About Roseann M. Mandziuk, Ph.D. Roseann M. Mandziuk is University Distinguished Professor within the Department of Communication Studies at Texas State University. In this role, she teaches courses in rhetorical and media criticism, persuasion theory, the rhetoric of protest, and communication and consumer culture. During her tenure at Texas State University, she has received five Presidential Distinction Awards for Excellence in Teaching. Her scholarship focuses on the intersection of rhetoric and political advocacy, as well as the historical and contemporary representations of women in various media and the political messages associated with these representations. Dr. Mandziuk is twice the recipient of the Fulbright Scholar Award, teaching first as a professor at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland in 2011, and subsequently as a professor in residence at Indraprastha College for Women in Delhi, India in 2019.

In addition to her scholarship and teaching experiences, Dr. Mandziuk is an active member of the leadership of numerous professional communication associations. She is the Second Vice President of the National Communication Association (NCA), a position she assumed in 2020, and will serve as NCA President beginning in 2022. Furthermore, she has chaired numerous divisions at the NCA, including the 2018 Task Force on NCA’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, the NCA Finance Board, the Feminist and Women’s Studies Division, and the Women’s Caucus, and also was a member of the NCA Affirmative Action and Intercaucus Committee for fourteen years. Dr. Mandziuk also served as President of the Southern States Communication Association in 2017. Through her leadership positions in professional associations across her career, Dr. Mandziuk advocates for the inclusion and encouragement of diverse voices in the communication discipline, both in the professional sphere and in the areas of scholarship and pedagogy.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have an overview of your academic and professional background? What classes do you teach as a University Distinguished Professor at Texas State University, and what are your research foci? May we have more information on your recent research projects? How did you first become interested in rhetorical criticism, and what have been some of your principal findings regarding the relationship between historical rhetoric and the sociopolitical representation of women?

[Dr. Mandziuk] During my undergraduate career, I was a competitive debater who attended forensics and public speaking events with students at other universities, which is how I first came to the field of communication. I initially was not a communication major, but I got to know the faculty, the other undergraduate students, and some of the graduate students in the communication department at Wayne State University through that debate and forensics program. This motivated me to start taking communication classes, and I ended up with a double major in Communication Studies and English. During my time at Wayne State University, I was very fortunate to be invited to sit in on a Ph.D.-level seminar in rhetorical criticism when I was a senior. That course was taught by Dr. Bernard Brock, who in the 1980s was a very notable scholar in rhetorical studies and who had written a widely used textbook in rhetorical criticism. That was an incredible opportunity, and motivated me to apply for graduate studies.

My interest in gender studies came a little later, though I remember one of my competitive speeches was about why the Equal Rights Amendment should be ratified. But in terms of my scholarly research, that really began when I went to the University of Iowa. After earning my bachelor’s degree at Wayne State and my master’s degree at Illinois State, I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. While in this program I fell in with a group of friends and colleagues, many of whom were female film scholars who taught me a great deal about gender, women’s perspectives, and feminist criticism, all of which dovetailed nicely with my growing interest in the intersection of history, communication, and women’s rights. A central theme in my research is the question of history and how we use history rhetorically, and in particular how women use history or how the history of women is told. Those interests all converged while I was working in my doctoral program. My dissertation focused on women who used documentary films to tell their history. From there, I would say my research on women in history divides into three categories: images of women, how women use history, and public memory and commemoration studies concerning women.

In terms of the research that I’ve conducted about images of women, I’ve been particularly interested in the era of the 1920s, both in advertising images and in popular culture in the era. Also, one of my more recent essays, which was supposed to be presented at the Southern States Communication Association this spring, was about the image of the handmaid from The Handmaid’s Tale, both the novel and the television show. I examined how that image of the woman in red robes and a white, winged hat is now being used by protestors. That is an essay I’m continuing to work on and hope to have published sometime later this year.

Another big research project that I completed was with an organization called the National Women’s History Museum, which has been established for almost 25 years with a vision of establishing a national museum of women’s history in Washington, DC near the National Mall. It is a fascinating group that has been fighting for introducing legislation into Congress and constantly getting blocked, because anything that goes within that area needs an act of Congress to be approved. Several years ago, they gave me permission to actually look at their private archives, which were fascinating. I also have been investigating Confederate monuments and memorials; in particular, my recent focus is on those erected through the efforts of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), and how these monuments have impacted the public memory of our nation.

