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5 Questions with Cheryl Glenn

Cheryl Glenn headshotCDD Board Member Cheryl Glenn is a Distinguished Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State.  Glenn was recently named the President of the Global Society for Women and Discourse, an organization whose goal is to bring together scholars investigating the ways women use (and are used by) language within and across cultures.

1. What do you think are the biggest challenges to democracy today?

Among the biggest challenges to America’s democracy are (1) citizen apathy/hopelessness; (2) widespread misinformation and lack of awareness of the issues, and the people, causes, and consequences subject to each issue; (3) distrust of elected officials, too few of whom can demonstrate a deep understanding of the issues, let alone genuine concern about the populace; and (4) the ongoing difficulty of establishing authentic equality and political opportunity.  Within a democracy modeled on the ideals (not the practices) handed down to us by the ancient Athenians, our biggest challenge is that of ensuring that everyone has a voice, is listened to carefully, and is heard with respect.

2. What five words come to mind when you think of successful deliberation?

Productive silence/rhetorical listening
Understanding, and

3. What makes deliberation democratic?

Authentic inclusion and representation make a deliberation democratic. In other words, every citizen—regardless of race, sex, sexuality, cultural-ethnic background, and so on—merits an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy. However, women and people of color continue to rank significantly worse off than white males on every measure of power, status, and wealth here in the USA. Too few of them are helping to lead our country. And with Barack Obama in the White House and both Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina racing for that same position, far too many Americans see no problem with inclusion, representation, or access. Instead, many Americans see Obama, Clinton, and Fiorina as evidence that what was once the "woman problem" or the "race problem" is now "no problem" at all.

4. Where do you think public intellectuals and scholars working on matters of democracy, rhetoric, and civic education ought to place more energy?

Public intellectuals and scholars might want to place more energy on our development as rhetorical beings, responsive, collaborative, mutually empowering humans. Although the rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke reminds us that we are "goaded by a spirit of hierarchy," he also says that division invites rhetorical intervention. Literary and rhetorical critic Wayne Booth tells us that rhetorical study aids both in removing misunderstanding and in establishing common ground. And the feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan invokes our humanness, our natural capacity to be responsive, relational, cooperative—in other words, rhetorical. So why don’t we start by teaching and modeling new ways of being rhetorical, of moving through the process of deliberation, of working through problems toward mutually beneficial goals, rather than focusing on competition, combativeness, talking over, aggression, and winning! 

5. What excites you most about the work you do?

My scholarly goal has long been to make rhetorical studies more inclusive and representative of all the humans who—and all the ways those humans - successfully use rhetoric every day. Given such a broad goal, I feel licensed to study the rhetorical practices of women, people of color, the poor, the disenfranchised, both locally and globally (and to read promiscuously, which makes for a delicious afternoon). Right now, I’m focusing on the possibilities of a feminist rhetoric, a mutually empowering discipline where feminism and rhetoric unite to develop processes of inquiry, organization, and delivery, directing those processes toward the goals of inclusion, empowerment, mutual respect, and connection. Individually, neither field enjoys mass popularity, but together, they could productively reach, teach, please, and maybe even move many Americans to reconsider their level of participation in our democracy.