defendant is not facing that same court of public opinion. At least, the defendant’s words are not really the issue. Maybe, if the relationship had been verbally abusive in public, there might be reason to use those words against the defendant. But if we take this article at face value, the defendant’s words are not really the ones being weighed. The victim’s words are. The only quoted words in the article from any of those texts or emails are those sent by a victim “more than a month after the incident” that read, “I love you Paul. Where are you?!?!?!?!”

The article writers explain the presence of a victim’s words with this paragraph:

As the two cases illustrate, private statements can be used to support vastly different interpretations of an incident—or a relationship. Further complicating matters is that dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic episode can cause a victim’s behavior to seem erratic.

As readers, we are limited to two options for understanding these words:

  • They represent a relationship that is healthy and could not possibly be related to an abusive relationship of rape, OR
  • They are evidence of the erratic behavior of the victim.

As I read and reread this piece, I am amazed that the authors actually wrote “dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic episode can cause a victim’s behavior to seem erratic.” Because the consequence is that we must either consider the victim a liar or as a person behaving erratically.

Not as a victim of rape.

Not as someone who has suffered.

Not as a person.

Not as a human.

This is the consequence of binary thinking, of framing our understanding of an issue within dichotomous, or even semi-dichotomous, options. We limit ourselves to thinking in programmatic dichotomies, like if/then statements, rather than in complex, nuanced human terms. We objectify those who are in desperate need of being recognized as human and hurting.

The article concluded with the following quotes, which so anger me that I can hardly think straight.

It would be “remarkably irresponsible” not to consider digital communication between a victim and a perpetrator in a hearing, says Allyson Kurker, a lawyer who helps colleges investigate sexual-assault complaints. But not all digital communication can be given the same weight, she says.

“I’ve seen text messages exchanged very, very soon after an alleged assault, and I put less weight onto those,” she says. If a woman is saying things like “It’s OK” or “I’m fine,” says Ms. Kurker, “they don’t mean anything except the person just doesn’t want to deal with the situation right now.”

But if, weeks on, the alleged victim is sending friendly texts to the alleged perpetrator, that could mean something different. “It doesn’t make sense,” she says, “that they would be exchanging flirty text messages after that time if something had gone wrong.”

As I read Kurker’s words, there are only two conclusions the court of public opinion can draw when attempting to reconstruct the impossibly complicated rhetorical exigence that produced conversations between defendant and victim: Victims are either lying or flirting.

  • If victims say “It’s OK” or “I’m fine” immediately after the rape, either they weren’t raped (so they lied about being raped) or they were raped and they aren’t really okay (so they are lying).
  • If victims are “exchanging flirty messages” with a defendant weeks after the rape, either they are actually flirting and weren’t raped (so they lied about being raped) or they were raped and they are acting erratic (meaning they are living a lie).

Kurker’s closing words are deeply disturbing. In essence, by flirting, maybe acting as if everything is normal weeks after a rape, the victim is demonstrating that the rape could not have taken place.

If you have ever met someone who has been raped by an acquaintance or someone known to the victim, I challenge you to find evidence that the relationship is not being presented as anything but normal — and yes, maybe even flirty. When a victim knows the rapist, when the rapist and the victim have an existing relationship, how can we possibly expect anything but attempts to maintain some sense of normalcy?

That’s not erratic behavior. That’s survival. And a victim should not be indicted for surviving.

Rhetoric of Email and Text Messages in Cases of Rape

Trigger warning: This post addresses acquaintance rape and victim blaming.

I read this February 17 Chronicle of Higher Education article with interest about the use of texts and emails in rape cases, especially the bit about facing the “court of public opinion”: In Rape Cases, Students’ Texts and Emails Face the Court of Public Opinion. The title caught my attention because I was curious about the rhetorical use and purpose of those texts and emails — and especially who the sender of the messages was, the victim or the defendant.

Here’s how the article framed the issue:

Because of the nature of the crime, campus rape cases can be complicated for colleges to adjudicate. In the absence of witnesses or physical evidence, determining whether an accused student is responsible is often a matter of weighing one party’s word against another’s.