[MastersinCommunications.com] You recently conducted a study about the United Daughters of the Confederacy and their role in establishing monuments in the United States, which will be featured as a chapter in the forthcoming book, Reframing Rhetorical History, ed. Kathleen J. Turner and Jason Edward Black. May we have more information about the key findings from this study, and how they are relevant to today’s discussions of the intersection of race, gender, and politics?

[Dr. Mandziuk] The United Daughters of the Confederacy was founded 1894, and to be a member of the UDC, you have to have been a blood relation in some way to someone who served in the Confederacy. The UDC was an incredibly influential group of women who, especially at the turn of the 20th Century and on through the 1940s and ’50s, had a significant impact on our collective historical consciousness as a nation through the medium of memorials. They realized that one way to really cement the memory of the Confederacy, the narrative of the “Lost Cause,” the South’s identity, and the whole Southern tradition was to establish monuments. To that end, they would collect money, then work to get Confederate monuments established in public squares and courthouse squares, and they were extremely effective in their mission. One recent study from the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are still 770 Confederate monuments in existence in the United States. In their statistics, 412 of those remaining monuments that are in courthouse squares and public squares were established by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

As these numbers illustrate, the UDC was incredibly influential. They made sure they were not just working on cemeteries or private places, but were also putting these monuments in public locations, and they’ve lasted. Their durability is quite striking, and speaks to an enduring national consciousness around the Confederacy and what it stood for. When I first moved to Texas, I was coming from the Midwest, and thought it was quite curious how there there was a huge Confederate monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, here in Austin where I live, which is considered a liberal city by most measures.

Furthermore, as an American Council on Education Fellow in 2005-2006, which involved completing a higher education administration training program, I was placed at the University of Memphis to work in the president’s office. I spent a year living in Memphis, and I was fascinated by the fact that there were Confederate monuments everywhere in Memphis, which is a majority African American city. And I kept wondering, “How did these coexist? Why are the monuments still there?”

I’ve actually been thinking about and writing about the Confederate monument question for several years now. That connects to a larger question about gender and history and sociopolitical communication over generations. Specifically, during my upcoming research leave, I intend to research women and white supremacy–both women’s role in white supremacy as a political movement, and the representation of their role. A really striking connection that we don’t often think about when we think about white supremacy is, “Where are the women?” They’ve been there all along, even though the first image you might have of white supremacy is that of a white man. When we see images of white supremacy, for example, if we recall events such as the rallies in Charlottesville from a few summers ago, we think of men with torches, “skinheads,” and guys with tattoos. That is the public image of white supremacy. We don’t see the women very prominently in those crowds. But they do have a presence, and they have had an impact, both historically (as the UDC illustrates) and in current events. There are several prominent female writers and bloggers who are upholding the traditional, conservative view of white male supremacy. And there is a very disturbing thread of conservative femininity that runs through white supremacy. That is the women’s contribution: upholding and promoting those conservative values and roles.

[MastersinCommunications.com] You were also selected as a Fulbright Scholar, serving as a Professor in Residence at Indraprastha College for Women in Delhi, India from January to May, 2019. Prior to this, you served as a Professor in the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland as a 2011 Fulbright Scholar recipient. What were some of your most rewarding experiences working abroad as both a scholar and as a professor, and what were the key research insights you have gleaned from your international research?

[Dr. Mandziuk] My work abroad has illustrated how every culture and every community is going to have its own kinds of legacies and traditions, but that there are also striking similarities and correspondences across cultures and communities. Given my interest in protest, I was actually in Poland at a fascinating time. Poland is a relatively conservative and mostly Catholic country. The struggles for women’s voices and women’s rights within that kind of patriarchal tradition continue at a pretty dramatic level. When I was there in 2011, Poland actually had this renaissance period where the country had opened up a bit because the conservative forces had been defeated in the recent presidential election. They had elected a fairly moderate president at the time when I was there. Obama came to visit and I went and saw him at several locations, especially around the Old Town area of Warsaw where I was living. This was also a time when women’s protests were re-invigorated, and there was a very interesting group that staged a protest in the downtown area, near one of the prominent shopping areas. I went to the protest and documented it, looking at their signs and photographs. What I found incredibly striking was the parallels between the images used in this protest and the ones we have seen historically in the United States.

