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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

Humanizing doctoral mentorship during the pandemic: Transnational women creating feminist spaces through rhetorical listening and reflexivity

Khadidja Belhadi & Lisya Seloni

Table of Contents

Keywords: childcare, doctoral programs, graduate mentorship, international scholars, transnationalism, multilingualism, rhetorical listening, reflexivity

Categories: Revisionings of Teaching, Facilitation, and Professional Leadership; Transnationalism and Inhabiting Borderlands During the Pandemic; Somewhere in Between: Grad Student Perspectives; Forging Communal Ties Through Collaborative Writing



Why do we need care work to be visible during troubling times? Why do we need feminist mentorship more than ever?

We want to tell you a story of academic kinship and the power of feminist mentoring for women in academia who inhibit minoritized positions within a predominantly white institution, and by doing so, we want to challenge mainstream notions of thinking, knowing, and being through counterstories around care work during troubling times. More specifically, our story is a story of doctoral mentorship from a transnational feminist lens--one that we hope to continue to explore, thrive and learn as we grow as humans, scholars, mothers, and sisters who lead life in multiple spaces and places. The doctoral mentorship story we want to share is told at a particular time of history when the COVID-19 pandemic has been a setback for many women in academia who have already been challenged by various gender-based inequalities including those experienced around a large load of care work. During the COVID-19 health crisis, many women have lost the time they need to prepare for class and write for publication as they have been carrying the majority of labor for their children’s interrupted schooling, for managing risk assessment for their family, and trying to juggle teaching responsibilities and research commitments. We feel that it’s undoubtedly true that the pandemic made the longstanding gender gaps in academia even more challenging for transnational women who also suffered from various forms of traumas such as being separated from their family abroad, going through various grievances due to their nomadic existence in their adopted countries, and being positioned less than their white male, native English speaking counterparts in the workplace. The day-to-day challenges of transnational academic women who are disproportionately burdened by the pandemic life is not always visible to many in academic spaces.  As transnational scholars who navigate academic and personal life, we want these gender-based inequalities to be seen as legitimate challenges in academic women’s lives by drawing attention to our personal narratives around the increased care work women do while also maintaining healthy relationships with colleagues, students, our families, and with our own work as scholars.  In addition, aiming to draw attention to how transnational women negotiate motherhood and academic work, we want to open up a genuine conversation around doctoral student mentorship that is based on community-building and non-hierarchical relationships.

With this in mind, drawing on the theories of rhetorical listening  (Ratcliffe, 2005), feminist mentoring (Sancez-Martin & Seloni, 2019), and engaged pedagogy (e.g., hooks, 1994), and by using an autoethnographic collaborative approach (Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernandez, 2016), in this piece we share doctoral mentoring stories of two transnational academic women--Lisya (the graduate mentor) and Khadidja (the graduate mentee), and provide short snippets of how we negotiate care work responsibilities and academic work in our personal lives during COVID-19 pandemic hoping that our stories will resonate with other transnational mentors and their advisees whose care work may also be invisible and is assumed to not interfere with their work, relationships, and wellness as academics. As transnational multilingual women and caregivers, at different career stages, we also share what we learn from a feminist-oriented mentoring that help both of us face the barriers we encounter in our daily lives and help create a space to continue writing, meaningfully engage our students in their disciplines and produce scholarship. We think the space around care work is not simply given in academia, and by writing our own truths, we claim our space as caregiving academic women. 


Biographical information and auto-ethnographic reflections

Who are we? And, how do our bodies and minds intersect?

