Grad Students

I study the intersection of rhetoric, race, and religion. Grounded in a multidisciplinary/transdisciplinary understanding of scholarship, I study African American public address and rhetorical criticism, prophetic rhetoric, and rhetorical theology along with political rhetoric, critical race theory, and religious and hip-hop studies. 

Below is a list of my current and former graduate students who have joined me on this journey.


Current Ph.D.Students (Advisor)

Natonya Listach

Natonya is an instructor of communication at Middle Tennessee State University. Her interests lie in rhetoric, gender, and instructional communication with a focus on the rhetoric and pedagogy of African American women.  


I am interested in focusing on the influence and impact of various African American women (Hallie Quinn Brown, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, and Juanita Williamson) on African American rhetoric. I am particularly interested not only in their impact on their own contemporary rhetors and speakers but how they impacted African American rhetoric as a whole while remaining largely unknown and rarely included in discussions. I will use information from their textbooks, papers, and speeches to complete a rhetorical memory project that shows their impact on rhetoric and society.


(with Andre E. Johnson) "Women, step forward!" Doing Rhetorical Historiography by Exploring Womanist Leadership in the AME Church. In Annette Madlock Gatison (ed). Womanist Ethical Rhetoric: A Call for Liberation and Social Justice in Turbulent Times. Lexington Books, 2020)


"A King’s Place is in the Kitchen: The Rhetorical Trajectory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Kitchen Table Experience." Listening Journal of Communication Ethics, Religion, and Culture

Ayo M. Morton is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Communications from Hampton University, a Master of Divinity from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, and a Master of Theology from Union Presbyterian Seminary where she was a Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership Fellow. She is a current Doctor of Philosophy student at the University of Memphis where her work is centered on rhetoric and Black sound. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. In addition to being a licensed and ordained minister, she has written three novels, a devotional, and released a spoken word CD. 


My research will focus on African American Public Address. Within this tradition, I will study the rhetoric and performance of African American preaching. More specifically, I will study the intersection of rhetoric, race, and religion from a womanist lens and framework. My goal is to build upon the growing womanist rhetorical scholarship to include how this rhetoric not only speaks but performs. My research, in how womanist rhetoric performs, will lead to the examination of sermons and how these texts are performed and delivered in non-traditional spaces.

My aim is to review, critique, analyze, and challenge the current Black preaching tradition. Currently, many understand Black preaching to be an activity solely happening in religious edifices delivered in traditional oratory from elevated pulpits. My research would not only lead to a larger understanding of what Black preaching is, but it will contribute to the small, but growing literature in sermon studies. Blending homiletical and rhetorical theory and criticism, and building upon previous scholarship in these areas, I will develop new definitions and directions of Black preaching. My plan is not to move away from churches and elevated pulpits, but to incorporate an appreciation for the spoken word, performative art, and literature within the homiletical tradition.


Celnisha L. Dangerfield 

C.L. Dangerfield is an award-winning educator with nearly 20 years of experience in the classroom. Her research aligns at the intersection of race, identity, and rhetoric–with an occasional homage to hip-hop culture. Expanding her scholarship to include more prominent considerations of gender, faith, and digital media, she seeks to interrogate spaces of oppression to offer “voice,” visibility, and a renewed sense of authority to those that might otherwise be dismissed.

Dangerfield has earned degrees in Speech Communication from Clark Atlanta University and Penn State, as well as a graduate certificate in Writing and Digital Communication from Agnes Scott College. She is now in the Ph.D. program in Communication Studies at the University of Memphis.


Lauryn Hill as Lyricist and Womanist. In Ronald Jackson, II & Elaine Richardson (eds).  Understanding African American Rhetoric: Classical Origins to Contemporary Innovations. New York, NY; Routledge; 2003, pp. 209-221

(with Mary Beth Oliver, Ronald L. Jackson, II and Ndidi N. Moses) The Face of Crime: Viewers' Memory of Race-Related Facial Features of Individuals Pictured in the News.  Journal of Communication, Volume 54, Issue 1, 1 March 2004, pp 88–104

(with Ronald L. Jackson II) "Defining Black Masculinity as Cultural Property: Toward an Identity Negotiation Paradigm." In Ronald L. Jackson (ed)African American Communication & Identities: Essential Readings, 2004, pp. 197-208. 

