Spring 2015

Jessica King

I am currently a freshman at Virginia Tech. I am pursuing a double major in Communication and International Studies, with minors in German and Religion. I come from a military family, so I moved around frequently as a young child; however, I spent the most time in Stafford, Virginia. As of right now, I am not entirely certain what career I would like to pursue upon graduation, but I have a keen interest in helping others, particularly the disadvantaged or underserved.  I have always been interested in the ways language can be used to construct reality, and recently I have also become interested in violence prevention.  My research interests are in the ways heteronormativity is a violent structure in Western society. This topic is far-reaching and has implications for every member of society. My research centers primarily on the effects of heteronormativity with respect to gender roles and queer people, in particular gender non-conformists, asexuals, and bisexuals.

Lacey Kondos

I am a junior undergraduate student at Virginia Tech majoring in Sociology and Criminology, with a minor in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. I hope to pursue a career in federal law enforcement or intelligence analysis after I complete graduate school. I have always wanted to delve into the world of violent crime and attempt to understand the thought process of criminals. I also work with domestic violence victims in the local Blacksburg area, so I combined this commitment with my interest in violent crime to develop my research question, which explores how sexually violent language disseminates a rape culture in today’s society. This topic has become increasingly prominent in the media and is a source of concern for the student population. Through violent language, we normalize sexual violence without even realizing it. By bringing awareness to the sexually charged language used in everyday situations, we can begin respecting sexual assault victims and teaching to not rape instead of how to avoid it.

Sapna Singh

I am a junior pursuing Bachelors of Arts degrees in both Philosophy and Political Science, with minors in Religion and National Security. I grew up in Herndon, VA, about 45 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., and began studying at Virginia Tech in August of 2012. I will be completing my dual degrees in May of 2016, and moving back to Washington, where I hope to find a full time job for a non-profit social/political organization.  I’ve always been intrigued by how people’s motivations are directed by their ideologies, and I am currently concentrating my efforts in discovering how the definitions of patriotism circulating in popular culture may be limiting people’s behaviors. The definitions of patriotism comprise a wide spectrum and range from “blind, unquestioned faith to one’s nation” to “active criticism of one’s governing institutions.” How a group chooses to define patriotism has a direct reflection on the actions of its constituency, and I posit my research will show how limiting the definition of what constitutes patriotic behaviors is, in itself, a violent act.

Ashley Stant

I am a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Professional Writing and a minor in Linguistics.  I intend to pursue teaching positions upon graduation because I want to create an equal and enriching learning environment for those disadvantaged by current systems. My work with the Language, Violence, and Nonviolence Research Group focuses on the pejoration of words used to describe women and the violence caused when women use these words among themselves. The meanings of originally neutral words directed towards women become negative over time and the way women take and use this damaged language can be seen as harmful, or in some cases, empowering as seen by recent movements to “take back” certain words.

Kathryn Stegmuller

I will be graduating in May 2016 with a B.A. in both Political Science with the Legal Studies option and Philosophy. I hope to get my J.D. afterwards and practice law eventually. My most notable interest during my undergraduate study has been Constitutional Law, spurred by two courses in the spring of my sophomore year and developing more with a senior seminar during the fall of my junior year which focused on civic constitutionalism. The intersection of my studies in philosophy and political science has created my interest in how we teach students about the constitution and how we might be creating citizens who simply cannot reach their full potential. The violence in the stories that we tell about our relation to the Constitution places the Supreme Court in an exalted position of power and leaves no place for citizens’ voices. The juridical Constitution that we teach our students about is only accessible to an elite group with a legal education and can thus be manipulated at the expense of the average citizen. What would the United States look like if our citizens were empowered through their early education to engage with the Constitution and identify themselves as interpreters of our nation’s living law? Telling only one side of the story, or worse, conveniently amended versions, is more than a disservice—it is a violence towards our students.

Mikhelle Taylor

I earned my B.A. at Virginia Tech in 2010, in Interdisciplinary Studies with a Leadership and Social Change emphasis, and am now pursuing the M.A. in Material Culture and Public Humanities degree. On the Material Culture side of my studies, I focus on the way that cultural and social imaginaries, values, and identity are expressed physically in the objects and built spaces used in everyday life, and imaginatively through literature, film, and digital media. Working with professors in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, History, Sociology, and American Indian Studies, I have developed a core concentration on chivalric literature and the ahistorical projection of Chivalry as an ethos; I am particularly interested in the ways medieval sources and images of Chivalry have been used to either deter or condone violence in later historical periods and the modern era. For me, Material Culture is a form of communication that powerfully underscores the overt language used to explain right and wrong action to ourselves, as it allows the frequently noncritical consumption of these ideas through activities such as play, festivals and celebrations, cultural rituals, adornment, and entertainment. Through my program emphasis on the Public Humanities track, I intend to apply my research through working with communities in crisis or recovering from historical violence, and participating in the design of memorial spaces and programs that can invite healing conversations by promoting a greater awareness of the narratives that frame our perceptions about the past.

