Annual Report 2010

POROI sponsors community discussions on race and class in southeast Iowa City

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James Throgmorton

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Vershawn Young

The University of Iowa Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry (POROI) provided a forum for Iowa City residents to respectfully discuss the topics of race and class in the city's southeast side during a three-part Public Rhetoric Seminar Series.

The series, titled "Media, Space and Race: The Case of Iowa City's 'Southeast Side,'" featured sessions on Feb. 3, March 3 and April 7. The first two sessions were at the University Capitol Centre's Room 2520D; the third in the cafeteria of Grant Wood Elementary School, 1930 Lakeside Dr.

POROI, a Graduate College certificate program, was hopeful the series would increase public understanding about the role of rhetoric in transforming the space of the southeast side into a particular place in the context of four kinds of power: development markets, zoning authority, race and class relations, and online discussions mediated by the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

The seminars were organized by James Throgmorton, professor of urban and regional planning in the Graduate College; Vershawn Young, associate professor of rhetoric and African-American studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Jeff Charis Carlson, opinion page editor at the Press-Citizen. Throgmorton and Young also are on the POROI Board of Directors.

"Our goal was to help improve the quality of discourse about this controversial topic," Throgmorton said. "That means enabling all of us to become more skillful in the language choices we make, more conscious of the ways we spatialize our arguments, and more knowledgeable about how stories and storytelling help to shape communities."

The first seminar was titled, "Words Matter: Online Postings in the Iowa City Press-Citizen." The subsequent seminars were titled, "Maps Matter: Iowa City Boundaries and 'neighborhood imaginaries,'" and "Stories Matter: Creating Communities and Boundaries through Storytelling about the 'Southeast Side.'"

Lead facilitators included David Depew, professor of communication studies, Throgmorton, and Barbara Eckstein, professor of English. Panel participants included UI faculty and community leaders.

In each seminar, the facilitator, panelists and public were asked to comment on a provocative text using rhetorical analysis in a productive and passionate way.

Between sessions, the public were able to comment online at http://www.press-citizen.com. Young moderated those online discussions.

Southeast Iowa City has gained a growing reputation for being a troubled side of town, punctuated by the shooting death of a property owner last October. Residents have expressed concern that juvenile crime is taking over their community.

"The point is to take the volatility and channel it into constructive dialogue," Young said. "Iowa City is too small for us to be dividing this town into that side of town and this side of town. We're all coexisting in one real small space."

For more information, visit http://poroi.grad.uiowa.edu/.