Wilfredo: You’re listening to Tell Me More!, a podcast for amplifying the work of graduate students. I’m your host, Wilfredo Flores... or just Wil.
[opening theme song plays, “Metre” by Slow Alarm]
W: This is a show where we ask graduate students a singular question: Tell me more!
W: So, let’s get into the episode.
[music continues and then fades out]
W: Hi there! Welcome to Tell Me More!, where we chat with graduate students about their work ideas and more. In this episode, I'm chatting with Millie Hizer, a third-year PhD student at Indiana University Bloomington. So welcome, Millie! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Millie: Hi! Yeah! So again, my name is Millie Hizer. I'm a third-year PhD student studying rhetoric and composition at Indiana University Bloomington. My research currently works at the intersection of disability studies, rhetorical invention, Metis, and disability disclosure. So I'm going into my comprehensive examinations next fall. So this is my final semester of coursework. So I am excited to kind of move on to the next next step in the process of getting my PhD.
W: Yeah, I think, remembering when I finished coursework, this is one of the best moments of graduate school. I can tell you, it's going to feel very nice when you're done!
M and W: [laughter]
M: I’m excited!
W: Yeah, that's awesome. And you're here today to talk to us about an in-progress project for a course that you hope to eventually get published. So that sounds fascinating. Please tell me more!
M: [Laughter] Of course! So currently the project that I'm working on looks at the intersection of disability disclosure and rhetorical invention. So, kind of, the key bridge here is the term Metis, or as J Dolmage characterizes it as adaptive cunning or intelligence. So really what this looks at is how this relationship is complex and embodied. There's a lot to do and research and looking at how the disabled body and how disabled individuals utilize rhetorical invention. And I see Metis as a bridge kind of for disabled individuals to use rhetorical invention through, in the process of disability disclosure. So I see disability disclosure as highly rhetorical and as a rhetorical process. So there's a lot that goes into this in terms of privilege and access. And it's a really, really interesting topic that is personal for me as a multiply disabled scholar.
One kind of side project that also is really dealing with disability disclosure and is a very timely investigation is looking at disability disclosure in the era of COVID. So I'm presenting in April at the Society for Disability Studies conference. It's virtual, but it's tagged at Ohio State University. And my project kind of looks at access in the era of COVID-19. So in terms of disability, disclosure and access, within the era of COVID-19, many individuals who had not had to previously disclose their disability. And I'm also, you know, more specifically thinking about those with, you know, auto-immune disorders, need to disclose their disability in order to receive accommodations with the university, even as faculty members who are at high risk. So there's a lot going on you know, in bringing, bringing this to, to light in the era of COVID.
Wilfredo: Yeah. Funny enough, on this conversation, the Writing Center here at Michigan State University has been doing a series on access, particularly through the, through the, the vantage of writing centers, but a lot of the conversations have been expansive in a way that kind of branches out to a lot of the different ways that faculty, graduate students who in a sense have to contend with a lot of what faculty deal with without a lot of the protections, sometimes because sometimes we're students and sometimes we're instructors, but we're never both. So yeah, a lot of these conversations have been at the forefront of my mind, particularly as I tried to navigate my own health and think about, I don't know, being, being there for my students who themselves have to deal with all these aspects of disclosure and the virus just affecting their lives. So I'm not really sure where I'm going with that, but yeah, I'm seeing a lot of your work is resonating a lot what is happening in the world right now, and it's particularly salient to my life in particular. So, yeah. Thank you for chatting with me about that.
M: And it was interesting too. You mentioned the Michigan State Writing Center Series. I believe Margaret Price, who is one of my scholarly heroes, and Price kind of showed a graphic of you are here and, you know, this is where your priority is. And it really is, especially when it comes to the vaccine too, in thinking about, Who has access? There's so many—if you look at the hashtag Disability Twitter, which is one of the things that I am always kind of constantly following, there are so many people, disabled individuals who do not have access to the vaccine and they need that and they're not being prioritized. And so, you know, that also kind of goes into my research into access: who, you know, who has access to certain, you know, to certain accommodations at the university? Who has access to—it's all kind of related to one another.