Aiming to disrupt mind/body split in academia, bell hooks states that “ one of the unspoken discomforts surrounding the way a discourse of race and gender, and sexual practice has disrupted the academy is precisely that mind/body split. Once we start talking in the classroom about the body and about how we live in our bodies, we’re automatically challenging the way power has orchestrated itself in that particular institutionalized space. The person who is most powerful has the privilege of denying their body….” (p. 137). In her book, Teaching to transgress, hooks challenges the traditional notions around being in the classroom as detached bodies, and disrupts the romantic notion of professors as all-knowing minds by bringing attention to the presence of our bodies. Similarly, remembering who we are as academics and mothers and how we navigate life balancing two demanding areas of life cannot be done without critically reflecting on who we are and how our positionalities impact our relationship with the institution, with our scholarship,  and with one another. As transnational multilingual women who inhibit both marginalized and privileged spaces in academia, we are aware of the presence of our bodies and would like to start with situating our identities and positionalities through dialogically engaging with each other’s lived experiences in the US as transnational women who came to this country for graduate studies.

Khadidja: I will start off by sharing my early experience living and studying in the US. I  was born and raised in Algeria. I identify as a Muslim Arab American woman. In my early 20s, I came to the US  with my husband who was already a Ph.D. student in the US then. Pursuing a graduate education was a goal for me. So, I ended up doing a Masters degree in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies (LLSS) at the University of New Mexico.  I was fortunate to learn from scholars such as Holbrook Mahn in the area of educational linguistics (literacy, language acquisition and Vygotskian theory); Lois Meyer in the area of bilingual education and TESOL; and Tryphenia Peele-Eady in the area of qualitative research methodology. My experience at UNM was transformative to me as it greatly influenced and shaped my post-secondary learning and teaching. Echoing the  Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, I came to believe that education is the practice of freedom, teaching is about the student-teacher, as well as student-student relationships and how they engage with the texts and materials they encounter.  Currently, I am a doctoral student and a graduate teaching assistant in the department of English at ISU,  specializing in rhetoric and composition. I teach first-year writing courses and I am also the professional development coordinator in the university’s writing program.

How about you, Dr. Seloni? Would you please share your early experience living and studying in the US?

Lisya: Sure! Just like you, the United States is my adopted home. In fact, when I first arrived in this country in 2001, I never imagined making this country my home. So, in this regard, I call myself an accidental immigrant.  I was born and raised in a working-class family in Istanbul, Turkey. In the early 2000s, I immigrated to the United States, a small town in central Missouri, to do my Masters degree in the area of Teaching English as a second language (TESOL). This was only a few months before 9/11 when Islamophobia and xenophobia, in general, was at its peak in my new context. After completing my MA degree, I pursued a doctoral degree in the area of second language studies at the Ohio State University, and had an opportunity to study with some brilliant scholars such as David Bloom in the area of classroom ethnography, multiliteracies, and discourse analysis, Keiko Samimy in the area of Nonnative English speaking teachers and English as an International language, Shelly Wong, in the area of social-justice oriented teacher identity and critical discourse analysis, and Alan Hirvela on second language reading and writing. To this day, I still reflect on the mentorship relationship that I built with my own mentors, and how much I learned from each of these people about giving meaningful feedback,  promoting collaborative relationships with graduate students, and embracing visible pedagogy to empower international students in predominantly white institutions. I also take inspiration from other sibling scholars, such as Gloria Park, Ryuko Kubota, Icy Lee, Angel Lin, Suhanthi Motha, Christine Tardy, and Stephanie Vandrick, whose important work around power, identity, and writing in second language studies and critical applied linguistics had important imprints on who I am as a transnational scholar and practitioner today. As an able-bodied, first-generation faculty member,  I’m now a full professor in the area of Applied Linguistics and TESOL at Illinois State University, and I owe the successes and joys in my journey to many people in my immediate and extended communities and the mentors I had and still have.

Khadidja: For me, the great mentors I have encountered during my educational journey have influenced my disciplinary identity as well as my scholarly interests. They guide and support me as I navigate the unique and sometimes “scary” academic discourse. Can you tell us a bit about your research interests?

