Welcome!

Hello World,

My name is Andrew Miller, and I am a first-year student at American University in Washington, D.C. I am originally from Long Island, New York, just outside of New York City. I am a Public Health major, with a minor in Biochemistry, and pursuing a Pre-Med track.

This website is the final product from my Writing-101 class with Prof. Hunter Hoskins. This semester, we were challenged to select a location in D.C. from a list of locations in Ruben Castaneda’s S Street Rising. Then, through emergent research and visitation, we sought to uncover the topoi within our complex local system, or CLS. I chose to begin with the Westin D.C. City Center Hotel, formerly the Vista Hotel, located just off of Thomas Circle in Northwest D.C. I expanded my area of focus to the entire Thomas Circle locality, which is the subject of my final project.

To accomplish writing an essay analyzing a Washington Post article, and a multi-modal final project, I composed an Annotated Bibliography of all the research I did this semester. Additionally, after each visit to the area, I uploaded photos and videos to my digital archives. This semester, we relied heavily on David Flemming’s City of Rhetoric. After the most important sections, I wrote a reflection/rhetorical analysis. You’ll also notice some seemingly random quotes with explanations; these all belong to my commonplace book, a collection of quotes I encountered in everyday life, which I analyzed for rhetoric and meaning.

If you would like to discuss any of my research here further, please email me at am2140a@student.american.edu. I hope you enjoy reading through my exploration of D.C.

Yours,

Andrew Miller

Mapping Commonplaces: Community & Inclusivity in Thomas Circle

 

TL;DR: I did a lot of research and made this.

Initially, I began my Complex Local System at the Westin Hotel, formerly the Vista Hotel, after choosing this location from the list of S Street Rising locations. I was not sure how much I could work with the hotel alone, so I slowly expanded my focus to the entire Thomas Circle area. On my final visit to the area, I entered still confused about any topoi in the area, but uncovered some small, hidden features of the area that were ultimately all linked. I thus uncovered the topoi of community and inclusion.

The first instance I stumbled across these topoi was when visiting the website of the Luther Place Memorial Church. One of the main pages on this site is an “About Us” page, which also includes an “Our Mission” page. One of the things these pages stressed was that the Church was open to LGBT individuals, and hosted LGBT weddings. I thought about the stark contrast this was to most church doctrine. I knew that this church was unique in how accepting it was.

I also visited the website of the church across the street, the National City Church. This Church is home to the “Thomas Circle Singers” choir. The choir is grounded in social justice. Again, on the advertised mission on the website, the choir indicated that it sought to promote ideals of unity and inclusion, and advocated for issues in the locality.

After visiting the websites of these two churches, I knew I wanted to do some exploring. So, I visited the site again, and walked around; this time focusing on the churches.

I walked around the Luther Place Memorial Church, and noticed many people stopping to take pictures. I went to see what they were photographing and found this painting (for a deeper analysis, read the blurb under the image). Clearly, this church is dedicated to progression and unity, as epitomized in the painting. The church made a number of choices when putting that painting up. First, they decided they wanted the painting to be public, and thus, they wanted it to draw attention. Second, they decided to portray Dr. King with a halo, which is a depiction reserved for saints and other holy persons. As a devout Catholic, I was a bit rattled by this, but I determined that this was the point. The church intended for this to be a point of controversy.

I continued walking around the church, and found this pole behind the church, which offered messages of peace in several languages. The library box epitomizes the importance of community in the area. The box is unlocked and available to everyone, which furthers the ideals of community and inclusivity.

I turned again to research more about the area and church and discovered the N Street Village, a homeless shelter run out of the Luther Place Memorial Church. The organization sought to “minister to the wounded of the city” following the riots that erupted in the area after the assassination of Dr. King in 1968. Again, the authors of this website made distinct choices about how to depict their program. They are not advertising their program to those who will directly use it since they are homeless and likely without internet access, and thus, the website’s statements are intended to appeal to the community.

The area as it appears now and all the aforementioned examples are very recent examples of this locality. Until the 1990s, this area was crime-ridden, bleak, and “the divide.” 14th Street, which traverses the circle, stood as the physical boundary between the “good” and “bad” parts of the city. Moreover, in the late 70s and early 80s, this area was particularly impacted by the D.C. crack epidemic and prostitution, due in part to laxed trials and enforcement efforts. I have used articles from The Washington Post as snapshots into the culture of the area at the time and to chronicle the massive transformation this area underwent.

My final project combines both the Post timeline and “map” of the topos into a single presentation. My hope is that the viewer can come to appreciate the massive transformation the Thomas Circle area underwent, and how from that transformation, community and inclusivity became the driving forces of the local community.

