Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Williams, Bronwyn

Committee Member

Williams, Bronwyn

Committee Member

Willey, Beth

Committee Member

Powell, Katrina

Author's Keywords

listening methodology; community literacy; refugee and migrant studies; motherhood; transnational feminism


Calls for better listening, especially to racially and linguistically marginalized populations, are popular and necessary in community literacy studies. However, while scholarship has clarified the need for attending to a range of voices across the life of a community program and demonstrated clear results of good listening, it has not sufficiently outlined a methodology for listening, especially as it applies to community-engaged action. Even less scholarship has focused on attending to current listening practices, so that scholars and community partners hoping to practice active listening interpret participants’ input through a soundtrack of other, unnoticed, “voices,” and have no way of working through misaligned goals and consequences. This dissertation begins by arguing that we cannot outline engaged listening practices until we understand how we currently listen, and what “voices” we attend to as we interpret participant input. I use a community program for refugee and immigrant mothers that I helped pilot as my central case study, tracing how organizers’ listening processes led to program implementation. Demonstrating a methodology I term “listening back,” I argue that the gap between our goals and consequences often stemmed from past programmatic practices and ever-circulating deficit discourses that “spoke into” planning meetings and program sessions. Using a community wealth model to interpret core participants’ literate histories, I outline a set of new narratives that organizers might use as they shift away from deficit discourse, highlighting the rich literate repetoires that women bring into community literacy contexts. Finally, because grassroots community literacy programs are often small and short-lived, but in relationship with sustainable funders and partners, I argue that organizers must look for ways to amplify our listening work. End of program documents, which are used in grant narratives and program proposals, are both a relationship-building tool and a place for gentle critique. In establishing the effectiveness of a program and detailing practices that attend to women’s cultural and literate wealth, rather than their lack, we can shift the narrative about immigrant and refugee families on a larger scale than merely in a single program.