Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
Meet Kristin Arola
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“To know the names of trees and birds I see makes being back in Michigan really exciting,” explains Kristin Arola. Dr. Arola, Associate Professor and part of graduate faculty, comes to WRAC this year after having worked the last eleven years at Washington State University where she taught and directed, at various times, the undergraduate and graduate programs. She is originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but completed her Bachelor’s at University of Michigan, and then returned to the U.P. to get her PhD in Rhetoric and Technical Communication at Michigan Technological University.

Dr. Arola’s research brings together digital rhetoric, multimodal composition, and American Indian rhetoric. In recent years, she’s been working on a couple projects that stem from looking at American Indian women’s way of making. This work began when she was started talking with women, mostly from her Mom’s tribe (the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa Indians), about their making practices.  The elders who engage in cultural making practices (making powwow regalia, working with birch bark, or harvesting wild rice) or who are active in sharing these practices with American Indian youth, have much to offer all teachers of making – be that making writing or other forms of multimodal production. Dr. Arola video recorded many of these interactions and interviews, which have slowly become part of several research projects. One insight that has come from participating with American Indian women and youth, she notes, “is that various ways of making and producing texts have impacts in the world.” Dr. Arola believes in “making and producing texts with more mindfulness.” From this research, insight, and belief, she has a few articles or book chapters that are coming out or in progress: one piece focusing on ethics, another on the idea of slow composition in pedagogy and teaching practices, and another on a land-based understanding of design. These publications appear or will appear in The Handbook of Digital Writing and Literacies Research and The Routledge Companion to Digital Writing & Rhetoric.

From all of this work, she continues to ask important questions: If we are to put multimodal and digital pedagogy in conversation with American Indian Rhetoric, what does it mean to have an American Indian Rhetoric in the first place? What types of bodies in the world do and enact American Indian Rhetoric? Who do we count as an American Indian? Herfuture scholarship involves visiting Anishinaabe tribes in Michigan to explore their enrollment policies. What are their specific enrollment policies? What does the tribe think is important to enroll someone into the tribe? How do these policies support, enact, or problematize tribal sovereignty? These are just some of the questions as she embarks on a new research adventure right here in Michigan.

At MSU, Dr. Arola will also be involved with CEDAR (Critical Diversity in a Digital Age Research), working with fellow WRAC colleague Dr. Jackie Rhodes. CEDAR members research and create either a specific project or a specific area of inquiry within digital culture/critical diversity. Given her background in digital rhetoric, multimodality, and cultural rhetorics, Dr. Arola will undoubtedly be a key scholar and practitioner for bringing to light diverse cultural practices.

Arola’s robust research also connects to the classroom and teaching. She typically works to interrogate and encourage pedagogies that allow ways of understanding digital composing practices within larger social and cultural contexts. This fall, she is teaching a specialized graduate course called American Indian rhetorics. In the coming years, she looks forward to opportunities to take on administrative roles.

One of the things Dr. Arola is most excited about in being part of WRAC is that she can specialize in interests she really enjoys and is passionate about. The WRAC community, she says, “is great because of supportive colleagues and the administrative structures with the WRAC Chair (Dr. Malea Powell) and the Dean (Dr. Christopher Long) who encourage her to explore the intersections between digital rhetoric and writing and culture.”

Dr. Arola loves being back in Michigan for a number of reasons, such as being in close proximity to a large body of water with Lake Michigan and the opportunity to forge connections again with the Anishinaabe. WRAC is lucky to have you and happy you’re here too!


Written by Phil Bratta