But what happens when the words they exchanged privately — emails or texts or Facebook messages, for example — are posted online for anyone to see?

In recent weeks, national news outlets have published two accounts of campus rape cases that drew on the individuals’ electronic correspondence, before and after the alleged rape, in an effort to characterize their relationships.

The article title suggests that the “texts and emails” faced the court of public opinion, but of course what the article is really reporting — what the article writers are really reporting — is that electronic conversations between the defendant and the victim, both before and after the rape, were released or uncovered in public spaces by national news outlets in reports about these two cases.

I’m focusing on the human agents and the words, rather than the medium and the location, as I engage with this text because I think the article too quickly objectifies both the messages and the humans in the story. And to be clear, the victim is the only one really “fac[ing] the court of public opinion” in this article.

The defendant is not facing that same court of public opinion. At least, the defendant’s words are not really the issue. Maybe, if the relationship had been verbally abusive in public, there might be reason to use those words against the defendant. But if we take this article at face value, the defendant’s words are not really the ones being weighed. The victim’s words are. The only quoted words in the article from any of those texts or emails are those sent by a victim “more than a month after the incident” that read, “I love you Paul. Where are you?!?!?!?!”

The article writers explain the presence of a victim’s words with this paragraph:

As the two cases illustrate, private statements can be used to support vastly different interpretations of an incident—or a relationship. Further complicating matters is that dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic episode can cause a victim’s behavior to seem erratic.

As readers, we are limited to two options for understanding these words:

  • They represent a relationship that is healthy and could not possibly be related to an abusive relationship of rape, OR
  • They are evidence of the erratic behavior of the victim.

As I read and reread this piece, I am amazed that the authors actually wrote “dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic episode can cause a victim’s behavior to seem erratic.” Because the consequence is that we must either consider the victim a liar or as a person behaving erratically.

Not as a victim of rape.

Not as someone who has suffered.

Not as a person.

Not as a human.

This is the consequence of binary thinking, of framing our understanding of an issue within dichotomous, or even semi-dichotomous, options. We limit ourselves to thinking in programmatic dichotomies, like if/then statements, rather than in complex, nuanced human terms. We objectify those who are in desperate need of being recognized as human and hurting.

The article concluded with the following quotes, which so anger me that I can hardly think straight.

It would be “remarkably irresponsible” not to consider digital communication between a victim and a perpetrator in a hearing, says Allyson Kurker, a lawyer who helps colleges investigate sexual-assault complaints. But not all digital communication can be given the same weight, she says.

“I’ve seen text messages exchanged very, very soon after an alleged assault, and I put less weight onto those,” she says. If a woman is saying things like “It’s OK” or “I’m fine,” says Ms. Kurker, “they don’t mean anything except the person just doesn’t want to deal with the situation right now.”

But if, weeks on, the alleged victim is sending friendly texts to the alleged perpetrator, that could mean something different. “It doesn’t make sense,” she says, “that they would be exchanging flirty text messages after that time if something had gone wrong.”

As I read Kurker’s words, there are only two conclusions the court of public opinion can draw when attempting to reconstruct the impossibly complicated rhetorical exigence that produced conversations between defendant and victim: Victims are either lying or flirting.

  • If victims say “It’s OK” or “I’m fine” immediately after the rape, either they weren’t raped (so they lied about being raped) or they were raped and they aren’t really okay (so they are lying).
  • If victims are “exchanging flirty messages” with a defendant weeks after the rape, either they are actually flirting and weren’t raped (so they lied about being raped) or they were raped and they are acting erratic (meaning they are living a lie).

Kurker’s closing words are deeply disturbing. In essence, by flirting, maybe acting as if everything is normal weeks after a rape, the victim is demonstrating that the rape could not have taken place.

If you have ever met someone who has been raped by an acquaintance or someone known to the victim, I challenge you to find evidence that the relationship is not being presented as anything but normal — and yes, maybe even flirty. When a victim knows the rapist, when the rapist and the victim have an existing relationship, how can we possibly expect anything but attempts to maintain some sense of normalcy?

That’s not erratic behavior. That’s survival. And a victim should not be indicted for surviving.