Former Students

Below are the students I have had the privilege to journey with either as their chair or as a committee member.


The University of Memphis 


(2023) Celnisha L. Dangerfield (co-chair: Christina Moss) Pushing the Borders to Resist Place: Black Women and the Rhetorical Invention of Sanctuary (Defended: November 9, 2023)


Black women need refuge from physical, mental, and emotional violence. They seek the protection of sanctuary, but often find any sanctuary constructed without an interest in liberation cannot meet their needs. Black women learn that circumventing place is the only way to ensure full access to sanctuary. Yet, despite their valuable experiential knowledge about place, Black women’s insight is often overlooked within the rhetorical tradition. This dissertation recovers, recenters, and reimagines Black women’s complex relationship with place and sanctuary. Their insight is captured in what I call the rhetoric of sanctuary.

We look to the past for guidance because Black women’s struggles are not bound by place or time. An analysis of rhetorical artifacts from once-enslaved, Black women of the 19th century proves insightful. These women teach us that accessing sanctuary means rupturing tradition and rupturing theory that does not speak to their experiences with place. This rupture (or rather disrupture) ushers in place’s decolonization. The work of Anna Julia Cooper, Sojourner Truth, and Hannah Crafts helps us see voice, visual texts, and writing as rhetorical gateways to sanctuary. Moreover, these women help us see the necessity of an intersectional approach to place.

Current Position: Visiting Assistant Professor, Colorado State University

(2023) DiArron M. But I Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: James Cone’s Articulation of Resistive Prophetic Rhetoric (Defended: October 3, 2023)


James H. Cone is widely considered to be a forefather of Black Liberation Theology. Over the course of almost 50 years, he established himself as one of the world's most important theologians and a prophetic voice against anti-blackness and other forms of oppression in America. While his theology and career have received much well-deserved attention from religious historians and theologians, very few projects have engaged Cone rhetorically.

This dissertation will examine Cone’s first four books: "Black Theology and Black Power", "A Black Theology of Liberation", "The Spirituals and the Blues", and "God of the Oppressed." Using his final and unfinished memoir "Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theology" as a narrative guide, I employ rhetorical history as a methodological framework that examines the progression of Cone’s prophetic rhetoric, specifically along the lines of what I call resistive prophetic rhetoric. Resistive prophetic rhetoric differs from existing prophetic frames because it places the secular, not the sacred, at the center of the study of prophetic rhetoric.

This dissertation investigates Cone's foundational text to unearth the ways he violated place and negotiated controversy in establishing a resistive prophetic rhetoric. More specifically, these foundational texts illuminate that Cone’s prophetic progression develops in four phases: persona, critique of the sacred, elevation of the secular, and commitment to the institution for the sake of the people. These four phases serve as the framework of resistive prophetic rhetoric.

(2023) Natonya Listach “Lifting as We Climb”: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Speeches of Hallie Quinn Brown (Defended: September 19, 2023)


The accomplishments of Hallie Quinn Brown can be separated into segments of her teaching career, her experiences as a public speaker and elocutionist, and her work as an activist. She successfully educated various students, spoke before dignitaries, and moved her audiences to tears on multiple occasions. She fought for civil and women’s rights until her death at 100. Yet, while her membership and participation in specific organizations are not disputed, her importance, significance, and impact on African American rhetoric are relatively ignored. This dissertation analyzes Brown’s speeches and (re)introduces Brown to the study of rhetoric. By examining Brown’s speeches through close reading and didactic oratory, this dissertation adds to the study of African American rhetoric and public address, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ultimately, the author argues that studying Brown’s oratory adds depth to the traditional rhetorical canon and expands our understanding of the influence of African American rhetoric.

Current Position: Senior Instructor, Department of Communication, Middle Tennessee State University

Lionnell “Badu” Smith: Too Tired to Codeswitch: Analyzing the Prophetic Rhetoric of Critical Black Language Awareness (Defended: June 30, 2023)


This dissertation examines the rhetorical discourses of three critical Black Language teacher-scholar-activists through the lens of Black or African American prophetic rhetoric. This transdisciplinary project aims to expand the conversation regarding the role of rhetorical communication in the activity of instruction. This research brings teaching and instruction to the forefront as a rhetorical situation in which the cultural politics of Black languages and literacies are prophetically addressed.

Based on close reading of selected texts, this dissertation offers the development of three rhetorical frameworks: (a) womanist prophetic rhetoric, (b) Black prophetic fugitivity, and (c) prophetic rehabilitation. Each framework indexes a specific prophetic persona that corresponds to respective rhetors’ pedagogic performance. These include (a) the womanist prophet, (b) the fugitive prophet, and (c) the rehabilitating prophet. These frameworks and personae shed light on what it means to be a prophetic teacher in this world.