Lisya: As an applied linguist who deeply values critical transdisciplinary research, I am invested in studying the diverse literate practices of multilingual writers in higher education to better understand the complex processes involved in writers’ multilingual textual productions, academic participation, knowledge-making and positionality within their various disciplinary and non-disciplinary communities.  In my most recent scholarship, I’ve been interested in exploring the processes by which language-minoritized students develop authorial voice, scholarly expertise, and disciplinary identity in various discourse communities. My work has taken several directions in post-tenure years bringing me closer to the kind of writing that I always want to do: narrative work and reflexive pieces that talk about how our transnational bodies move across academia and the ways of thinking, speaking, writing that are erased or celebrated in academic spaces. I felt an urgent need to write about stories and the power of storytelling and relationship-building in bridging assumed cultural boundaries in scholarship, teaching, and mentoring (e.g., Sancez-Martin & Seloni, 2020, and I expanded my earlier work on academic socialization to include more of the storylines of people who navigate academic life in multiple languages and cultural capitals. Some of the questions that are at the heart of my current scholarship are:  (i) What does it mean to navigate life with multiple literate histories, and (ii) how do we write our way back to ourselves as academics and teachers blending public and private writing? These questions require taking a closer look at epistemologies that are not typically accepted and legitimized in academic contexts and centering our work around self-knowledge and reflexivity, which emerge from our identities, histories and places in the world.

Khadidja, I know your work also highly overlaps with some of the things that I’m interested in around language, identity, and positionality. Why don’t you share some of your research interests and how we came to work together and what specific frameworks created a bridge between your scholarly interests and mine?

Khadidja: Indeed! In addition to both being transnational women from the Middle East, the overlap in our scholarly interests is one of the major factors that led me to take your class and work with you.  My scholarly work, broadly speaking, focuses on composition methodology and pedagogy, rhetorical and literacy education in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms, and conflict resolution in contact zones. Specifically, I  am invested in exploring feminist and cultural rhetoric-oriented pedagogies in teaching composition.  My interest in shifting away from viewing western rhetoric as central to our history and scholarship is shaped by the scholars and the mentors I have,  the texts that I have been reading and from the social justice commitments I have. Rhetorical historiography (the way we narrate the history of rhetorics) impacts how we account for, represent, envision, and pass down rhetoric which, in turn, impacts rhetorical education. To this end, in my recent work on my English Studies exam,  I utilized revisionary rhetorical historiography as a methodology to revisit Sulh (reconciliation), the Arabic rhetorical tradition for conflict resolution and peacemaking. In my work, I argue that sulh, as a discursive space, taps onto rhetorics' potential for resolving conflicts and sustaining peace at the intra-personal, interpersonal, communal, and global levels, and as such,  it could be adopted as a pedagogy in the composition classroom and elsewhere. Let me explain, in the process of sulh dialogue and listening to the stories and points of view from all sides, recognizing our struggles and emotions are necessary steps for restoring and sustaining peace within the self and among individuals. All of this has great potential in promoting identification, cooperation, empathy, listening, and dialogue as means for resolving conflicts, countering injustice, and restoring balance. As a tradition, sulh has been practiced to understand and resolve disputes, conflicts, and differences at the intra-personal, interpersonal, communal, and international levels to foster and sustain peace and stability within the self and among individuals and communities. The concept of sulh plays an important role in the way I teach, research, and live. To this end, my understanding of a cultural rhetoric-oriented pedagogy is influenced by my own belief in the imperative of seeking and sustaining peace within ourselves and with the institutions and communities we belong to. Furthermore, sulh helps us contextualize conflict and acknowledge our differences by bringing all sides together to establish justice and build strong individuals and communities. During our conversations,  Dr. Seloni, you also mentioned how the word sulh is a familiar concept to you as a woman from the Middle East. Can you talk about what this concept means to you?