Beejal Ved

I am currently a senior majoring in International Studies with a concentration in World Politics and Policy.  I am also pursuing a minor in Creative Writing.  I am from Burke, Virginia, but was born in Blacksburg, Virginia.  My interest in the Language, Violence and Nonviolence Group is primarily based on the Rwandan Genocide.  I want to research and learn how the language of United Nations documents prevented strong world powers from acting in Rwanda, despite the presence of substantial evidence that genocide was taking place.  After graduating, I hope to work at a non-governmental organization or a research institute where I can continue to learn more about world politics.

Mary Catherine Weaver

I will graduate from Virginia Tech in May 2015 with a BS in Biological Sciences and a BA in English Literature, Language, and Composition with minors in both Psychology and Sociology.  I first became interested in rhetorics of mental health in academic settings while working as a research assistant at Virginia Tech’s Department of Psychology’s Child Study Center.  I am interested in language use can promote certain kinds of agency in relation to — and certain societal interpretations of — mental health issues.  My work in this group seeks to understand best practices to promote an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding of mental health issues within academic settings.  After completing undergraduate work, I plan to earn a graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and work with abused women and children.

Fall 2014

Emily Blair

Having found both spoken and written traditions important in my upbringing and understanding of the world around me, I decided to study English as an undergraduate, but found that I was expecting more from my literature and writing educations than was readily available as I studied the American Classics, or as I began to craft my first true attempts at creative writing. As a result, I took classes across the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, from Sociology to African Studies to History to American Studies, trying to pursue a more holistic study of storytelling and the written word that seemed connected to the outside world. When introduced to Rhetoric, I finally found what I had been looking for: a way of talking about language rooted in culture and reality outside of the canonical literary tradition. My interests lie in Appalachian Studies, gender studies, and peace studies and violence prevention. My work thus far has led me to study the use of the terms “redneck” and “hillbilly” in contemporary country music, as well as beginning my interest in how the common educational core can be used to further peace studies and global consciousness. I hope to pursue an MA in English and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing, so I may teach writing and continue research in the field of Rhetoric.

Tyler Brown

My name is Tyler Brown. I was born in Manassas, VA; but, I spent most of my life growing up in a small town of northwest Maryland called Clear Spring. As an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, I am currently in the process of pursuing my bachelor’s degree in both Political Science and Philosophy, with a minor in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. It was only after registering for the Peace Studies minor that I was able to gain access to taking part in the “Language, Violence, and Nonviolence Research Group at Virginia Tech under the guidance of Dr. Paul Heilker. My interest regarding peace studies involves that of a legal perspective and observing how violence may be used in the system of law that applies to all citizens of an organized state. I hope to develop my research in an effort to determine to what extent the violence of the law influences the effectiveness of the law and alternative methods to producing and enforcing laws without such violent components. This research will enable me, along with other potential studiers of the law, to becomes more informed of the functioning of the law in society, which will enhance my understanding of the law in my efforts to become a successful law school student and eventual attorney of law.

Madiera Dennison

I am currently a sophomore pursuing two degrees in Communication Studies and Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech, in hopes to eventually pursue my interests in media, people, and service of some capacity in my future. There is no use beating around the bush: Globalization is no longer a theory; it is a fact that seems to connect all realms of technology, development, policy, and culture, regardless of where an individual lives or who one hopes to be. Moreover, the presence of violence within this new realm is increasingly common, for there are still certain conflict-inducing concepts within communicating across borders that are not resolved. The ideals of argument and manner in rhetoric and writing continue to project these concepts, which form the very foundations that create miscommunication, error, and aggressive interactions of power. With this in mind, I hope to research the concepts of non-violent communication through writing and language, and their role in intercultural exchange and development. How can we stop the spread of these concepts across borders? Moreover, how can non-violent communication be taught instead? Language is a shared meaning, and is the very marker that allows different people to form commonalities. I dedicate my work in this research group to understand the problem of language and writing within cultures, how these cultures choose to consider less violent notions, and how the media can provide a positive, less violent voice that opposing countries can use.

