The department of English will be welcoming Dr. David Johnson to the faculty this fall. Dr. Johnson’s specialty is in rhetorics of race, antiracist pedagogies, qualitative composition research, writing centers, and graduate writing.

M&L: How did you get interested in English studies, and what motivated you to earn a Ph.D. and make a career of it? 

DJ: I actually started undergrad as a biology major on the pre-med track, but I quickly discovered that it wasn’t the best fit for me. I had always been interested in writing and literature, and English was my strongest subject throughout my elementary and secondary education. So, getting an English degree made the most sense and I switched majors early on as a first-year student. I initially had a loose plan for a career in academia, and I knew a Ph.D. would be an essential part of getting to a position where I might be able to pursue both teaching and research. But I only began earnestly considering a Ph.D. once I started a Master’s program. 

I didn’t have much of a sense of direction at first, and I thought I might specialize in Milton or Antebellum American Lit, but it was during my Master’s program that I learned that Rhetoric and Composition (Writing Studies) existed on its own strand in English studies. As I took classes in writing pedagogy, composition theory, and world rhetorics — and once I started working in the Writing Center, I started to understand the discourse and I became enamored with Writing Studies as a discipline. I started seeking the perspective of my favorite professors and graduate instructors to learn what I would need to do to be successful in my desired path, and they pointed me in the right direction, mentored me, supported me in my professionalization, and helped me make it happen. 

My dissertation committee chair once said that “You have to have a really good reason to get a Ph.D.” Thankfully, my experiences and all the mentorship I received along the way gave me and reinforced my (many) good reasons.

M&L: As a scholar, teacher, and administrator, you’ve devoted yourself to writing programs. What do you love about writing programs as both a teacher and an administrator? 

DJ: A writing program, whether it’s a First-Year Composition program, WID/WAC program, or a Writing Center, offers enormously consequential opportunities and responsibilities for Writing Program Administrators and writing teachers. A well-designed writing program can be the difference between a student who understands writing as central to thinking and learning, and a student who views writing as a chore or simply a basic, decontextualized set of skills. 

A well-designed writing classroom is also a space with activist potential. It’s a space where students start to uncover the connections between language, identity, access, and exclusion; it’s a space where dialogue-across-difference happens safely and respectfully; it’s a space where students recognize language use as socially situated within specific communities, value systems, occasions, and purposes; and it’s a space where students understand writing as a flexible, pragmatic tool with the capacity to enact change in the world.

So, I love that writing programs and classrooms are crucial to creating rhetorically savvy, critically minded, and socially responsible global citizens.    

M&L: What are you writing yourself these days? Are you working on a scholarly article, a book, or something creative?

DJ: My coauthors and I are refining a manuscript on the emotional challenges and ethical urgency of antiracist writing pedagogies for teachers across identity configurations for the Journal of Teaching Writing. I also have some invited contributions to a forthcoming companion piece for an educational video series on supporting graduate writers that will be published by the University of Michigan Press.  

M&L: What have you been reading lately? 

DJ: Most recently, my pleasure reading has included Ayad Aktar’s Homeland Elegies and Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings. Toward my scholarly interests, I’ve just started reading Shawna Shapiro’s Cultivating Critical Language Awareness in the Writing Classroom

M&L: What might students be surprised to learn about you? 

DJ: I was a cook at a summer camp for a couple of years.

M&L: What has been the best part of your experience at Western so far?

DJ: The warmth of my colleagues and learning that I’m joining a department and institution that are sincere in their actionable commitments to create a socially just campus environment.