Americans are all familiar with our image of Rosie the Riveter, with her arm held up in solidarity. Well, the women in Poland had adapted that image to look like a working grandmother with a headscarf, known as a babushka. I still have the poster that I picked up at that rally on the wall in my office. It was an amazing time to be in Poland, and to see that kind of opening up. But unfortunately, for Poland and for the women in Poland, the country has since closed back down dramatically. I have relatives there, as I am second generation Polish, and I’ve kept in touch with my cousins, aunts, and uncles who still live in Warsaw. In recent years, right-wing conservatism has increased, and my relatives are now the ones who are out there on the streets protesting, as they see their civil rights and the judiciary being closed down and feel they are losing a lot of ground in many ways. I remember in 2011 they were so optimistic about the new president and my relatives were so happy about what had happened. It was a privilege to be in Poland in 2011 and to witness that kind of correspondence in the women’s protests across different countries.

Similarly, in India I got very interested in the group called Blank Noise, which is an organization advocating against sexism and particularly against sexual assault and violence against women in India. Traditional Indian culture also is very patriarchal, with very conservative values and rules for women, and so women really struggle in India for their voices and perspectives to be heard. You are probably familiar with the truly horrible rape that occurred on the bus in Delhi. I believe it was in 2012, where the young woman and her male friend were attacked and she was horribly assaulted and ended up dying in the hospital. This organization wanted to shine a light on that culture of rape and misogyny in India, as that is a real ongoing struggle there.

While working at Indraprastha College, which is an all-women’s college, I also got the opportunity to learn firsthand about Indian women’s daily struggles for rights and for a voice. There were some male faculty members at the college, but it was largely a campus that was dominated by women’s perspectives and women’s voices, which made it a unique environment within the larger patriarchal social structure. It was very interesting to talk with my students and to see their awareness and their struggles, as they had such aspirations but they also looked out at a future in a culture that expected them to largely be married and to give up on those aspirations and adopt traditional women’s roles. So both Poland and India were very interesting sites of conflict and advocacy.

[MastersinCommunications.com] And what role do you feel gendered political rhetoric plays in perpetuating those kinds of patriarchal structures?

[Dr. Mandziuk] I believe a lot of it has to do with the reproduction of political discourse regarding the woman’s role in society. When we were talking about white supremacy, for example, there is a striking example of such disseminated and reproduced political discourse. The Cult of True Womanhood is Barbara Welter’s term for the cultural expectations about femininity that gained traction during the 19th century and the turn of the 20th century. As espoused in women’s magazines and manuals, the notions that women should be pure and pious and domestic and submissive were consistently reinforced. It is so striking to see that those aren’t just Western notions; in fact, they carry over in powerful ways to the culture in India, where the expectation is for women to not speak out, to be in the home, to be submissive to men. You still see these values in many other places across the globe. When you get leaders who reinforce those avenues or those kinds of images or those perspectives about women, it plays a really powerful role in perpetuating the silencing and disempowerment of women.

I am currently in the process of finishing working with an undergraduate student this semester who is writing her honors thesis about women’s activism and women’s anger. In this project, she has been working on using these four notions from Welter to talk about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and how the women protestors were understandably angry, and how their anger was dismissed as unpatriotic, unfeminine, radical, and communist. There are so many ways to take women’s voices of dissent and belittle them, dismiss them, and silence them. So I think you see the role of communication across all forms in both perpetuating and pushing back against cultural norms.

[MastersinCommunications.com] You co-authored the book Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song with your colleague Suzanne P. Fitch. May we have more information on the writing of this book, as well as the principal theses of this scholarly work? On a related note, may we have more information on your award-winning essay “The Rhetorical Construction of Sojourner Truth” (also co-authored with Suzanne P. Fitch) and its primary arguments and insights?

