We can—and should—subvert rhetorical tradition

Graduate Student Spotlight: Storm Pilloff

PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition

I’m interested in subverting the canon and tradition of rhetoric. Rhetoric excludes our most vulnerable populations from its history and pedagogy. I focus my research and teaching practices on bodies and voices who are traditionally silenced, overlooked, or excluded from the study of rhetoric and from the way we teach writing. By turning our attention toward disabled rhetors, women of color, and queer bodies, I believe we can redefine what it means to be rhetorical and can amplify the most silenced voices.

I “universally design” the courses I teach and, as composition coordinator, I train new teachers to do the same. Universal Design (UD) is a concept derived from disability activism and my take on it means access for all; thus I ground UD with feminist principles and language diversity. Not only do I follow traditional UD principles for teaching materials, I also encourage students to access all of their language skills, not purely “academic” language, in their discussions and writing.

My dissertation will study subversive rhetorics—cunning, embodied ways of making meaning in opposition to norms. I am particularly interested in rhetorics available to people with bodies and minds considered non-standard by rhetorical traditions. Subverting the canon and tradition of rhetoric is an activist orientation aimed at literally humanizing people considered sub-human.