Lisya:  When you mentioned the word sulh and your interests around this rhetoric, I was immediately drawn to it, since the concept sulh has important historical and sociopolitical meanings in my narrative memory. Drawn from a Sufi mystic principle, sulh, originally an Arabic word meaning “universal peace”, is a borrowed word in my mother tongue, Turkish. Because sulh is considered an old Turkish word, today many Turkish speakers use its synonym barış. This concept also brings me back to my elementary school days, where many young Turkish students were made to memorize the famous sayings and teachings of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (which literally means the “father of Turks”), the founder of the Republic of Turkey to help create a national identity and mark one of the principles of “modernization”. In the early 1930s, Ataturk uttered his famous saying  Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh, which translates as “peace at home, peace in the world” emphasizing the connectedness of domestic peace and comfort and international security and peace. The saying became an official motto for the Republic of Turkey in its formative years. Many aspects of the word sulh remind me of how the injustices we see in our communities cannot be solved through isolated means and tools, but we need to be actively engaging in awareness-raising and community-building practices in our teaching, mentoring, social activist, mothering and stay in solidarity with those who are often at the target of injustices due to their ethnicity, race, gender, class, and language. I also find similarities between the concept sulh and bell hook’s engaged pedagogy and pedagogy of hope, especially when we enter classrooms in troubling times. As a transnational teacher-scholar, I enter any doctoral mentorship with hope: hope for a true dialogue, for social change, and hope to create a deeply engaged learning community. I am fully aware that this process is messy and complex, and takes profound effort both from the students and the teacher—an effort in the direction of justice, peace and love (hooks, 2010). More importantly, as a first-generation faculty member, humanizing mentorship relationships and making the hidden curriculum visible for graduate students are at the heart of what I do as a scholar and teacher. As I reflect on my own lived experiences as a first generation college student more than 20 years ago, I try to be proactive about the importance of visible pedagogy for my doctoral students whose access to material resources and tools were interrupted or limited or whose linguistic resources were not recognized as valid. It takes intentionality, mindfulness, and open communication to address inequalities that impact underrepresented students in academia.

Khadidja: As a transnational female graduate student, I appreciate the collegial, collaborative and supportive nature of our mentoring relationship, which has been put to test during the COVID 19 pandemic. Teaching and doing research while caring for other human beings in our lives is  not easy. This brings me to reflect on our mentoring relationship/ being mentored during the pandemic. What I am always conscious about is maintaining balance and peace as I am trying to carry out all my duties and lead my life. This challenge became even harder during the pandemic. When COVID-19 started, for me, perhaps in March 2020, my courses and my children’s school had switched to online learning via Zoom. Spring break was extended to allow us to adjust and hopefully prepare for teaching and learning remotely. Our first response during those turbulent and uncertain times was to provide quiet learning spaces for our children, my husband, and myself to attend classes and teach. Although each one of us had their own space to do daily homework, we needed to do some rearrangements to meet the needs of our new life,  teaching and learning from home.  In just a few days, we turned our basement into a learning space with dividers to create individual spaces for my children to attend class via Zoom and be able to turn their cameras on which some of their teachers made a “must”.  With this new situation, new challenges emerged. For example, it was difficult for my children to quickly make that mental transition from bed to attending class via Zoom in the morning. So, I had to make them dress up for class just to make that transition easier and real. Switching to online education also made me worried about their daily screen exposure. However, a positive thing for me was that I no longer was stressed over packing lunches, helping them find that matching sock, and driving them to school on time.