[Dr. Mandziuk] This book was truly a labor of love and it began with my coauthor, Sue Fitch. She came to me and asked whether I would be interested in collaborating with her on a book about Sojourner Truth. She was very interested in Truth because of the time she spent living in Battle Creek, Michigan, which is where Sue is from. Sojourner Truth also is singled out as one of the great female speakers in American history. In anthologies of speeches by great women speakers, for a long time there would only be one African-American woman featured, sadly, and it would be Sojourner Truth.

So we started with questions about the rhetorical strategies that Truth employed, and once we got going in working on the book, we realized that we really had two goals. One was to conduct an analysis of her rhetorical strategies, the key ones being narrative and humor. But the second goal formed once we started collecting documents, and we realized that we were in the midst of a project that was going to make a really important archival contribution. What emerged is a book with two parts to it. The front section is the rhetorical analysis of Truth’s speeches, relayed over several chapters. Then the back part of the book is comprised of the archives and the documents that we discovered regarding Truth’s speeches and public appearances.

Some of the documents that we collected had never been published before. There were several kinds of documents that we included, such as her speeches, which were documents written in the first person. Sojourner Truth was actually illiterate, so she couldn’t have written her speeches, but many of them were recorded as if in first person. Then we had a second category that we called reports, and those were documentation of her having spoken, written by another individual, such as a reporter who would write an article about Sojourner Truth and her arguments. We also had a section where we included songs, because one of the interesting things that we discovered about Truth is that she often would sing before or after her speeches at the conferences and meetings where she would appear.

This book led to another project that Sue Fitch and I did together, as well as two that I did separately. What I found to be very interesting about Truth’s rhetorical style was not only her use of humor, but also how she integrated moral messaging into her humorous communication. Part of her attraction at these women’s rights meetings and anti-slavery meetings was that she was funny and entertaining. But in the same statements in which she would deliver humor, she would also have a directive for her audience. For example, she would look her audiences right in the eye and say, “I know I’m going to Heaven, but what about you?” And the audience would laugh at bold statements like that. But also in that statement, “I know I’m going to Heaven, but what about you?” she would point her finger at white audiences. This was her use of the Jeremiad, that notion of the prophet warning an audience and saying that if you don’t change your ways, these dire consequences are going to happen. She was an astute practitioner of that kind of prophetic Jeremiad in her rhetorical style.

Sue Fitch and I subsequently wrote the article called “The Rhetorical Construction of Sojourner Truth,” which came out of the book project because it occurred to us that in gathering all of our sources, Truth was not only shown as an orator of note in and of her own standing, but other people were also using her rhetoric in a variety of ways, hence the idea of rhetorical construction. Other rhetors were using Truth as a symbol to represent an idea or a value or an argument. In this article, we talked about two rhetorical figures. The first is the figure of the synecdoche, where Truth was the part that represented the whole of black women or African-American women’s voices. She was also used metonymically, which means people reduced her into a symbol of all black resistance. This use of Truth’s rhetoric and identity was both beneficial and problematic: good for certain social causes, but also problematic in that they reduced her complexity to just one speech, or one statement or aspect of her identity. In particular, we found Truth to be frequently equated with her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, which is one of the most commonly anthologized of her speeches. What’s missing from that characterization is the rest of her career at large, as well as how her work fits into the larger picture of racial justice and women’s activism. I was interested in the many different kinds of representations of Sojourner Truth, from children’s books to essay anthologies to documentaries and political discourse. I also was interested in the representations of Truth in public memory, particularly statues of her, which constituted a subsequent study I published.

The most recent article I wrote about Truth investigated her representation in the writings of other people. During our research, I still felt like there was one thing in all of these documents and all of these archives that we collected for the book that still needed to be said, and that was about how she was described physically by the people who were reporting her speeches. These newspaper reporters were largely white men, and they had very biased views and representations of her. So the article that I published in the Quarterly Journal of Speech is about Sojourner Truth and what I called rhetorics of domination, because what those reporters did was describe her physically as grotesque. They would talk about her long, bony fingers, and her oddly shaped body and her grotesque features, as a way of dominating and silencing her. They would talk about her as this kind of pastoral fool, an innocent character or caricature.