In analyzing selected texts through a Black or African American prophetic lens, this research lays the bricks for a path toward prophetic approaches and understandings to teaching and instruction in myriad subject areas. The concluding chapter expands on the development of Prophetic [Communication] Pedagogy—a liberatory pedagogic approach rooted within the Black prophetic-rhetorical tradition that combines critical analysis with rhetorical performance. Consistent with the reading in the body chapter analyses, this framework explains what it means for educators to prophetically employ rhetorical strategies in their teaching to encourage hope and bear witness to injustice.

Current Position: Assistant Professor, San Fransisco State University

Ayo M. Morton: Filling the Biblical Gap: Identifying Sacred Rhetoric for Blues Women Through Womanist Vernacular Discourse. (Defended: March 16, 2023)


The Blues woman, who is excommunicated from the Black church, is still deserving of affirmation, guidance, and inspiration. Her refusal to deny her authenticity invokes a marginalization that is rarely talked about within the Black community. This marginalization is an erasure/exclusion of this woman for the sake of maintaining this narrative. Rather than forcing herself on the followers of the narrative, she remains on the outskirts of the community. Attendance at church is not a requirement to have access to the biblical canon of the church. However, she is unlikely to embrace the sacred text of the institution that has cast her off. And on the slight chance that she does decide to open the canon, there is little found on the pages to serve her. 

With this in mind, the question becomes, what can be used to fill the gap left by the biblical canon for the Blues woman? My answer is Womanist Vernacular Discourse. I begin this work by unpacking the biblical gap, the Blues woman, and Womanist Vernacular Discourse. After identifying and exploring the vacancy, I began to find literature from what has been deemed secular in the Black community that has the potential to effectively fill the gap. 

Understanding the nature of the Blues woman and her hesitation to enter religious edifices, it immediately became apparent that this inspiration would have to come from sources not affiliated with the church and the tendency to lean on the bible would not be available. I looked to the places Blues women gather and how Womanist Vernacular Discourse was being exercised in those spaces. Those spaces included open mic nights, movie theaters, and book clubs. As I analyzed the popular literature utilized in these spaces, it was clear that the discourse in all of these texts expose Black women’s encounters with each other and the divine. 

Then, I wondered if any other ministers were aiming to inspire these women and if their sermons contained a version of Womanist Vernacular Discourse that moved beyond traditional homiletics and extended grace to this woman. Because of this, I looked at how Womanist Vernacular Discourse is used in the poetic, dramatic, autobiographical, and sermonic to fill the gap left by the biblical canon.

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Virginia State University

(2022) Thomas Fuerst: Words from Elsewhere: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century African American Call Narratives (Defended: April 29, 2022)


This dissertation examines the various rhetorical tactics of the African American Prophetic Tradition of the nineteenth century, specifically those utilized in the prophetic call narratives of Maria Stewart, Nat Turner, Julia Foote, and Richard Allen. These figures anchor their larger prophetic messages in the claim that God has called them to the prophetic task. This rhetoric of calling assumes that God still speaks and that God’s speaking matters to local communities under the thumb of racial and gendered oppression. Moreover, the rhetoric of calling assumes that God’s speaking has material (not just spiritual) effect in the world and that God has spoken through them to criticize systems of oppression and energize resistance. Through the prophetic call narratives of these four figures, communication scholars can glimpse the unique rhetorical contributions the African American Prophetic Tradition makes to American oratory, storytelling, ethics, and protest. These figures invite us to move beyond simplistic, folkish stereotypes of nineteenth-century Black preachers to see that they exercised sophisticated and thoughtful engagements with, indeed, embodiments of the biblical text and the “text” of the world around them.

Current Position: Lead pastor of Bluff City Church and First United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tennessee

(2021) Damariye L. Smith: "The Anatomy of the Commencement Speech: An Examination of Barack Obama's Rhetoric Delivered at HBCUs." (Defended: March 30, 2021)


In my dissertation, I explore the rhetorical construction of commencement addresses at historically Black colleges & universities (HBCUs) and interrogate the rhetorical invention of Barack Obama when addressing Black audiences. In order to accomplish these tasks, I examine the commencement speeches of Obama at Hampton University, Morehouse College, and Howard University. I ground my study in the methods of genre criticism, close reading, and Afrocentricity to interrogate Obama’s discourse. 

I contend that understanding the manner in which commencement addresses are rhetorically constructed for the Black audience is worthy of academic attention in a number of ways. First, possessing knowledge of how discourse is constructed helps us gain insights into the culturally specific meaning of Black graduation not only for the students but also for their families and supporters. Second, commencement discourse often sheds light on historical and contemporary issues within the Black community. Third, commencement discourse engages not only education practitioners in a critical discussion about the collegiate experience but also the public which may lead to future progressive actions toward education policy. Lastly, this study will add to the literature on Obama as a rhetor by examining Obama’s commencement rhetoric.