As a mother, graduate student, and teacher, one of the things that helped me adapt to our new reality and stay motivated is listening to our mental and physical needs and taking things one task at a time, whether with myself, my children, or my students. Doing so helped me stay connected with the people I care about and love. It was not easy because I constantly had the pressure of not doing enough to meet the requirements of my job as a teacher and doctoral student. Before the pandemic,  I used to be able to spend four- to five-hour stretches of time preparing for my classes, writing, processing emails, and reading for my research. Since the pandemic, I have barely worked in my office. Instead, I created several working spaces for myself to teach and do my writing. I worked at my desk, on the couch in my living room, on the floor next to my son’s Lego table, and mostly on the dining table in the kitchen. Our dining table and kitchen became the center where we meet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day as well as my favorite working space to do my work and to help my son do his homework.  I always thought of the dining table as our shared space to enjoy homemade meals and chat about our day. Suddenly, this same space becomes my workspace. This dual function and multiple roles of my dining table tell a lot about how my professional and personal lives were merging. As I am wrapping up the breakfast table, I hear a voice saying “what’s for lunch? I am getting hungry”. Although care work has always been a part of my life as a teacher and graduate student, during quarantine I realize that I am doing more care work than I have ever done in the past. Attaining and sustaining intra-personal sulh (peace) is not straightforward or easy. It requires us to actively listen to our bodies and the people around us, and consider the ecology within which we function. Sustaining an intra-personal sulh (peace) requires us to recognize our privileges and be mindful of those around us whose work could not be accomplished remotely. Now, as I reflect on my life during the pandemic, I am thankful that home was a safe place. What if mitigations required us to stay out of our homes? Thinking about all of this brings tranquility and sulh to my soul and life. At our English Department at ISU, several interventions have been made to accommodate and support caregivers including providing hybrid and online teaching schedules and  creating weekly supportive social meetings where we meet to just chat, share, vent or even cry. 

Dr. Seloni, I know you were one of the professors who were leading these social meetings. Having our program directress and advisers in these meetings humanized the academic work we do and made me disrupt traditional notions of separating the academic and the private. Can you share with us how the pandemic impacted the carework, teaching, writing, and mentoring you do? 

Lisya: During COVID-19 pandemic, navigating teaching, mentoring, writing, and care work, all of which were typically completed in separate spaces with separate time frames, were all of a sudden restricted to one space: our homes. Almost three years into the pandemic, this is still the case for me. I refused to go back to normal when I still had a child at home who was ineligible for vaccination and when so many states including ours have lifted the mask mandate and don’t anymore adopt any mitigation strategies.

When institutions across the United States went online due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, I was on maternity leave. I vividly remember spiraling in my anxious thoughts at nights when I used to wake up to nurse a newborn baby and scroll down social media to search for information about this scary unknown virus. Every article I read late at night with the dim light of my breast pump triggered my postpartum anxiety, and racing thoughts interfered with my ability to be fully present. When it was time for me to return from maternity leave and teach online, my family had already established some sort of a routine at home, but like many of my colleagues,  I felt completely unprepared for online teaching which required me to redesign my courses, attend endless workshops to learn new tools to make my course materials and activities accessible in virtual format.

The most challenging part of it all was to navigate parenting and academia since I found myself spending more time in housework and child care than being an academic at a time when the institutional demands to be prepared to teach online exponentially increased. With lack of institutional support as well as the ever-growing isolation that the pandemic brought,  I deeply struggled to meet the minimum requirement of my job. Preparing for classes, meeting deadlines, attending meetings, reading graduate students’ thesis and dissertation chapters had to be done in short frameworks of time during the day, or after my kids went to bed. Doing research was impossible. Many of the strategies that I was good at utilizing as a parent before were not even relevant now. No need to sugar coat anything: I was drowning in many ways, and this was an unfamiliar place to be at. Fortunately, several of the doctoral students that I worked with and colleagues with children during this time are also caregivers, and seeing that I was not alone in this struggle provided me with some peace.  Pandemic’s effects on transnational faculty and graduate students should be made visible, and we all need to take every opportunity to talk about these struggles and make the invisible caregiving responsibilities that transnational women carry with them visible. This may include things like talking about the backstories of our work in our annual productivity reports, bringing caregiving related issues up in department meetings, and other university-level dialogues, and regularly checking with our transnational graduate students who are also burdened with a wide range of caregiving tasks.

