Nancy Bixler

PNWRN (2019)


Skagit Valley College

Mount Vernon, Washington

Personal pronouns: She, her, hers

I have an MA and a PhD in communication. I love being in this field because inflects nearly everything, ranging across all areas of human endeavor, and because it's so influential and important. It's an endlessly fascinating field for a polymath and incessant research hound like me.

My master's was in cultural communication. Because the word "culture" can be fraught, I'll explain that the emphasis was on understanding diverse frames of references and experiences in relationship with communication, with an emphasis on linguistic analysis. For my doctorate, I shifted to Rhetoric, or (in short) the study of how people persuade or are persuaded through communication. In my dissertation, I studied why the 3-day breast cancer walk events were moving for participants and their audiences, from linguistic, historical, and physical (experiential, kinetic) perspectives. My dissertation won a national award from the Rhetoric Society of America. 

Among the questions that arose in the course of my research was this one: Why are links between environmental toxins and breast cancer nearly invisible within the context of the breast cancer walks, in both participant and organizational discourse? In other words, what contributes to the erasure of the environment as a present and vital concern? This started me on a trek into what was then a budding subfield, environmental communication. It has now flowered into a much more mature field, and I have recently had the enormous pleasure of taking on teaching the environmental communication courses for my college's bachelor's in conservation sciences. One of these directly addresses environmental leadership; I am, in essence, leading potential leaders. I couldn't be more thrilled -- or more eager to expand my knowledge. As addressing environmental issues on the climate crisis front becomes increasingly urgent, more and more academic fields are jumping into research on how to communicate science effectively, often with competing and conflicting research frames and little cross-pollination. It's a confusing and exciting time.  

I have referenced my college already, so I should explain that I teach a variety of communication courses at a community college, Skagit Valley College, serving a territory with several small cities, a significant swath of agricultural land, forests, and shoreline. It's on Washington State's west coast, but while it's within driving distance of some wealthier areas (like Seattle and the San Juan Islands), it's not, on average, that well off. The college serves students from depressed former-manufacturing and former-foresting areas, agricultural workers, veterans (a naval base is within driving distance), and, in general, students with an enormous variety of levels of experience and privilege (and lack thereof). I am white and educated myself, but I also have a disability, so my own experience ranges. Anybody teaching at a community college is right in the middle of diversity, equity, and social justice issues whether they choose to see it or not, and I've made a point of seeing, and educating myself, on these as well as on issues of environmental justice.