Heather Ashley Hayes
The rhetoric and media studies department is unique in the quality of its faculty, the breadth of questions that a student can pursue, and its commitment to the highest quality of teaching.
What three words would you use to describe Lewis & Clark?
What brought you to Lewis & Clark?
I’ve always been drawn to the rhetoric and media studies department at Lewis & Clark! It’s got phenomenal faculty, as does the entire college. I was invited here by the Lambda Pi Eta Honors Society to deliver a talk years ago, when I was a professor at Whitman College just down the road. I loved the students and deeply enjoyed my time here. When I was fortunate enough to be offered a position, I didn’t hesitate to join the community.
What will you be doing at SXSU EDU?
At SXSW EDU, I will appear as a main stage mentor. I will be talking specifically about access and inclusion in education. I want to talk about ways we can open up the aperture for thinking about how all students, regardless of socioeconomic background, race, gender identity, carceral status, citizenship designation, sexual identity, geographic location, and more can be included in accessible learning spaces and be part of ongoing educational access as we confront the most formidable challenges our communities face.
Could you tell us more about your public education program, The Teach Out?
The Teach Out was founded from the overriding idea that knowledge is not a commodity. Increasingly, we should be thinking about how inaccessible some forms of education are becoming, especially for some people. Human connection, and community-driven justice, are possible and are powered by people. The project is made up of weekly meetings, book clubs, retreats, deep dives into specific topics, media, or texts, community-based viewings, and other events. Gatherings are held on Zoom or in public spaces, anywhere that is open to all and where all participants may find access. All are welcome. So far, the program has facilitated and welcomed more than 150 participants from 14 U.S. states and three countries, including those without formal educational degrees and those who have been formerly incarcerated.
What do you enjoy most about working with students?
I’ve been teaching, at some level, for 20 years. I’ve taught at colleges, at a high school, and inside prisons and refugee camps. Teaching is a joy! It’s hard to choose one thing I enjoy most about it. That said, what I probably enjoy the most is how much I learn from students. Over the years, students have introduced me to new areas of inquiry and to new works. Some have interpreted a book I’ve read several times in a new way, or they’ve brought an experience they’ve had to a discussion that has opened up a new way of seeing for me and for their peers. That kind of energy is infectious.
How does Lewis & Clark prepare students interested in rhetoric and media studies to pursue a career and/or advanced studies after graduation?
We work in a number of ways to support our students as they pursue careers or advanced education in rhetoric and media studies after graduation. First, I believe our students experience a high quality of teaching throughout their time at L&C. This prepares them in areas of critical thinking, close reading, writing, oral communication, and reasoning, and in learning how to present themselves and their work as they transition to post-college life. Then, every student who graduates with a rhetoric and media studies major or minor completes a capstone seminar in our department, where they produce a careful and meaningful piece of research and writing. That process invites a student to focus on a topic they are passionate about, spend engaged time with those passions, and produce a piece of writing or a video essay that reflects those commitments. Lastly, L&C offers students the opportunity to build a network. It begins with their peers and their faculty. They have the chance to meet amazing mentors in their faculty members, pursue time with their own peers and alumni, and move within career guidance spaces throughout their time at the college.
What sets the L&C rhetoric and media studies department apart from other small liberal arts colleges?
The department is unique in the quality of its faculty, the breadth of questions that a student can pursue in the department, and the department’s commitment to the highest quality of teaching. The faculty are award winners: we are active researchers, filmmakers, grant awardees, all working at the top of the field. It’s rare to have so many scholars of such high caliber assembled in one department. As a result, students can pursue a number of classes and interests in the department, ranging from documentary filmmaking to cutting edge contemporary rhetorical theory; from queer representations on television to environmental discourse to the rhetoric of politics and elections. Our faculty make appearances on national and local news outlets, fly across the world to advise media programs or political campaigns, and author significant forthcoming books and articles in the field, every year. We bring all of that knowledge, experience, and commitment into the classroom to our students, which all amounts to seminars and class experiences that are unmatched.