Katie Garahan

I am an M.A. student in English at Virginia Tech. Before beginning graduate school, I spent four years teaching 9-12 grade English in North Carolina, and this experience significantly informs my research and professional pursuits. My research interests focus on the intersection of gender, rhetoric, and education. For my thesis, I am exploring the ways in which the nineteenth-century feminization of the teaching career influences contemporary educational discourse, especially as it pertains to K-12 public school teachers in the United States. With the LVNRG group, I am examining how Common Core literacy standards purport universal, impartial standards but actually support a neoliberal agenda. The use of these (non)universal standards enact violence on all students, especially those on the linguistic margins of “standard” English, because they disallow diverse student identities in the classroom.

Paul Heilker

I earned my PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Texas Christian University in 1992, and I have been an English Department faculty member at Virginia Tech since 1994. In my research, I try to develop thoughtful, theoretical, philosophical examinations of the processes and products of college-level writing instruction in the hope that we may create more useful and fulfilling experiences for students and faculty alike. Central to my recent scholarship is the idea that rhetoric is a way of being in the world through language, that discourses and their constituent genres require us to inhabit and enact strikingly different ways of being in the world, and my work now focuses on the relationship of writing to violence and nonviolence. I believe that we cannot effectively re-imagine the human condition as less violent using the same discursive tools that created our currently hostile conditions, that we cannot bridge our deep disagreements and schismatic worldviews using the same schemas of discourse that constructed today’s antagonistic realities. To create a less hostile and violent future, we need less hostile and violent discourses, and we need to teach these alternative ways of being in the world to students. My work in this research group is dedicated to elucidating less violent ways of being in the world through language.

Elizabeth Howe

I am an undergraduate student majoring in English with minors in Psychology and Business. I am a born and raised Air Force brat and my family’s military service extends, continuously, through the last four generations of both my mother’s and father’s side. My particular interest in this research group, therefore, focuses on rhetoric used in military environments, sanctions, regulations, and culture. When applied to the wide definition of violence sometimes highlighted in this research group, military rhetoric is almost entirely violent: orders restricting actions and demanding undesirable missions, propagandist patriotism drawing in draftees to ultimately face violence in its most literal form, and carefully synthesized after-action reports limiting information. Beyond the professional realm, the rhetoric used to describe combat and war to those who have never experienced it offers an entirely different language, one that may even starkly contrast the professional rhetoric used to describe the same moment. My area of focus has near limitless opportunities to study the way rhetoric has provoked or placated war historically as well as in today’s ever-dynamic military infrastructure.

Ashley Hughes

I am currently working towards my M.A. in English at Virginia Tech and teaching two sections of First-Year Writing. Right now, my research interests include constructions of gender in military discourse. Specifically, my research explores how people are responding the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which opened up several combat roles to women in the U.S. armed forces. This year, I will apply to PhD programs in rhetoric so that I can continue this type of inquiry. In this research group, I hope to expand accepted understandings of violence to include its verbal manifestations. With more far reaching definitions of violence, we can begin to change how members of our society interact with one another.

Alexis Priestley

I am pursuing a Masters degree in English at Virginia Tech. My general research interests lie in the overlap between feminism, food, rhetoric, and pop culture. My work in this project is guided by a questions Judith Butler examines in her “Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy”: what makes for a grievable life? I see this question as rhetorically and philosophically significant in the quest to develop less violent modes of discourse. “Who counts as human?” and “What is considered a grievable life?” are questions embedded in a number of discursive fields and should be explored.

Zach VeShancey

I am currently working towards a major in Economics (College of Science) and a minor in English Literature. My primary interests within the field of economics are the effects of globalization and Western hegemony on the working classes, as well as the increasing consolidation of socioeconomic decision-making in the hands of plutocracies around the world. As economist Ha-Joon Chang said in an interview with the London School of Economics, “There has been a lot of political interest in keeping economics away from democratic debate, keeping it away from the general public by making people believe that it is very difficult.” Indeed, one of the primary reasons I sought out research opportunities was to supplement the highly technical material taught in theoretical economics classes, which generally has little practical relevance in addressing contemporary issues. I think the language of economics marginalizes much of the population, and ultimately decreases participation in the democratic process. The first step in changing the way we think about economics and, moreover, the global distribution of wealth and power, is to widen the narrow parameters of debate set by mainstream media outlets, financial institutions, and political systems. Reforming these institutions is central in the struggle to maximize human welfare and reduce poverty, the primary cause of civilian violence worldwide. My hope in participating in this project is to analyze the ways in which those in power suppress alternative economic frameworks, and to ultimately help facilitate less violent and more democratic methods of public discussion.