W: So, yeah, I think particularly over the past year, I've been really attuned to Disability, Twitter. Throughout the year throughout this last year, we've been seeing a lot of people talking about how difficult it is to navigate, navigate the medical industrial complex writ large, but just all the ways that public health has kind of failed people throughout the years through variety of issues” institutionalized ableism medical racism, like all these things are coming to a head in ways that are really showing us how vital this work is right now. So I think, yeah, I think you, you're well positioned to, I think, change the world, hopefully for the better.
M: Yeah! So really my kind of journey to being interested in not only disability disclosure, more specifically, but disability studies as a whole really does come from my lived experiences as a, as both a disabled student, as a disabled scholar, and of course a disabled teacher. So I, when I first came to graduate school, I knew that I, you know, I knew that I was in rhetoric and composition and I had a variety of different interests. But as I started to read more literature, especially on disability studies scholars, such as Margaret Price, Tara Wood, Jay Dolmage, I began to really see how I could kind of fit into the current scholarly conversations. So specifically, I think about, with disability disclosure, how back when I was in high school, it was a battle for me to get accommodations because my disability was not was not believed to be true. And because of the background that I came from, my family was able to afford legal protection in order to take those steps, in order to get accommodations. So in going to university, I had already had these accommodations from high school. So it was very easy once I got to college to disclose my disability, but if you think of someone who doesn't have access or the affordance to legal protections or to the medical care provided, you know, needed in order to get accommodations. Like, for instance, I had to have three separate doctors send in proof of my disability when I, when I entered university. So if you're thinking about you know, marginalized communities that may or may not have access to the medical documentation required. It really kind of begs the question. You know, is it even ableist to require documentation, you know, should instructors just take, you know—Is there a world in which instructors could just take the word of their students? And I'm not quite sure I know the answer to that, but I do know that there's so many barriers, just even in the process of disability disclosure, which is where I see Metis intersecting, which is basically adaptive rhetorical cunning and intelligence. So it's a process of navigation and navigating these ableist barriers, and so that requires a sense of rhetorical invention. Being able to, you know, assemble the available means of persuasion to, you know, get what is deserved in terms of accommodations and disability access, basically.
W: Yeah, that reminds me of the way that medicalization— the bidirectionality of it, how you kind of have to follow these systems that are inherently ableist to actually get help for disabilities.
W: So there's all these tensions within those systems, yeah. Loretta Ross outlines a really interesting take on reproductive justice and talks about how white supremacy is built like into ableism. And a lot of scholars have been saying this for a while, like ableism and white supremacy are kind of co-conspirators in this way. And it's up to all of us to try to break those down and whatever ways that we can. So I think those are really particularly interesting intervention that you're doing here to like draw on the strategies that people are already doing and saying, we need to think more about these as actual methods of undoing these oppressive systems that are ableist, but also inherently white supremacists too.
M: I'm actually really glad that you brought that up. I, my second year of grad school, I did a lot of work studying the rhetoric of white supremacists. And it was, you know, it was something that admittedly it did get very, very disturbing. But you know, there, there is this link between systemic injustice, power structures, and ableism, which is something that I, you know, want to further explore. As I, you know, kind of consolidate all of my interests as I go throughout the exam process on everything, but I'm really glad that you brought that up because there that—there's a link there that sometimes, you know, it can be, it can be easy to miss, but it's there and it's extremely important,
Wilfredo: Right! Yeah, so the one thing that I was thinking about as you were saying all of these wonderful things was the way, the strategies that we can deploy to undo, or at least mess with—I was going to say the F-word, but let's, PG 13 podcast— to mess with these oppressive systems that are inherently ableist. And one of the things that I have been trying to do a lot with my class during, COVID, COVID university, Zoom university is to be way more flexible with my students and to let them know, like, these accommodations are for all of us. Like nobody needs to disclose to me anything that they don't want to in this semester; we all have different things going on with our families. Folks are getting sick. There's things that we have to deal with, like limited technology, bad wifi. So you don't have to disclose anything to me, I'm making it so that the course is as expansive as possible and flexible as possible so that way you can succeed. That means rolling deadlines. That means, unlimited extensions. Like that means whatever you think it means. And we, we, I try to talk with my students about like, capitalism is evil, not evil. I don't say to that because they're going to be like, “Oh my God!” But like capitalism is really kind of a, a rigid structure that hinders all of our lives and really deadlines are just kind of endemic to capitalist structures. So I try to make all that apparent to my students. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about teaching and how you approach that?