As I reflect on the kinds of challenges we experience as caregivers and academics who are at different stages of our careers, I realize the importance of reimagining doctoral work as a collaborative, non-hierarchical, restorative space that can create empathy and understanding for culturally diverse human life activities while creating quality scholarship. More than anything, I would like for us to have a common writing/speaking/listening/composing space, like this piece that Khadidja and I co-created, where we tell backstories of academic writing, mothering, mentoring, teaching during troubling times and hope to build solidarity with fellow transnational women who lead their lives in their adopted countries.


Guidelines for making academia a supportive space for minoritized students and faculty during turbulent and regular times

As we tell some of our stories as transnational women in academia, we think of all fellow caregivers and BIPOC teachers, students, and scholars who had it harder than us. We are aware that we have access to resources including academic and personal that improve the quality of our lives such as access to libraries, reliable child care, and safe living conditions that may not be available to our sisters and brothers living in other parts of the world. As we go on with our daily tasks, we need to keep working on making academic spaces braver and safer for transnational parents, ask important questions around institutional support, and engage in deep dialogues with administration, colleagues, and students around navigating academia and caregiving labor. Our goal in the next section is to share a few strategies and ways of carving productive moments in academia without feeling burnt out due to caregiving responsibilities as well as other tasks traditionally assigned to women. We share some strategies and guidelines that we believe could make academia a more welcoming and inclusive place for transnational academic caregivers who are embracing doctoral work and working with an advisor. We hope that our stories will resonate with others and provide some guiding posts in the academy.

  1.  Feminist mentoring and collaboration as an intellectual and social practice for growth

Feminist theory that we embrace in our work and personal life during this time allowed us to invite reflections, be okay with the fragmented and messy moments of our lives, and brought a sense of connection and groundedness in the middle of chaos and mess. Most traditional mentoring relationships create an imbalanced power dynamic that I (Lisya) avoid adopting in my own mentoring of graduate students despite the mainstream expectations of such mentoring styles. This traditional relationship is not only limited in its ways of developing healthy communication between mentors and graduate students, but it also creates problematic moments where advisees highly depend on advisors. It promotes masculinist values of hierarchy, competition and objectivity. Additionally, much research demonstrates that traditional mentorship does not benefit students who are not members of dominant groups such as white, male, or heterosexual. In feminist mentorship, we feel braver in sharing our own doubts, lived experiences around teaching and research and vulnerabilities as transnational women academics. Integrating personal and professional goals becomes more possible in such dialogues, and deeply challenges the notion of a “disembodied worker” in academic spaces (McGuire & Reger). Leaving the body out of our mentoring immediately leaves out what our bodies experience in caregiving tasks, and we don’t think it’s a healthy and inclusive way of being academics.