Analysis of Campus Architecture

In their article “Recognizing Campus Landscapes as Learning Spaces,” Kathleen Scholl and Gowri Betrabet Gulwadi argue that college campus landscapes should be part of a holistic learning environment for students. Scholl and Gulwadi argue that open spaces and natural landscapes provide students with attentional restoration, whereby students can unwind from focusing in traditional classes. They also argue that a dynamic campus leads students to view their learning experiences as dynamic and holistic.

Scholl and Gulwadi state that research has never been done on how landscapes specifically affect student learning. In this article, they view the main benefit of landscapes and openness as attentional restoration therapy. Their claim is undeniable to any reader in college; almost any reader can relate to focusing in class for hours to a point of being drained, then sitting outside for a while to rest and restore their attentional energy. Thus, the article is very easy to relate to since the authors write to a specific audience.

The second claim made in the article is that dynamic landscapes contribute to dynamic learning. This argument is structured in a very simple “if x, then y” structure. The evidence here is not circumstantial but direct. The authors build on their previous point that the entire campus is a learning environment, rather than just the classrooms. In this way, students are learning when they are walking across the quad, socializing outside, etc. The authors claim that these interactions are ipso facto learning experiences.

After stating the benefits of nature in student learning, the article calls upon college administrators and architects to view the campus as a learning space. When colleges purposely build open spaces into their campuses, provide easy access to wilderness, and engage students in nature, student learning will achieve true dynamism and effectiveness.

So What?

In the final chapter or City of Rhetoric, David Fleming calls upon societies to develop cities that allow individuals to govern themselves and learn from each other. “Polis andra didaskei” Simonides once said, “the city teaches us” (Fleming 210). Indeed, Fleming believes that the ideal “City of Rhetoric” is modeled off the Athenian polis, in which individuals can engage in dialogue without fear of assimilation or exclusion, and in which active citizenry provides for education. Furthermore, Fleming calls upon the public school system to educate people on “memory, mapping, and judgement” (207), so that children emerge as empowered and educated citizens ready to run the polis.

Two contrasting situations often present difficulty in American public discourse. First, suburbs and minority and lower-class disenfranchisement prevent physically, economically, and/or educationally separated individuals from participating in governance and dialogue. To combat this issue, Fleming argues that cities must promote physical interconnectedness and social inclusivity. In turn, all citizens will have free access to participate in their own discourse. Second, once engaged in public discourse, many fear assimilation. In our society today, we often view conflicts as inherently unresolvable. When a conflict arises, and a resolution cannot be reached, we “throw our hands in the air” and physically separate ourselves to avoid recurrence of the conflict. Thus, we must accept that conflict is inevitable, and resolution not always possible. Once we accept this diversity and intersectionality, we can engage in productive discourse.

But, in order to begin such discourse, a prepared citizenry is needed. We may only prepare people for engagement in public schooling. Fleming culminates his pleas for effective schooling in this final chapter, when he calls upon schools to educate children in “memory, mapping, and judgement” (207). In this way, all students become prepared for discourse, and have an appreciation both of their locality and rhetoric.

By prepring students to be active citizens and allowing all citizens to effectively engage in strong public discourse, we may move all cities toward the ideal “city of rhetoric.”

Prof. Hyra’s Talk on Gentrification

American University Professor Derek Hyra led a frank discussion on gentrification at Busboys and Poets on 14th and V Streets in Washington D.C. this past week. The talk was inspired by his latest book, Race, Class, and Politics in the Capuccino City, which discusses gentrification in the Shaw/U St. area.

Prof. Hyra describes the cappuccino city as a metaphor for gentrified D.C. What is a cappucino? You start with dark coffee (a metaphor for the African-American population living in the area), and pour in fancy steamed milk (the new White millennials moving into the area). The result: the “gilded ghetto.”

The “gilded ghetto,” as Prof. Hyra explains, is a uniquely D.C. phenomenon. In the archetypal gentrification event, wealthy White people move into the area, causing property values to increase, and cause a massive increase in “hipster” shops/businesses/areas, like espresso bars, vegan restaurants, dog parks, and bike lanes. The new population coming in purposely displaces the old population, brings economic renewal, and decreases crime. Not much different than the first European settlers, these new people are looking for land they can convert into their own little utopia.

However, this is not the case with the Shaw area. Here, the new White millennials are actually attracted to the “ghetto.” In an act of cultural tourism, they seek to be a part of the authentic ghetto because it’s “cool” or “hipster.”

The effect is the same. Planners intend for new dog parks and the like to be used for everyone. But Prof. Hyra delivered the example of a new dog park constructed in Brentwood on Rhode Island Ave. Never one did one Black individual utilize the space; “it’s not for us” one indignant Black individual told Prof. Hyra.

In theory, this physical racial integration sounds promising. Diversity, economic renewal, crime reduction are things dreamt of by all people. Physical integration does not equal social social integration.