M: Yeah, so there's there's a couple of things. Just about my general teaching philosophy. So I'm actually giving a presentation at the 4Cs Conference (College Composition and Communications) which is next month, or it's coming up in a couple of weeks, on the establishment of an accommodating teacherly ethos. So a really big part of that I think is empathy. So even if we aren't able to understand exactly what our students are going through, because we can't, you know, all of their situations are, are individual and unique and deserve respect. I think it really is about giving students the benefit of the doubt and, you know, I rarely thought right now I'm teaching, I'm teaching public and oral communications. So, and then when the pandemic started, I was teaching first-year composition. So you know, when the pandemic started, even from the start, I had a philosophy, I was like, listen, I, anyone asks me for a deadline extension. Yeah. I'm probably going to give it. You know, I, I kind of have a philosophy that, of course, you know, there needs to be boundaries within the classroom, but you know, this—I tell my students at the beginning of the semester, both in the fall and in the spring, we're all in this together. This is a difficult time. So please. You know, please contact me, please, let me know. If you are, you know, if you are dealing with if you are dealing with anything, you know, I'm here to kind of help. So that is in terms of my teaching philosophy in general. I have always, especially as a disabled student, I, you know, I try to kind of extend—use empathy as a sort of extension of self—looking at how I have been, you know, how I have been discriminated against in the classroom. And I never want any student ever to feel that way. And so I want to extend that kind of generosity and empathy in my teaching.
But also moving on to future classes, so next spring, I designed my own version of a first-year composition course. So this is spring 2022 that I will be teaching this—it was a pretty long and rigorous process to get the course accepted. I'm teaching a course called disability, invisibility and popular culture. So essentially this is an FYC course that kind of focuses on representations of disability in popular culture. So we're looking at a variety of films, like the Stephen Hawking movie, The Theory of Everything. We're looking at, we're going to read excerpts from Alice Wong's edited collection, disability yeah, Disability Visibility, which is amazing. And so we're kind of going to be again, looking at these, you know, looking at these representations and, kind of as a like side sort of thing, maybe how these particular texts work within the triumph narrative. So there's kind of this theory, this theory within DS scholarship, that, you know, a lot of, a lot of narratives on disability kind of purport sort of this narrative that disability is only to be valued if it is triumphed over. And that's something that I'm hoping that the course can sort of push, you know, push back against. So we're reading stories about lived experiences of disability and not, not all of these disabilities are quote-unquote overcome. So it's and that that is still, you know, it is still, of course, you know, disabilities should not only be, you know, only be valued or placed to our attentions if it is overcome, we need to have more stories, you know, about the lived experiences about the day-to-day lives, basically of, you know, people who are disabled written by disabled individuals. So, you know, that that's kind of a long thing about my, about my teaching, but I have [laughter]. I love pedagogy is—teaching is my, in addition to, I love, you know, obviously writing and researching and, you know, scholarship, but teaching is my passion, I love it so much. And and I think there's, I mean, it's really at the core of what we do, especially in the field of rhetoric and writing studies.
