Issue 7.1: Interview with Dr. Ruby Mendoza

Dr. Mendoza’s article, “Toward a Queer and (Trans)formative Methodology for Rhetoric of Health and Medicine: Institutional Critique,”  was recently published in Issue 7.1 of Rhetoric of Health and Medicine. In this interview, assistant editor Amy Reed asked Dr. Mendoza about the relationship between story and institutional critique, their advice for new graduate students, and more. 

AR: Can you talk about the experience of writing for publication while in graduate school? For example, what types of support did you receive from your program or peers? What advice might you give to new graduate students looking to publish? 

RM: This is a great question, I did write this article in graduate school while I attended Michigan State University. First, the support I received for this article was from my fellow graduate student and now colleague, Dr. Wilfredo Flores. I initially saw this call while taking a RHM independent study course with Dr. Bill Hart-Davidson, and he actually shared the call with me. In my independent study course, I realized conversations related to Queer and Transgender sexual health were missing in RHM. I wanted to write an article that not only focused on the intersections of queer and transgender health, but also at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, class, and disability.

When I initially wrote the article, it was a mess to be honest. I struggled as this was my first article writing independently on my own. When I received my first initial peer review, the comments from reviewers noticed just that. However, the editors of this collection really mentored and supported my work throughout all the peer review sessions. They were integral for this work throughout the development process. Unfortunately, faculty at my department were not that helpful as they did not engage in the work that I do, which is unfortunately common for students who are QTBIPOC. My suggestions for other graduate students who are interested in doing similar work is to find scholars who do similar work and who are willing to support them as much as possible. Even though our graduate programs will say they will support you, sometimes that is not always the case.

AR: I appreciate your work’s frankness in showing how QTBIPOC lives and experiences have been absented from RHM work. I’m wondering how you see your own work or the work of other scholars addressing these absences? In other words, what are you working on next? Who are some scholars that we should be looking toward within rhetoric who are taking up this work?

RM: To be frank, as rhetoricians we must build bridges with other disciplines as this work is being conducted outside of our field. Many of the sources I draw upon are not solely from Rhetoric studies. However, there are scholars such as Jo Hsu and Ada Hubrig who are focusing on the intersections of disability, race, and so much more. 

As of now, I am working on moving my dissertation to a book as I received a Cs award for my dissertation . I am working on a proposal that focuses on Critical Race Theory and Queer/Transgender experiences navigating higher education–institutions. However, my goal is to find opportunities to do archival work in the San Francisco Bay Area about transgender health simultaneously. I think there is rich history here, and I would value the opportunity to explore that work further as I was born and raised in that community.

AR: Thank you for sharing your story of interacting with your campus health center. In truth, saying “thank you” feels inadequate in the face of such powerful testimony to the harmful impact that institutions can have. I’m wondering if you can share more about the relationship between stories and institutional critique. It is evident that sharing personal stories is a powerful way of enacting this methodology. 

RM: This is a great question. I really want to draw from my dissertation where a participant named Monica–a pseudonym, really captured how stories and our experiences are powerful to address oppressive institutional logics. In my interview with Monica, they describe how stories reflect a critical resistance practice against institutions and are often excluded because our stories hold power. As Monica states, institutions believe “that your experience is not knowledge because it’s threatening, right? It’s not because it’s not powerful. It’s because it’s so powerful that it shakes the foundations of what this space is built on.” What I learned from Monica is that stories, as a culturally informed technological approach grounded from lived experiences, showcase how our perspectives hold so much value that many perceive these types of perspectives as threatening.

Our lived and embodied experiences are ways of addressing institutional harm. When we look historically about ways to navigate institutional and cistematic oppression, there have been many influential figures who have used stories and experiences as a form of technology to generate ways to navigate and subvert institutional power which include the civil rights movement, feminist movements, and LGBTQ+ movements. We are seeing it now in realtime across the country where protesters are sharing their stories and experiences about protesting against the active genocide occuring now; institutions are listening and responding in a multitude of ways– including violence. The reason they are responding with violence and force is because their stories–testimonies–are a threat to Eurocentric logics grounded in settler colonialism and colonization. They are simply afraid that our stories are shaking the foundation of settler colonialism which impacts their worldly agenda.

AR: In your conclusion, you argue, “Scholars in RHM must remain mindful, intentional, and rhetorical about how medical and health institutions embody Eurocentric approaches to health–approaches that tend to remove queer and transgender agency to navigate healthcare.” Do you see a role for rhetoric scholars to imagine, as Natasha Jones and Miriam Williams have called for, more just forms of healthcare? If so, can you talk a little bit about what more robust agency for QTBIPOC individuals and communities would look like in healthcare settings? 

RM: This is a great question that I cannot answer alone. From my perspective, I believe there are many ways we can integrate this work for more QTBIPOC to have agency in their healthcare. I think we are seeing it now; QTBIPOC individuals and community partners are actively working against institutional logics that are attempting to create change by advocating through campaigns and nonprofits to support QTBIPOC individuals to have access to basic level of care. I also think it depends on the state folks live in. I now live and reside in California where transgender health is more accessible. There are still challenges still with accessing care as I mentioned earlier. For  example, there might be individuals who can obtain hormones or other queer and transgender related care, but if  practitioner or administrator values  do not align with those services, there are challenges and obstacles folks can face in obtaining care.

There are states in this country where accessing this level of care is nearly impossible. We are seeing legislation that is actively removing the rights for folks to receive the things they need. I think it is imperative that folks use their rhetorical skills to create advocacy campaigns to create awareness but also to hopefully find energy to help with informing individuals about the need to vote against those oppressive logics that are against vital care. This means being involved with their local community to help create civic engagement.

What I think is often neglected in dominant conversations is that QTBIPOC healthcare is only about hormones, QTBIPOC healthcare can range from a variety of things, including diabetes, hypertension, and mental health services. If we have active medical institutions and their practitioners reluctant to serve these communities, there is a real possibility for individuals to not have the basic care to navigate this world. 

AR: How do you or might you engage students in the process of institutional critique? I’m thinking, for example, of how to engage students in policy analysis–something that Dr. Genevieve García de Müeller has talked about

RM: Yes, I am a fan of Genevieve Garcia De Müeller’s work, thank you for sharing! I think there are a multitude of ways to support students to think about institutional critique in connection to pedagogy. I really want to point out that my RHM article really hones in on the QTBIPOC healthcare; however, this framework is so applicable to other dominant institutions including higher education, government, and so forth. As a scholar who works at the intersections of Rhetoric, Technical and Professional Communication, and Social Justice, it is imperative to design coursework that aims to support students to think about how to combat dominant logics through institutional critique to promote advocacy of their own communities they are a part of.

For instance, I taught a rhetoric course centered around social justice. In this course, I designed an assignment that focuses on developing a podcast where students can address inequalities that impact their own communities. One student, for instance, focused their work to acknowledge the technological failures of medical institutions and the apps they use for their patients to access their healthcare information. In their work, they noticed how these applications do not support multilingual communities, particularly Latinx communities who do not know how to navigate technology. This critique of the institution and failure signifies how technologies and designs were not made for their communities; they simply failed to consider populations who are unfamiliar with both technology and intersectional bodies. I think this example really showcases how institutional critique can work across a multitude of areas in healthcare and exemplifies how this work can be inserted in our classrooms to help students to know they have the ability and power to address institutional logics. 

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