Clark A. Harris

Clark A. Harris Jr. is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication and Film at the University of Memphis. He is interested in studying the rhetorical aspects of theological discourse at the intersection of race and oppression. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, and teaches at a number of institutions. His ambitions in education are teaching and researching in the disciplines of rhetoric and writing. He believes that writing can serve as a gateway to knowledge of self-revelations and understanding of one's past. Furthermore, he encourages his students to write daily in a journal with expectations of passing it down to their children’s children. An inheritance can be spent, and a picture is only worth a thousand words, but your story can guide future generations to a greater destination. In addition, there is no one more worthy of sharing your story than you.

Lionnell "Badu" Smith

Lionnell Smith, affectionately known as Badu, is a 2018 Fulbright-Hays Fellows, recipient of the 2018 Monica Pombo Early Career Teaching Award, and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Memphis. His research centers on critical intercultural communication studies with particular emphasis on language and identity and critical communication pedagogy. He is a member of the Carolinas Communication Association, the Southern States Communication Association, and the National Communication Association.


My research interests focus on two sub-disciplinary areas: 1) critical intercultural communication studies, and 2) critical [communication] pedagogy. My interests within the former area center on African American Communication and Culture with particular emphasis on language, culture/race, and identity. Within the latter area, I am interested in the instructional discourses inherent in critical pedagogies, culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies, and liberatory education practices. For clarity, I bracket communication as I prefer to situate myself and my scholarship within the broader conversation on critical pedagogy. In this way, I am able to deposit to and withdraw from that conversation as a communication scholar to facilitate my research agenda. Essentially, I am interested in understanding the ways through which pedagogy and instructional discourse can be weaponized to respond to the socio-politics of cultural and linguistic hegemony in education.

My research brings communicationists, ethno/racio/sociolinguists, and educationists into conversation with each other to explore the role language play in expressing and sustaining African American culture, particularly (but not limited to) within the educational context. Currently, my language focus is African American Language (AAL) which has been defined as a “language form with a unique and logical syntax, semantic system, and grammar (Hecht, Jackson, and Ribeau, 2003, p. 144). As Piller (2011) notes, language “offers us concepts for experiencing the world around us–and different languages sometimes offer different concepts for perceiving and experiencing the world around us” (p. 37). The problem, as I see it, is that many minoritized languages—such as AAL—are endangered as the struggle for their survival continues on the inequitable terrain of whiteness and western thought. I aim to challenge linguistic hegemony in education by advocating for the legitimacy and cultural capital of African American languages and literacies. Given this, I hope to establish as a research agenda the development of a pedagogical framework founded on African American communication and rhetoric.

For my dissertation, I am interested in developing an Afrocultural pedagogy that I call mission-oriented pedagogy. This framework draws on what Johnson (2012) calls the African American prophetic tradition. Johnson (2012) defines mission-oriented prophecy as a “constitutive rhetoric that calls a people to participate in a divine mission by reconstituting the people from their perceived identities” (p. 13). A mission-oriented prophecy finds the constructed identities [of a people] problematic and offers and new vision or identity for the people. In the same respect, mission-oriented pedagogy is indeed a constitutive rhetoric, or [instructional] discourse, that invites students to participate in the divine mission of a liberatory, emancipatory education which affirms cultural identities through critical literacy and community. Like Johnson, I am not interested in focusing on educators as “prophets” as much as I am interested in the ways in which instruction functions as a prophetic discourse. By implementing a mission-oriented pedagogy, educators take on a prophetic persona to facilitate education as a practice of freedom (hooks, 1994).