W: Yeah, totally. I like, listening to that the most immediate thing that came to mind was this idea of centralizing this ethics of empathy, like ethics of not care, cause that's something, but this empathetic, generous pedagogy that really just makes life easier for people. Like when life is easier, you like, let me back up. Like one of the things that I always tell my students when like right from the beginning and especially now, is that writing happens in addition to life. Writing can be your life. And it is for a lot of people, but for a lot of us writing happens with everything else. And life is always going to be everything that's happening. So one of the things I tried to tell them right up at the beginning is like, I'm going to be the kindest professor you'll ever have. And I'm trying to model for you like a world that I would like us to live in. So hopefully after this course, you take this great experience, hopefully great experience, and go out into the world and model that for other people, you're going to be a supervisor. You might be a teacher. If you can remember how great this experience was for you and how much you flourished without having to worry about deadlines or any kind of rigidity that's going to just hinder your own development. Maybe you can do that out in the world too. Like, again, it just benefits us all if we just do this and approach the world in this way.
M: And you know, another thing that I also kind of, I really like to tell my students listen, you know, I go through the same, you know, the same—I go through writer's block. I go through, you know, I am an imperfect person. I am an imperfect writer just because, you know, just because I have, you know, just because I have a bachelor's and master's in English doesn't mean that, you know, I don't experience, you know, the same, the same, you know, roadblocks in writing that you experienced. And I, I especially look at like, Eric Leake and Lisa Blankenship scholarship on empathy and empathy as, you know, an extension of the self and you know, how we can recognize and show our students that we're human too. I think that that creates a culture of, a positive culture in the classroom. That that is really invaluable. I, I would much rather have that kind of culture than have students fear me or, you know, something like that. That's that's, you know, I, I never, I never want to be one of those professors that students, you know, walk out and go, “Oh my gosh, I don't, you know, this one’s gonna be, you know, rough class.” I don't want that. That's not who I want to be as a teacher.
W: Yeah, for me particularly, I always think of it as like a queer praxis because queerness is inherently playful in these ways. Like, we eschew these rigid forms of living. So I don't tell my students this, because they're going to be like “Cisheteropatriarchy, what?” But I would like to think of it as, like, if I can play with my class in this way. I, again, I'm trying to envision that fun world that we're in fun is this operative machine that works against the rigidity that is like white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy, that is ableist too, like, like playing with the class in this way, just allows us to break everything and make it better for students in some ways, I was just wondering, were there other moments where you speak with students, like, more directly about the usefulness of writing and maybe even just rhetoric as like, since this is like rhetorical strategy, Metis, et cetera?
M: Yeah. So right now the course is still it's still kind of in it's in its infancy, but our, some of the texts that we are we're looking at, I think I mentioned Disability Visibility, that collection by Alice Wong. Some essays that we are looking at, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s “Becoming Disabled.” We're also looking at excerpts from Representing Disability in an Ableist World: Essays on Mass Media. We're also looking at actually, Lisa, Lisa Egan, I think you mentioned Lisa Eagan before. Maybe...
W: Maybe! We’ve been talking for a while! [laughter]
M: [laughter] But, “I’m Not a Person with a Disability. I’m an Disabled Person.” So there's, there's a variety of kinds of texts that you know, that, that we were kind of the we're looking at. It's also, the course also has an emphasis on storytelling. So. It kind of, we look at the story, like storytelling and narrative elements. So we look at some, you know, narratology and narrative theory and how these, you know, kind of representations of disability function at the intersection of storytelling and disability representation. So it's, I, you know, the, the class is going to be in spring 2022. So you know, it is a ways away, but I I'm, I'm extremely excited. This is the first time I'm basically creating a course, kind of, from scratch. So even though it is a first-year comp course, it's, you know, it's designed, it's, you know, I create the syllabus and everything? So I'm really excited about that.
W: Yeah. I think this is particularly interesting because something that I've been noticing a lot more as I teach first-year writing is how capacious it is and how you can do these things within that space. And people might like, listeners might be thinking, oh, you can't do that. Like, why? Like, how are you? It's not going to work. But total, like the minute you say all this, I'm like, oh yeah, I see the connections. I see this. I see that. This is stuff that everybody can do feasibly. So hopefully more people do stuff like this, cause your course sounds amazing. I wish I was a freshmen, so I could take it! Let me go sign up for this course. [laughter]
M: [laughter] Well, thank you! It's it's a really cool thing that our, that our department has it's they have obviously multiple versions of our first-year composition course is called W131, but this is a specific topics course called W170 that they allow advanced graduate students to teach and we're allowed to kind of propose our our own, you know, our own course, then it's a pretty rigorous, multiple, you know, step review process. But, you know, there's been really interesting classes offered at IU. The apocalypse or, you know…
W: Salient topic!