Some white male reporters also would talk about her as a kind of mystic symbol, who could see the future but who was an old crone. Truth lived quite a good and long life, but during the time that she was an active speaker she was in no way old. These writers, however, would describe her as an old, bent over crone, again casting her as a grotesque character. In this essay I isolated those physical descriptions and analyzed how those rhetorics of domination function to silence women’s voices, and how they functioned in the case of Truth. Even now, those rhetorics continue as a way to dismiss women’s voices, their anger, and their protests.

[MastersinCommunications.com] In addition to your scholarship, you have received numerous awards for your teaching and student mentorship, including five Presidential Distinction Awards for Excellence in Teaching. What do you find most rewarding about teaching and student mentorship?

[Dr. Mandziuk] I believe that my role as a professor is to help open avenues for students to discover their own perspectives, their own critical sensibilities, and their voices, and to realize the power that their voices and their bodies have to fight in the service of justice. These sound like lofty goals, and they are, but our voices and our bodies are the most fundamental and yet most powerful tools we have to enact social change. What I strive to do in every class I teach is provide examples, perspectives, and challenges that will help students see their world differently. Even though we’re only going to spend 16 weeks together, I always tell them, especially in my criticism classes, that my hope for them is that they won’t ever see the world or hear a message or watch something in the media again in the same way. I want students to learn how to be more critical consumers, and to understand more about the claims that those messages are making. From there, I hope my students discover the means of resistance, if that’s what they need, or discover the means of harnessing communication to do great things, to better the world.

For me, the best reward of being a professor is seeing students go through that developmental process, and writing these amazing analyses. I’m in the middle of reading a semester’s worth of rhetorical criticism and media criticism papers right now, and it is just so exciting to see those perspectives emerge, because I really want them to feel that resonance and that relevance of the roles that communication and rhetoric play in their lives.

These thoughts and feelings go back to my own Fulbright experience, where I was not only teaching but also discovering the role and power of rhetoric myself in different social contexts. One of the incredible opportunities I had when I was in India last year was that I was able to travel to Nepal and work with a group of activists. In both India and Nepal there is a caste system still very prominently and sadly integrated into both societies. The activists that I worked with were people from the lowest caste, the Dalit. I taught five classes for this group in Nepal; for five consecutive mornings, and we would start at 7:00 in the morning and we would end about 9:00. These were activists who came to learn more about rhetoric and rhetorical strategies on their own time, even with full-time jobs and struggles to make ends meet. On top of that, they were also out on the front lines, working to change the culture through protest and activism. The interesting thing was they’d never heard of rhetoric before, and so here was this incredible opportunity for me to help empower them further in their mission. Just telling them a little bit about Kenneth Burke, and about the strategies of persuasion and constructing messages and arguments, gave them tools that they could use immediately and could instantly internalize their usefulness. It was one of those moments as a teacher where you think, “Oh my gosh, I think I’ve made a difference, and that feels incredible!”

[MastersinCommunications.com] In addition to your responsibilities as Distinguished Professor at Texas State University, you are highly active in numerous academic and professional communication associations. For example, you are currently the Second Vice President of the National Communication Association (NCA) and will serve as President of the NCA in 2022. May we have an overview of your experiences as a member of the leadership at these and other organizations?

[Dr. Mandziuk] Both in my professional and personal life, I believe that service in your community is a fundamental responsibility. One of my favorite ways of expressing that is a quotation from Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” To me that really captures the idea that giving to one’s community, to one’s university, to one’s associations–to be giving of one’s time and talents–is really the only thing that makes this world function. To the extent that we can help others, and lift up others, and open avenues for others to develop their voices and participate, that is so important.

It is interesting, serving at the executive level–as President of the Southern States Communication Association in 2017, as Second VP at the NCA, and eventually stepping into the role of President at the NCA–I think that it is doubly important when in those positions to really think about how to make our associations responsive to the greatest extent to our members, and to honor all members’ voices, especially by making sure that our associations are opening avenues to promote members’ scholarship, to be the best teachers and researchers that we can, and to enable our members to have the resources to be able to do the great work to which they aspire.