Pierre is a native of Jackson, MS, was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and is a licensed attorney who entered the legal profession as a judicial law clerk in the New Jersey Superior Court and was later a trial attorney in Philadelphia, PA, for 17 years. After teaching at night while practicing law by day, Pierre decided to teach, because teachers build people up and lawyers cut them down which was antithetical to his spirit. He has sat on the faculties of Community College of Philadelphia, Temple University, Delaware County Community College, DE, and he is currently an Instructor of Speech Communication at Middle TN State University for 14 years. He holds a Juris Doctor from Syracuse U. College of Law, an M.A. in Speech Communication from Syracuse U., an M.P.A. from Golden Gate U., and B.A. in English/French from Howard University.


His research interest centers on the examination of the Black eulogy.      

DiArron Morrison was born in New Orleans, LA, and raised in Atlanta, GA. He is a skilled higher education professional with experience in teaching, residence life, new student orientation, and student organization advising. His research interests are primarily focused on the rhetorical tradition, including African-American studies, higher education, equity and liberation, and religion. He is an active member of the National Communication Association and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. His personal interests include working with students, cooking, professional wrestling, battle rap, and preaching.

Jason Mikel

Jason Mikel began his doctoral studies at the University of Memphis's Department of Communication and Film in the fall of 2020. He is an ordained and full-time pastor in the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination and is the founder of the Nashville Burrito Ministry, a weekly meal with Nashville's unhoused where dignity and community are emphasized. In addition, he serves on the Board of Trustees of Memphis Theological Seminary. Jason is married to Suzanne, a psychiatric RN, and they have four boys between them, one of which is the father to two adorable grandsons.


Jason's research interests include the intersection of faith, culture, and politics in the rhetoric of the southern white evangelical church, an interest gained from years in parish ministry. Current research focuses on rediscovering the writings and work of Claude Clossey Williams, an early and mid-1900s Arkansas labor organizer who centered his work on the Christian Bible. Further research includes the Desert Blues of North Africa's Tuareg people and the effects of western influence on their culture and music.

Walter Henry

Walter Henry is a native of Havre de Grace, MD. He is currently a first-year Ph.D. student. He is a 1995 graduate of Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts in History, a 1998 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity, and he completed the Doctor of Ministry in May of 2021 at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He is also Master Mason and a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Walter has served as the pastor of St. James AME Church, Memphis, TN for the last 5 ½ years.


He is interested in African American Sacred Rhetoric, in particular, he wants to explore how the African American spiritual leaders use their rhetoric to persuade their respective congregations or institutions to social action. In this study, he plans to analyze the speeches of twenty-first-century leaders such as Bishop William Barber and Louis Farrakhan to determine similarities in semantics, style, and structure.

Solomon W. Cochren 

Solomon W. Cochren is a native of Long Island, New York. He was a primary educator in the New York school district. Cochren holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Communication, a Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He was awarded The Theodore Louis Trost Memorial Prize and named Presidential Scholar and a Master of Theology from Duke University. He is a current doctoral student at the University of Memphis. Solomon is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, and NAACP. He is serving as an ordained Elder in the A.M.E. Zion Church.


Solomon's research interests are in the media sector, focusing on topics of race, gender, identity, and rhetoric. He is interested in expanding the conversation of Hip Hop as a continued expression of freedom songs found in the spirituals and the Blues (The B-Side). Another research interest is the practice of meaning/identity making in American culture through media and how these practices are weaponized and used against communities of color and those who live on the margins. Unpacking how meaning/identity-making is used to build bridges of inclusion and barriers of exclusion in society.

I also serve as a member of the following committees:

University of Memphis

Jonathan Smith (Communication)

Degan Loren (Communication)

Laura Sullivan (Communication)

Andre Favors (Communication) 

Angela Smith Kuykendoll (Leadership)

Christian Theological Seminary

Ph.D. in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric

R. Janae Pitts-Murdock

Gina Stewart

Justin West

William (Bill) Lamar IV

Moya Marie Harris

Jennifer Carner

Eugene "Geno" Gipson

Chicago Theological Seminary

Ph.D. in Religious Studies

Lawrence (Larry) Green