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TAMUC Faculty Win Grant Award

Dr. Charles Woods (left) and Dr. Gavin Johnson are both part of a collective that received a grant award meant to kickstart the creation of a digital rhetorical privacy lab on the A&M-Commerce campus.

COMMERCE, TX—A collective featuring two Texas A&M University-Commerce faculty members are receiving a monetary award to establish a digital rhetorical privacy lab on the university campus.

Dr. Charles Woods and Dr. Gavin Johnson, assistant professors in the Department of Literature and Languages at A&M-Commerce, are advisory board members of the Digital Rhetorical Privacy Collective (DRPC), a project Woods founded in 2022. The collective, which currently includes representatives from five universities across the U.S., describes itself as a coalitional action undertaken to continue to understand better the importance of digital privacy for ending oppression in American society and building an equitable future for all.

In February, the DRPC was honored with the Emergent Researcher Award by the National Council of Teachers of English at their Conference on College Composition and Communication. While small, the monetary award of just under $2,000. A seed to begin funding a lab space on the A&M-Commerce campus dedicated to digital rhetorical privacy research.

What is Digital Rhetorical Privacy?

“This concept comes from my dissertation project,” Woods said. “It is a state of being when a user is confident their digital data is free from unauthorized observances by nefarious computer technologies and other users.”

“The rhetorical part of it comes from how digital privacy gets shaped by different actors,” Johnson said. “Something that we can consider as a recent, high-profile event is the banning of Tiktok. The way that the directives came from the governor’s office very much used privacy, security, and data protection to justify banning this social media platform by state entities.”

Johnson continued: “The rhetorical aspect stems from how we use digital privacy to shape and enact policy change. How privacy is defined to do certain things.”

Woods often speaks on the subject as part of his podcast, “The Big Rhetorical Podcast.” The program, which has nearly 130 episodes at the time of writing, has received multiple accolades over the years. Woods and his podcast received the 2020 Service Award and the 2022 John Lovas Award from Kairos, an academic journal, and the 2022 Michelle Kendrick Award from the “Computers and Composition.”

Creating a Privacy Lab on Campus

One of the goals of the collective is to create a collaborative space dedicated to fostering research into what digital privacy truly is, as well as thinking collectively about a complex issue.

“Digital privacy is such a complex subject that I think many of us suffer from what Charles has called ‘privacy apathy,’” Johnson said. “How do we work to make digital privacy something people care about and not just click ‘agree’ on a privacy policy without reading through it?”

Woods and Johnson describe the Emergent Researcher Award as a “ringing endorsement” of their work.

“While we didn’t get a huge monetary sum to start a lab space immediately, this is still exciting because this is our seed,” Woods said. “This is the starting point for us to potentially go out and receive more grants because it shows value in our work.”

The proposed research lab would also be a place to work with campus and community partners on privacy issues while valuing diverse perspectives on the issues surrounding digital privacy and fostering the work of emerging scholars.

Learn more about the Digital Rhetorical Privacy Collective and the Department of Literature and Languages.