M: [laughter] Like really, you know, just really like unique, unique courses that, you know, that, that you might not think would fit into a first-year writing, you know, setting, but it actually, we're, we're teaching the same skills. We're teaching critical thinking, reading, writing skills, you know, the full title of first-year comp is critical reading, writing, and inquiry. So, you know, we are reading, writing and, you know, inquiring about the nature of things around us. And you can really do that with a lot of different topics.
W: Yeah, totally. Again. Yeah. Our curriculum is very much similar. Like inquiry is at the forefront of the terminology that we use around the course at MSU. So totally, yeah! I see all of these connections, and I'm definitely thinking of how to reconfigure my own course, too. One thing that's really interesting that I think a lot of other graduate students listening to this that might take away from this is this idea of self-advocacy like you have to like push for these things.Cause we don't always get the courses that we want to teach maybe sometimes. But I mean, there are options to do that. Like you just have to push and, you know, advocate for yourself, I guess, which can be hard. Like we've seen one good model from here from you. So that's good!
M: Yes, and you know something kind of about to, you know, self-advocacy and I think that also kind of extends to, you know, to to disability studies too, is that, you know, self-advocacy of course is like extremely important, but that doesn't mean if someone is unable to advocate for themselves, that they are not practicing Metis. They're not practicing rhetorical invention. I see nondisclosure, you know, kind of going back to the issue of disclosure, I see non-disclosure also as a, you know, mediated, calculated rhetorical process. And so, you know, I think there's a lot that, you know, I have learned over the years, mainly honestly, from having to fight and also you know, fight for my fight for my rights as a disabled student, how to advocate for myself. But you know, that also gets back to the issue of privilege is I recognize that I came from a background that enabled me to, you know, to learn, to learn these skills. And so, when it comes to rhetorical invention, not all students have access to the available means of persuasion that go into disability disclosure. So it all kind of also ties back to these capitalistic, you know, system, systems of power that the ivory tower of academia that you know really is it's all kind of, it's all related.
W: So you've talked about Metis and rhetorical invention. And at the beginning of the episode, you mentioned that you are in the coalescing kind of preparation stage of turning this into a full-fledged project. I was just wondering and curious, like, where do you see this going?
M: Yeah! So as I have my next year is my exam year, so I, I have my comprehensive oral examinations in the fall, and then I have my perspectus writing in the spring, and I am really eventually hoping to make this a part of my eventual dissertation. So I think that there is a lot to be explored in looking at disability disclosure and adaptive, you know, rhetorical cunning or intelligence and how disabled, the disabled body must invent itself, invent its, you know, the, the strategies basically to work within an ableist system. When I say invent I mean, gathering all that is necessary in order to navigate the ablest university system. So in the future, I am really hoping to make my dissertation about disability disclosure as a rhetorical process over the next three years of my study. Before I am Dr. Hizer!
Wilfredo: Right, well, this has been great. I know, I want to know more about this and I can't wait to read more about this as you progress. I'm sure other people want to know more about you too. So is there any social media or a website or an email that you would like to share to our listeners?
M: Yeah! So my Twitter is at Millie, H, 27 it's so it's under a Millie Heizer. And then my email is a firstname.lastname@example.org!
W: Awesome, cool! Well, I'll be sure to include that in the show notes so people have a convenient access point to that and yeah, thank you so much for your time! This has been great!
M: Thank you! Thank you so much
[outro music plays]
W: Thanks for listening! You can find out more about this and other episodes at tellmemorepod.com, where you’ll also find transcripts for each episode. The opening and closing theme song is “Metre'' by Slow Alarm. Music licensed under an Attribution, Non-commercial, Share Alike License, and special thanks to Slow Alarm for providing the music free of charge. You can learn more about Slow Alarm at nultielrecords.blogspot.com. Be well!