A few weeks ago, I sat in a room of fabulous mentors, colleagues, and friends and defended my dissertation with distinction. I laughed and celebrated with my friends. I came home from a long day on campus to find a copy of The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors: Practice and Research (which I have a chapter in!) on my porch. I submitted my dissertation. This past Friday, I blinked back tears as my dear dissertation co-directors hooded me with my family seated in the front row. In just a few hours, I will graduate. There is a lot of light in my life right now, and I want to honor that.
Below is a copy of the acknowledgments to my dissertation, and each of these people mean more to me than this brief statement suggests. There are also so many people who have supported me who don’t appear in my acknowledgments: all the friends from college and high school who have been nonstop congratulating me, my professors from Hollins who challenged and encouraged me, the Harpers, my adoring (& adored) gramma.
I whole-heartedly believe in recognizing and treasuring the people who get you to where you are. This is some version of that.
This dissertation is a combination of many types of knowing and meaning-making—both an intellectual exploration of how our field has shaped and been shaped by disability discourses and a political call for bringing the body into our teaching and research practices. I have so many people who have encouraged this blending of spheres and have supported me as I awkwardly come to terms with what sometimes feels like fractured parts of who I am as a person, scholar, and instructor. I would not be at this stage without the support of my co-directors Patrick Berry and Lois Agnew. I never imagined that writing a dissertation could be anything but agonizing, but I was continuously surprised with how much I enjoyed the process of developing and complicating my ideas, which is surely a testament to your mentorship. From coursework to comprehensive exams to this dissertation, you two have been an incredible mentoring duo. I have likely spent more time in each of your offices than I have in my own. I have emailed you both hundreds of times. I have received pages and pages of careful, conscientious, and critical feedback on the chapters of this dissertation and on the earlier work that informed these ideas. I am so grateful for your constant and consistent support and your guidance as I developed courses, job market materials, articles and webtexts for publication. You two are the best.
I would also like to recognize the incredible support from the other members of my committee. I am forever impressed by the calm brilliance of Collin Brooke. You give the most sage advice and offered great strategies for narrowing my ideas and writing this dissertation. To Jay Dolmage who I first met him at West Virginia University, you are truly inspiring. Your teaching style, constructive feedback, powerful scholarship, and delicious peanut butter-filled cupcakes have been so vital to me as I work to construct my own academic identity. And to Margaret Price, thank you for your thoughtful comments on the blog posts that fed into this project and for your scholarship. Reading Mad at School, I felt vindicated that I don’t have to fracture myself into discrete parts and keep my madness a secret.
Taking courses in the Disability Studies Program allowed me to understand how disability is deeply intellectual and grounded in the very roots of social justice that I have loved so much about rhetoric and composition. Thank you to Beth Ferri who allowed me to pursue projects in both of her classes that linked disability studies to writing pedagogy. To say that your courses were life changing may err on dramatic, but they certainly transformed my understanding of what matters to me as an academic.
I am grateful to everyone who has shaped my graduate experience. Brian Ballentine, Nathalie Singh-Corcoran, and Scott Wible introduced me to the discipline through the Professional Writing and Editing program at WVU. To Nathalie, thank you for introducing me to writing center work and for sharing the best brownies I have ever eaten. To Brian, thank you for encouraging me to apply to Ph.D. programs and supporting me at my first academic conference. To Scott, thank you for introducing me to the field and for assigning the book A Rhetoric of Risk, which was the first moment that I saw how my background (growing up in coal country and watching young men recruited out of high school to work in the mines) connected with my interests in professional writing. To Steve Parks, Kristen Krause, Rebecca Moore Howard, Iswari Pandey, Chris Palmer, Tony Scott, LouAnn Payne, Kristi Johnson, and George Rhinehart, thank you for supporting me throughout my time at Syracuse.
The Composition and Cultural Rhetoric program is home to an amazing group of people who are driven by social justice. I’ll never forget the conversation that I had with Tim Dougherty at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge when I visited Syracuse and realized that this place could—and would—be my intellectual home for the next four years. To Missy Watson, Nicole Gonzales Howell, Kate Navickas, Rachael Shapiro, Melissa Kizina Motsch, and Carolyn Ostrander: I am forever grateful to y’all for bringing me into the Circle and encouraging me to actively shape this community. To Jana Rosinski and Lindsey Banister, you ladies are my best friends and sounding boards. Thank you for every piece of advice, long conversation, and vegan milkshake. To Jason Markins, Jason Luther, and Seth Davis, thank you for being such sassy and supportive friends. To Ben Kuebrich, Karrieann Soto, and Tamara Issak, I have loved working on This Rhetorical Life with you all and collaborating to produce ethical and accessible digital scholarship.
I am forever grateful for my family members who have embraced and accommodated difference. Thank you to my older brother, Matt, who taught me a lot growing up about how people perceive and respond to disability and how to suspend judgment of others. I love you. To my dad, Rick, who supported me many years ago when I was diagnosed with depression and who has always supported my academic choices, I love you, too. To my mom, Susie, you have influenced everything I do. You told me to apply to graduate school, and you encouraged me to sign up for a teaching assistantship. Your advocacy for Matt and your love of teaching have influenced me more than I could ever express. When I found the box of letters from your former students, I knew I wanted to be the type of academic who makes a difference and who advocates for and with folks whose voices frequently go unheard. I wish you could read this.
Finally, thank you to Jack and Queenie. Jack, I am so thankful to have met you at C&W in the little mountain town of Frostburg, MD. I’ve never met someone who is so genuinely interested in every part of my life—even the terrible parts. We met before I started working on this dissertation, and I wouldn’t have been able to write and finish it without your support. And to Queenie, my rescued pit mix who flew to Syracuse from North Carolina, you—more than any person—have been here for me with your tail wagging, ready to cuddle. Y’all rescued me.