As a research scholar, your work has focused on the cultural history of media in the United States, clarifying issues of gender, race, and class. Were there mentors whose work inspired your academic journey?
All my life I have longed to find a way to serve and have sought for my work to have meaning to others. When I returned to graduate school after working as a professional communicator for fifteen years, I was inspired by a field of study termed “critical cultural studies.” This theoretical tradition borrows from Marxist theories regarding power, privilege, and the ways that words and discourse can shape meanings and social structures. I will never forget the day when, as a second-semester graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I heard a lecture by Janice Peck (who now teaches at CU Boulder) describing these theories and the research questions driven by these perspectives—questions regarding unjust social arrangements related to gender, race, and class and how to denaturalize ways of communicating that reinforced these structures. My doctoral advisor, Hazel Dicken-Garcia, is a well-known scholar in the field of communication history, and I was inspired by the notion that by locating the roots of these communication structures, one could learn how to dismantle them. My master’s and doctoral work focused on nineteenth-century print publications and the ideologies they conveyed. I am inspired by the work of Norman Fairclough, Michel Foucault, and countless feminist scholars, such as Rosemary Hennessey and Gayatri Spivak, who use the concepts of ideology and discursive formations to highlight oppressive—and ultimately liberating—communication patterns.
You edited a volume titled Food as Communication, Communication as Food. (This sounds both appetizing and intellectually rich.) Understanding food systems in relation to sustainability and social justice has recently emerged as an important field of inquiry. What were some of the creative sparks that led to your researching this realm?
While I was on sabbatical finishing my book on media history, I pondered a future research focus that could preserve my social justice values and my training in critical discourse analysis but could also be exciting to me and connected to my love for the natural world. During this same time, while on sabbatical, I spent a lot of time pursuing my love of cooking. One day I realized that my love of food and cooking was intimately connected to my love of nature and to my commitment to sustainable relations with the natural world. From there, I was intrigued to see how food could operate as a system of communication, and I was motivated by the idea that food can offer a new model of communication that could have sustainable earth-human relations at its heart. I am currently exploring a multisensory model of communication that could help restore earth-human relations that some scholars (such as Leonard Shlain and David Abrams) say was ruptured by the advent of the written word.
Naropa University aspires to joining contemplative depth with social transformation. What drew you to Naropa?
Precisely the concept at the heart of your question! I have known of Naropa for years. Some of my Franciscan friends introduced me to works by Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Pema Chodron that were of great help and inspiration to me. I resonate deeply with many Buddhist concepts and principles, though I don’t profess to be extremely knowledgeable or proficient in them. Regardless, I do know that so much of what Naropa stands for, aspires to, and actualizes is consistent with my deepest values. I am deeply grateful to be able to serve Naropa University as provost.