For us, some of the features of feminist mentorship include mutual respect, space for open communication, non-hierarchical relationship (which does not mean that we don’t recognize the power dynamics and our institutional locations we each inhibit), collaborative relationships (as opposed to competitive ones), a sense of mutual responsibility, academic kinship, and deep and intentional listening. In their article, Sanchez-Martin & Seloni (2019) call for feminist mentoring practices that center the unique experiences of transnational women of color and their struggles as they navigate, negotiate, and challenge academia’s hierarchical spaces.  As a nontraditional graduate student who joined grad school after several years of working as a teacher in K-12 classrooms, I (Khadidja) personally believe that collaborative and supportive learning environments allow for growth for all. Our early mentoring relationship and interactions reflect our feminist styles. Lisya’s understanding and active listening throughout the early stages of my doctoral work were what kept me going and being productive during the pandemic. Her constructive, empowering, and respectful comments and guidance reflect her feminist mentoring and caring personality, which I highly respect and appreciate not only during the pandemic but also in regular times. Lisya and I met for the first time when I registered for her online graduate course: Cross-language Relations in Writing, a graduate course with a focus on second language writing. Course readings and class discussions were based around issues of social justice as they relate to language education and translingualism. Class discussions revolved around supporting students to become meaning-makers by using their multiliteracies. Current scholarship and intellectual discussions in the fields of applied linguistics, rhetoric, and composition studies encourage all educators to center and validate students’ diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds and ways of knowing. Staying faithful to this goal required all course participants to practice rhetorical listening as we respond to each other and as we interact with course readings and materials. According to Ratcliffe, (2005) listening rhetorically “signifies a stance of openness that a person may choose to assume in relation to any person, text, or culture”(p.1). Adopting this concept of rhetorical listening along with the fact that Lisya and I have similar intersecting identities and educational backgrounds created a sense of allyship, responsibility, and empathy towards each other to advocate for the marginalized communities we sustain. She encouraged me to utilize my diverse and unique background to empower my students and forge change through the scholarship we produce. Her insights resonated with me in other graduate courses and seminars.  When I took another doctoral course titled Theory and History of Rhetoric and Composition: Composition Histories in the Spaces Left, with Dr. Julie Jung, I was immediately intrigued by the works of BIPOC scholars such as Jacqueline Jones Royster, Victor Villanueva,  and Carmen Kynard who were engaged in the work of decentering the field’s white Euro-centric origin stories by re-narrating the history of rhetoric and composition through  BIPOC’s experiences and counterstories. Most importantly, this course also allowed me to locate my own way of knowing as a Muslim Arab emerging scholar and “claim a space” in the spaces left by studying Arabic rhetoric and specifically Arabic restorative rhetoric and explore its pedagogical potential in resolving today’s conflicts in the classroom and elsewhere.

  1. Fostering a community of care, empathy, and solidarity within our institutions 

As transnational women who lead their lives in two countries, we are constantly responding to what is happening in our host country and what is going on in our home country. As COVID-19 has been claiming the lives of many loved ones or making them so sick that they cannot care for themselves without outside help, being away from family for an extended period of time has been difficult on our bodies. Apart from our academic identities, we found solitude and peace in our human connectedness, in our intersecting positionalities as women from the Middle East. During such uncertainty, our relationship has provided a space for mutual care and support as we all experience the new outbreaks of this infectious disease.  As we contemplate our early mentoring relationship, we hope that institutions genuinely adopt a pedagogy of care and love, and make our words and commitments actionable in academia during pandemics and in regular times. Most recently, our department organized a series of get-togethers for graduate students who engage in care work to listen to one another, ask questions, or just simply be present. As one of the participants of these workshops, I (Lisya) realized that one of the key things that many graduate students who also engage in any kind of care work need is connection and community-building. I (Khadidja) was glad that such meetings were devoted to providing space for graduate students and faculty who are caregivers too to be together and share experiences, tips, and advice. Another aspect of such meetings is that they can make the invisible work of caregiving and the hardship of navigating graduate school visible to faculty members and decision-makers in the department. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of institutional support. Institutions should be attentive to the lives of caregivers, and value their diverse lived experiences and voices. As Miller states “ Caring and caregiving, then, must be supported through social policy and legislation” (p. 263).  Our experience as academic mothers during COVID-19 is only one example of how the competing demands of academia and caregiving need to be a visible part of institutional efforts for diverse faculty and graduate student retention.

