Heather Ashley Hayes

I am a scholar, writer, and educator of over seventeen years. I’m interested in social implications of rhetorical practice and how humans use symbols to make meaning and address problems of common concern. My research centers on violence and discourses of terror. I write about those discourses both domestically within the US and as part of the global terror wars. I am particularly interested in the intersection of domestic sociopolitical landscapes with dynamics of global violence and war, both of which are remade through discourses of terrorism. I additionally engage work about histories and circulations of violence as they relate to race, rhetorical practice, and national security in public 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 both the Programs in Race and Ethnic Studies and Film and Media 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 present work across the US, Middle East, and Europe to audiences in both academic spaces and outside of the university. I also serve as an Associate Editor in Chief for the public analysis space Citizen Critics, where I publish 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 lots of students at various stages of their educational journey and I’m honored to have received a number of distinctions for that work. Most recently in May of 2018, I accepted Whitman College’s George Ball Excellence in Advising Award, a student nominated honor recognizing an educator for outstanding distinction in advising and mentoring students from all areas of the college.

I’m moved by poetic aesthetics, especially in the form of the spoken word, sometimes set to beats. I’m a cinephile. I pen the occasional film or television review and read many. I am a pasta enthusiast. I hold an unyielding bias in favor of unfettered access to education for all in a society, simply on the basis that we’re human.

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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.