Being at the executive level has been so rewarding and exciting for me. I believe that it is important to have really good people who are thinking about how to set priorities, how to allocate resources, how to design programs that are going to respond to members’ needs, how to reach out to our members and our students and our communities to share what we know about communication to invigorate those communities, and to establish means for equity and inclusion and diversity—the important things that we as communication experts specialize in. I believe the role of our professional associations is to be the means that allows that good work to happen–to bring researchers and teachers and professionals out to our communities and our students, and to develop these very important kinds of relationships.

Including more diverse voices in leadership is incredibly important. One of the goals I hope to accomplish at the NCA, or to at least set in motion, is to help the NCA create a more established pipeline program to bring more people into leadership positions and positions where they can make key decisions about programs that support diversity and address social inequality. There is a lack of representation amongst different racial and gender demographics, so we need to explore solutions.

Such questions have always been tremendously important, but recently they have come to the forefront of the national consciousness. The communication discipline is so white, and rhetoric is so white: articles, conference panels, professors and professionals in leadership positions are all predominantly white, and there was a controversy this past summer about the lack of diversity amongst the distinguished scholars in NCA. All of this controversy and discourse can be difficult at times, but it is also really productive because it speaks to the question, “Why hasn’t the field changed? What are the barriers?”

Some of the barriers are pretty easy to spot because established practices and established perspectives and ways of doing things can over time become hegemonic. So it takes a kind of moment like one that the discipline has come through or several iterations of that for the discipline to really begin to look at itself and see what needs to change. Why don’t we have more diverse voices? Why don’t we have more diverse editorials, or internships? We need to look at our practices, which can be painful at times, but it is necessary.

The NCA in particular is working on developing a strategic plan for diversity that will come out of these discussions, and some of the current practices have already changed, including the ways people get nominated for certain influential positions. So we’re already seeing some really positive outcomes. For example, the Publication Council at NCA has been in conversations with the Diversity Council to examine the ways in which editors are selected, how they’re recruited, and how editorial boards are established. Progress can be slow and iterative, but it is ultimately so rewarding. The first NCA meeting I attended was in 1983, when I was a graduate student at Illinois State. The organization–and the discipline–has come a long way since then, in terms of self-reflection and the drive to make positive changes in the field.

[MastersinCommunications.com] As a longtime scholar of gendered discourse, historical rhetoric, and political communication, how would you say these fields of rhetoric have evolved over the past two decades, and where do you see them going in the future? What role do you believe communication technology advancements will play in reshaping the ways in which communication impacts social politics, and vice versa?

[Dr. Mandziuk] I’d like to think that I’m optimistic about the discipline, as I do see that the field has more voices, different voices, and a focus on critical discourse that scrutinizes whiteness and seeks to bring individuals who have been at the margins into the center. But at the same time, I do feel a degree of apprehension from the sense that we cannot let our guard down, and that we have to continue to be vigilant. One of the articles that I still teach when I teach my rhetorical methods and rhetorical criticism class at the graduate level is an article by Blair, Brown, and Baxter called “Disciplining the Feminine,” which is just an essential work in the communication field that was published in 1994.

I still use it because in that particular essay they describe how a lot of the disciplinary barriers that were in place in communication and rhetorical research were the result of a dismissal of feminist research and voices. Communication scholars dismissed feminist research by dismissing women as catty and unprofessional, simply because they were raising questions about gender bias within journal publications. I still use that piece to invite my students to discuss how these barriers are still there, and not just in gender discourse and representation. We have a bit more feminist scholarship now, but it’s those same barriers that we hear our scholars of color talking about–their work doesn’t get cited, their work gets dismissed as being angry or unprofessional because they raise valid questions of equality and inclusion.

I believe the same kinds of gender, racial, and cultural barriers and problems can easily be reinvigorated and reinforced if we are not vigilant–whether it is here in the United States or globally. We may see potentially more conservative, right-leaning discourses come to the fore, and with that we may see a lot of diverse voices get shut down. Think about the Black Lives Matter movement, which is a powerful movement, but which opponents have dismissed as being just a bunch of angry people, just like two decades ago when feminists were dismissed as just a bunch of angry women. Those kinds of perspectives are still there, but the good news is we have the tools to counteract them. So, I have both optimism and apprehension, but I believe optimism is the stronger feeling.

Thank you, Dr. Mandziuk, for sharing your research insights and for your excellent commentary on the relationship between rhetorical criticism and social justice!