Current Position: Assistant Professor of Contemporary Black/African Rhetoric and Media Studies, San Diego State University.

(2020) Dianna Watkins DickersonDaring to be Herself: Womanist Rhetorical Theory in Black Women's Presidential Announcement Speeches (Defended: April 6, 2020)


Black women’s theoretical production has neither been consistently celebrated nor canonized within the academy; therefore, the primary focus of this dissertation is to establish a definition for womanist rhetorical theory in order to acknowledge Black women’s voices as carriers of theory and persuasive prowess (Collins, 1998). Theorizing through rhetorician Kimberly Johnson’s (2015) womanist rhetorical criticism, I build from Alice Walker’s (1983) definition of womanism and ethicist Stacey Floyd-Thomas’ womanist tenets. These tenets are radical subjectivity, critical engagement, traditional communalism, and redemptive self-love. The tenets help us not only conceptualize a trichotomous rhetorical triangle of Black women’s discursive diary of tripartite oppression within the larger African Diasporic context but also help us develop a methodological pattern for understanding Black women’s communicative acts. 

In order to do this, I explore the presidential campaign announcement speeches. of the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, and Senator Kamala Harris. By analyzing the broader themes within these texts, I argue the womanist rhetor well understands her inability to craft a counterpublic for the public that rejected her voice, instead re-defining her own space. I work through “movements” demonstrating how the rhetor re-claims her voice; re-constructs rhetorical boundaries; re-imagines and re-constitutes her audience; and comes to voice by re-framing her epistemological privilege to love herself regardless. Overall, I contend this study allows Black women/womanist communication scholars to have, not only a theoretical frame of their own enterprise, but one that “sings the song” of “possibilities” highlighting her wit, wisdom, and words with an integrity of her own vision (Shange, 197).

Current Position: Adjunct Professor: Memphis Theological Seminary

(2020) Steven Tramel GainesRhetorical Leadership in Organizational Conflict and Change: Case Studies of Antiracist Preaching (Defended: March 19, 2020)


This study investigates how leaders call for change while also caring for their organizations. The theoretical framework comes from the interdisciplinary study of prophetic rhetoric, developed by scholars of communication, English, and homiletics. That framework is used here in the analyses of speeches and public letters by leaders who challenge ideologies and practices shaped by and contributing to racial injustice. More specifically, this dissertation studies how audiences’ white fragility leads to constrained prophetic rhetoric that is a communication strategy inviting change without destroying organizations or being expelled from them. From analyses of such rhetoric in religious contexts, this study produces a model of pastoral rhetoric that combines nurture and challenge and can apply to leadership in other types of organizations. 

Current Position: Professor, Department of Communication, Midland College

Committee Member: 

University of Memphis


(2022) Noor Aswad: "Radical Rhetoric and the Syrian Revolution: Toward a Telos of Solidarity."

Current Position: Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Alabama

(2021) Tyler Stafford: "Rethinking the Rhetorical Dimensions of Public Refusals."
  • Current Position: Adjunct Professor, University of Memphis

(2020) Keven James Rudrow: “Resistive Black Masculinities: Race, Masculinity, and the Hip-Hop Sensibilities of Black Popular Culture.” 
  • Current Position: Senior Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee
(2016) Scott Anderson. Rhetoric, Race, and Barack Obama's Discourse of Division 

  • Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Arkansas State University

(2015) Marcus Hassell: “Under Siege: Conspiracy, I-Pistemology and Resistance through Hip-Hop in Killarmy’s Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars”  *Recipient of the 2015 Top Dissertation Award from NCA's African American Communication and Culture Division
  • Current Position: Instructor, Tennessee State University

(2020) Adrain McClain: Lessons Not Learned are Lessons Learned: Historically Black Colleges’ and Universities’ Decades Long Battle with Racism, Privilege, and Dual Systems of Higher Education

(2020) Derwin Sisnett: The Built Environment: An Autoethnography of Black Masculinity and Physical Space through the Use of Poetic and Photographic Inquiry


University of Memphis

(2022) Tamara Sawyer (Communication)
  • Current Position: Incoming Ph.D. student at Tennessee State University (Public Policy and Administration)

Committee Member:

(2019) DiArron Morrison (Religious Studies) Abilene Christian University

(2018) Kimberley Nicole Travers (History)

  • Current Position: MA Student (Library Science) University of Tennessee. 
(2017) Anthony Jerome Stone (Sociology): University of Memphis

Thesis:  "I am a Cartoon, Not Me!!: Racial Identity and Native American Caricature Iconography.
  • Current Position: Ph.D. Student (Sociology) University of Cincinnati