Heather Ashley Hayes

I am a scholar, writer, and educator of over seventeen years. I’m interested in social implications of rhetorical practices, especially racialized violence and discourses of terror. I research those discourses both domestically and as part of the global terror wars within the United States and abroad. I engage work about histories and circulations of violence as it relates to race in public & political discourse, film, and militarized & carceral spaces throughout the world.

I am currently appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and teach in the Program in Race and Ethnic Studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, USA. My first book, Violent Subjects and Rhetorical Cartography in the Age of the Terror Wars (Palgrave Macmillan) dropped in 2016, joining a number of other article, review, and chapter length academic pieces I’ve published. I have presented work across the US, Middle East, and Europe to audiences both in academic spaces and outside of the university. I also serve as an Associate Editor in Chief for the public analysis space Citizen Critics (www.citizencritics.org), where I publish public work from time to time.

I have been privileged in my career to teach at institutions ranging from a small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest of the US to a large public high school in Texas and many spaces in between. I have worked with many students at varied stages of their educational journeys and I’m honored to have received a number of distinctions for that work. Most recently in May 2018, I accepted the George Ball Excellence in Advising Award, a student nominated campuswide honor recognizing a faculty member for outstanding distinction in advising and mentoring students across Whitman College.

I love poetic aesthetics, especially in the form of the spoken word, sometimes set to beats. I’m a cinephile who pens the occasional film/television review and reads many. I’m an advocate for all things I hope can make participatory democracy more just for everyone and hold an unyielding bias in favor of better access to public education for all, on the basis of simply being human. I am a spaghetti enthusiast.

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The Mark of Criminality: A Counter-Cultural History of the War on Crime

  • Whitman College Kimball Auditorium, Hunter Conservator Walla Walla, WA USA (map)

Whitman College welcomes the second guest educator in the Rhetoric Studies Visiting Educator Series, Dr. Bryan J. McCann of Louisiana State University. Public talk and discussion: 4:30-5:30pm. Meet and greet reception in Hunter Conservatory foyer: 5:30-6:00pm.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, America waged a “war on crime.” While elected officials of both major parties fought to prove their “tough-on-crime” credentials, news media and other cultural outlets inundated citizens with discourses that encouraged them to fear criminalized threats and support extremely punitive state measures to purportedly reduce crime. The resulting changes in federal and state policies led to an incarceration explosion that has made the United States the leading jailer of its adult population. Few scholars have accounted for the ways those most directly impacted by crime control resisted such spectacular regimes of surveillance, fear, and containment. This omission comes in spite of the fact that virtually every generation has included vernacular practices that troubled prevailing rhetorics of criminality. This public presentation, drawing from a larger book project, turns to the emergence of gangsta rap in the late 1980s and early 1990s to illuminate resistant cultural production during the war on crime. McCann argues that a reading of gangsta rap’s lyrics, music, and attendant cultural discourses within the socio-historical matrix of the war on crime reveals a wholly more complex era in American politics than previous investigations provide. Specifically, the intervention of gangsta rap into the politics of law and order during this period reconstituted the very parameters thereof, highlighting the deeply contingent character of the mark of criminality in the production of racialized and criminalized subjects. Second, because gangsta rap was itself deeply fraught with the conditioning influences of musical commerce, patriarchy, and homophobia, this project advances a more nuanced consideration of what it means to partake in political resistance in contemporary public culture. Lastly, it is McCann’s belief that more firmly understanding the complexities associated with rhetoric, culture, and crime can inform the kinds of community activism needed to end our nation’s unrivaled dependence on mass incarceration.