  1. Reflexivity as a practice to disrupt the mind/body dualism

Navigating academia with multiple roles and identities involves reflexive work that includes recognition of embodied practices and embodies performance around texts (Enriquez et. al., 2016). Reflexivity reminds us to unpack different patterns of knowledge we bring to personal and academic spaces as ideologically positioned subjects. Most importantly, it calls into question the mind/body dualism that we need to break away from in academic spaces. In simple terms, reflexivity refers to the awareness of the existing and sometimes the invisible influence of one’s positionality, experiences, and epistemologies on how we practice in our profession including teaching, researching, and navigating relationships, all have shaped our research and methodologies in myriad ways.  According to Bourdieu, to practice reflexivity means a way to break away from our biases as well as “traps” seen in the production of knowledge. Reflexivity reminds us to become participant observers of our everyday practices including research, scholarship, mentoring and teaching where we distance ourselves (Seloni, 2019). In a sense, as Grenfell puts it, “Bourdieu wishes to draw upon the primary knowledge of the researcher and their previous experience in the research field” (Grenfell & Pahl, 2019, p. 53). In reflexivity, observing oneself becomes the process. Our complex identities, Khadidja identifying as an Algerian Muslim, and Lisya as a multilingual Turkish woman, cross our mentorship relationship. As transnational women, we are aware of our own ways of knowing and being and our positionalities as minoritized yet privileged entities in academia. Living and working as a teacher in US schools and colleges along with experiencing the schooling of children in different educational stages, from pre-k to high school, deeply shapes and at times interferes with our academic practices.  Reflexive work has allowed me (Khadidja) to question the purpose of my research and its impact on the people and the communities I sustain and care about. It allowed me to explore places rarely frequented in the rhetoric and composition field such as Arabic cultural rhetoric and traditions.  In my (Lisya)  mentoring, reflexivity gives me a chance to foster cooperation, collegiality, and empathy while linking what I do to affect, literacies of body, and to my own and my students’ life trajectories. I feel that opening up a reflexive space in advising dissertation writers has benefited them in many ways and created healthy lines of dialogue between students and I.


Final words

We started this narrative by acknowledging our privileges and sharing our struggles as we navigate different academic and personal spaces in our day-to-day lives. Our primary goal was to create space to share our story that we hope resonates with fellow caregivers in academia and also to continue a discussion around reconciling the mind and body split, hoping to make academia a supportive place for transnational academic caregivers who are embracing doctoral work. We believe that adopting praxis that engages reflexivity, active listening, empathy, collaboration, and non-hierarchical relationships are key to transforming academic institutional spaces.  

Our hearts go to all those who have so many more reasons to be tired and broken due to navigating their jobs and caregiving responsibilities with limited resources and economic capital. Even with all the privileges we have, as academic mothers of multiple young children, pandemic hit us hard. As we both invested in extra labor to make sure we meet the minimum requirements of our jobs, and at times had to put our academic tasks on the back burner to attend to our children’s or our own mental and physical health, we searched for ways to keep us going. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, writes that making space accessible is an act of love for our communities. She talks about how carework as radical love can build resilient communities. We believe that making teaching and writing spaces accessible during challenging times is key to the well-being of academic communities. What we do every day as caregivers is an act of love for which the labor is unrecognized and under-valued. It’s an act of love that shapes the way we teach, research and become the humans we want to be. This act of love creates meaningful and strong relations and emotions among those who are caregivers and mentors.  We hope that institutions are more proactive in helping graduate students and their advisors to create an open space to validate care work,  celebrate accomplishments, hold one another accountable, and engage in fair academic practices.



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Khadidja Belhadi  is a doctoral student, a composition instructor in the English Department at Illinois State University (ISU), and the professional development coordinator for ISU Writing Program. Her research interests include cultural rhetoric, specifically Arabic rhetoric, rhetorical and literacy education, composition methodology and pedagogy. Her work appeared at the Conference on College Composition and Communication  (CCCC), The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL), and the Forging Linguistic Identities (FLI).

Lisya Seloni is a Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL in the Department of English at Illinois State University where she teaches courses on second language writing, cross-cultural issues in TESOL, TESOL pedagogy, language assessment, and second language acquisition. Her primary areas of research include ethnographic approaches to writing and writing instruction, translingualism, and socioculturally oriented writing teacher preparation and education. Her publications include edited volumes, chapters in a number of books, and articles in journals such as the Journal of Second Language Writing, Journal of Language and Politics, Language Policy, and English for Specific Purposes.

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