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Doctoral grad commits to social, humanitarian goals

May 10, 2011

Social justice is an issue of passionate interest for Steven Accardi as he graduates this spring with a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in rhetoric and composition.

While working as an teaching associate for ASU’s Writing Program and completing his doctoral coursework, he also committed himself to social and humanitarian goals.

As the volunteer outreach coordinator with the Graduate Scholars of English Association, he collaborated with people in the Graduate and Professional Student Association and ASU Libraries to organize a campus-wide Thanksgiving food drive. They collected several van-loads of goods for the homeless children attending the Pappas school of Tempe.

Selected as the assistant director of ASU Writing Programs, Accardi worked with ASU associate professor Paul Matsuda on a research project designed to help resident ESL (English as a Second Language) students succeed in the writing program. “The experience changed the way I conceptualize and teach writing,” he says.

For his dissertation research Accardi followed and volunteered for No More Deaths, a controversial humanitarian group in Tucson that provides food, water, and first aid to undocumented migrants crossing the southern Arizona desert.

“At its core, my dissertation is a study of how one group of people attempted to make change in their local and national community by reframing a public debate.”

Accardi examined a criminal trial in which a No More Deaths volunteer was accused of littering after placing multiple one-gallon jugs of water in the desert for passing migrants. Over five thousand undocumented migrants have died since 1993, mostly of dehydration, while attempting to cross the U.S./Mexico border. The case was widely reported by local and national media.

“As a rhetorician, I analyze the rhetoric of the case, the media coverage, and the public response in order to understand how social change and state power is negotiated.”

It is research of which Accardi is justifiably proud. “No More Deaths volunteers were able to successfully expose the state’s inhumane border enforcement policy, which effectively funnels and abandons migrants to die in the desert, and circulate this injustice on a national scale, temporarily shifting the immigration debate in America from xenophobia to human rights. I hope that my new analysis of the actions and arguments of No More Deaths and the state fosters a more productive public conversation regarding Arizona’s state immigration policies.”

Accardi biggest challenge, he says, was living in Tucson and commuting to complete his doctorate. “With the compassion of a course scheduler who always found a way to arrange my teaching load to fit with my graduate course load and a good friend who let me crash at his place for two nights a week for two years, I was able to get through the program.”

Accardi received a BA in theology from Loyola University Chicago, and an MA in writing from DePaul University. He will celebrate his doctoral commencement with his parents and wife in attendance.

This fall he will begin teaching as a full-time tenure track assistant professor of English at Pennsylvania State University-Hazleton.

“Graduation means that the traffic light changes to green,” says Accardi. “Graduate school is a long process, filled with heartaches and little victories. I'm sure that the stop-and-go process will continue, but at least for now it seems like the light is finally green.”