The Complexity of Communal Membership

A community encompasses a group of individuals that share common interests and goals. However, membership is what allows a person to truly feel as if he/she belongs. Since leaving my home state about seven years ago, I’ve navigated through several different communities. First, academia has engulfed most of my life; from undergraduate to doctoral studies, I’ve gained access to a profession comprised of scholars, teachers, readers, writers, creative thinkers, lecturers, organizers, etc. Membership, however, isn’t guaranteed with access; full-fledged membership is respect. In this profession membership involves publications, invitations, and recognition. Crucial components that I, as a junior faculty, will not attain unless a lot of sleepless, agonizing days and nights are spent in front of a, hopefully not blank, computer screen.

Family has become my second community. Membership was automatic; it started at birth. Unfortunately, attempting to gain access into other communities that hold different values from family can negatively impact membership. Academia has affected the relationship that I’ve had with my family for years. When I refused to visit home during the holidays, I struggled to explain to my family why the dissertation needed my attention (more so than they did at the time). Similar tensions occur today when I visit for only a few days and they wonder why I can’t just stay the entire summer. I know that they’re thinking: “You’re not teaching anyway.” In this case, membership turns into access-only, similar to The Chronicle of Higher Education where access-only allows readers to view certain parts of the website, but a paid membership allows subscribers to view everything the website has to offer, including delivery of The Chronicle and other editions. Likewise, access-only to family becomes “small-talk” conversations, gossip, short visits with a place-to-stay, and birthday cards or wishes.

Finally, I fast forward to the present where a third community emerges, Tri-Cities. Tri-Cities is home to a variety of sub-communities. Of course, academia is one of them along with its English professors (that’s me!), historians, anthropologists, engineers, scientists, etc. Other communities exist too. Some are easy to find; others seem hidden. I have had some access through networking with artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, freelancers, designers, small business owners, bloggers, tweeters, librarians, etc. It seems desirable to separate them into their own distinct communities, but they’ve managed to meet, collaborate, and form an interdisciplinary partnership where they exchange ideas and share personal stories. During this year I’ve only heard about them; I’ve only imagined their stories. I’ve had access-only; first, through my partner’s experiences and projects, then virtually through Twitter, and finally, in person as I had the opportunity to meet some of the members. After conversing with a few of them, I became interested in their current projects and future plans. Now, I wonder if I can become a full-fledged member of this particular community; I wonder if Tri-Cities can become home.

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Vanessa Cozza

Vanessa Cozza

Originally from the Philadelphia area, I studied at Bowling Green State University in Ohio where I earned my PhD in Rhetoric & Writing. An assistant professor position at Washington State University Tri-Cities (WSUTC) led me to move farther west. At WSUTC, I teach first-year writing and advanced rhetoric and writing courses. Although I have a variety of research interests, currently I’m examining the literacy practices of public street artists and murals, including graffiti and photography. Specifically, I’m looking at how this type of visual rhetoric tells a history, addresses political controversies, and makes art more accessible to a broader audience. Aside from academia, I also spend a lot of my free time crossfitting, sous cheffing, and couch potatoing.

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  • Sara Taylor

    Thank you for this. I find the group dynamics here are difficult to navigate sometimes. It’s easier to for me to just talk to/get to know people individually, but this is a reminder that being a part of the community is important.