Cultivating an Ethos of Refusal: What it Takes to (Un)Teach a Student Like Me

Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Gwendolyn Pough

Second Advisor

Aja Martnez

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This study addresses questions of being and belonging in the academy from a Third World Womanist, Hip Hop Feminist, Critical Indigenous perspective, arguing that refusal is a livening rhetorical embodied strategy of survival that challenges colonial futurity, is generative and generous, and opens liminal space for existing in predominantly white institutions — not at the margins nor centers but at the places of transformative possibility and deep relationality. Focusing on refusal as performative, rhetorical, and undisciplined and using interpretive interactionism methodology this study employs autoethnography, textual experience and composite characters/counterstories to situate the author’s home-community and intellectual lineages as places to draw from to disrupt and refuse dominant modes of being and belonging encountered during graduate education. Sites of analysis include representative moments in composition and rhetoric graduate education with a specific focus on the attempt to work on a community writing/publishing project and other moments that signaled invitations toward ethos formation; movement organizing moments on and beyond the campus; and a constellation of intellectual and historical lineages from the Bronx to the Dominican Republic to Syracuse. Through its methodology and methods, the dissertation itself enacts a refusal to turn people into fixed, otherized subjects. This study argues that refusal is an embodied intergenerational, transnational, historically grounded, community/ancestor accountable mode of survival that offers a counternarrative to capitalist academic production. As such, refusal can inform the development of our pedagogy and praxis.


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