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 


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.

(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: Incoming Assistant Professor of Contemporary Black/African Rhetoric and Media Studies at 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: Associate 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

  • Current Position: Third-year Ph.D. student (Communication) University of Memphis 
(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