David Fleming calls for social integration in his book City of Rhetoric. Fleming discusses the North Town Village apartment complex, a project designed to bring families and individuals of all races and classes together. For more on the North Town Village, and how it failed, read my article here.

Moreover, this cultural tourism tends to glorify the “good” parts of Black history, while neglecting the “bad.” For example, many want to live in Shaw because it was once a residence of Duke Ellington and others. They ignore the riots that devastated the area after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, however. While cultural tourism often manifests under the guise of historical appreciation, it fails to appreciate history in its entirety.

So where do we go from here?

No one knows. It’s why research and dialogue continues on the subject. We will probably never reach one definitive answer. But at least we’ve got the conversation started.

Photo credit: Prof. Hunter Hoskins

Conclusions

“ . . .[I]f we seek a society of caring, creative and committed people, and leaders who feel called to service rather than to stature, then we need to do a better job of making that clear.”

 

-Susan Cain, in her April 2 New York Times article

 

This article is our “prompt” for a final essay in another one of my classes. It has truly changed my outlook on leadership and work ethics. I especially loved her last line of the article (above), where she managed to skillfully craft all of her ideas into one succinct sentence. I have always found difficulty in this. I dread writing conclusions to papers since I often think “if I just spent 15 pages arguing x, how do I do it in one sentence?” Thus, I was ecstatic when I found this very successful concluding sentence. I plan to model my future conclusions off of her sentence.

The Rhetoric of a Bone Marrow Donation

On Friday April 2, I volunteered with the AU Public Health Association to host a registration drive for Be The Match— the national bone marrow donor registry. The event was fairly successful, with 38 people (including myself) signing up for the registry during our three hour event.

My first assignment was to stand outside of Ward when class let out at 11 am and ask people if they’d be interested. I asked everyone that walked out, asking “Hey guys! Would you be interested in signing up for the national bone marrow donor registry?” I never got so many dirty looks in my life. People heard “bone marrow donor” and wanted nothing to do with it.

After everyone passed I went back to the table and overheard the Be The Match employee doing the same thing. I noticed that she was screaming out to people: “Hey guys, you want to sign up to save a life today?” She wasn’t getting any dirty looks, just people saying “sure, what do I have to do?” Most of them didn’t sign up, but she at least got their attention.

Asking them to “save a life” was a loaded question. It made it impossible to resist, especially at a school like AU that has such an emphasis on social justice. “Well when you put it that way… I feel shitty if I say no” one person responded.

And so I learned how to force people to listen to me. It was all just in the rhetoric. People decided if they would stop and listen after a few words. I just had to make those first few words words they couldn’t resist.

Catastrophe

“It’s an escape from our personal mortality. Catastrophe. It overwhelms what is weak and fearful in our bodies and minds. We face the end but not alone. We lose ourselves in the core of the storm.”

DeLillo, Don. Zero K. Scribner, 2016.

 

The word “catastrophe” is repeated many times on this page (pp. 66), and is always at the beginning of a dialogue and/or by itself in a sentence, as above. DeLillo is attempting to make the claim that catastrophe is the Alpha and Omega of our existence, and to further this claim, he repeats the word and draws attention to it by singling it out and placing it by itself.

Annotated Bibliography 9 & 10

Luther Place Memorial Church. http://lutherplace.org/about-us/our-vision. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

This website for the Luther Place Memorial Church explains the visions and mission of the church. The website has an obvious focus on inclusivity and openness, especially stating the goal of being “radically hospitable” (“Luther Place”). There is an entire section on this website dedicated to welcoming LGBT individuals, a stark contrast to most churches opposition towards the LGBT community. The mission of this church is clearly outlined, and the tone and diction of the page futhers it motif of inclusion.

The church stands as the epitome of the political forces within the Thomas Circle area. I hope to use the church as the focal point for my topos. I will use the information off this page to corroborate the claims I make about the Church’s dedication to inclusion and revolution.

 

About Little Free Library — Little Free Library. 2017, https://littlefreelibrary.org/about/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017

This website explains purpose of the Little Free Library nonprofit organization. This organization is one of the many that has taken a hold (albeit small) on the Thomas Circle area. The Little Free Library organization similarly emphasizes inclusivity and community. I believe that the mere presence of one of its libraries is testament to this area’s communal ideals and values.

I also hope to use this as another example of the values held in this locality. Both the church and the library behind it serve as unique examples of the communal topos of this area, and my goal is to put both in conversation with each other.

Statue of Martin Luther

This statue sits in front of the Lutheran Memorial Church. The statue depicts religious revolutionary Martin Luther, as he looks out over Thomas Circle.  The church (and statue by chain rule) dominate the scene when looking North from Thomas Circle. Luther stands for revolution, progress, and force. These three traits in turn accurately describe D.C., and specifically the Thomas Circle area. The statue of Luther thus stands as the epitome of the forces at play within the locality.