Last November during the 2019 annual convention of The National Communication Association, I joined the five others who were named this year as one of their Distinguished Scholars. With the conference virtual in nature, and the scheduled time (which landed at 6 a.m. for me) I had originally approached the panel as more as a chore than a celebration. Nonetheless, like many academic “have-tos” the panel spurred some thinking.

The award is meant to reward communication professors for a lifetime of scholarly achievement. As noted in an article that my school wrote about the award, “NCA’s Distinguished Scholar Award is the ultimate honor bestowed by our largest professional association. Only four or five of these awards are provided each year, so this means that recipients are in the top 1% of the top 1% of scholars in our discipline.”

So, this is reason for celebration, yes? Sure, of course, I feel happy that my peers have appreciated and admired my scholarship.

But, truth be told, I’m also left with mixed feelings. One of those feelings is relief. Anyone who knows me knows that one of my traits is striving, reaching, and chasing. This is exhausting for me. And probably exhausting for others to put up with. During my sabbatical, I have been engaging in many self-care practices that are geared more toward being and stretching than chasing. Thank you Scott Sonenshein and Strozzi Institute for your help with this.

Another feeling that this award brings is ambivalence. As many readers may know, the award comes with baggage. In Spring 2019, the communication discipline came under sharp critique because of the whiteness of the distinguished scholars and our discipline at large. Along with a community of others, I spoke out about this issue via blog posts and an article contribution to Departures in Critical Qualitative Research that discussed the whiteness of “merit.” So, to receive the award, as a white woman, I am also perpetuating the whiteness of the group of Distinguished Scholars. To borrow Sarah Ahmed’s apt metaphor, I am another brick in the wall of exclusion and privilege (something I expand on in the afterword of this article).

The hypocrisy of receiving an award that perpetuates white privilege is a disillusioning and uncomfortable space to be in. But, I don’t want to deal with the discomfort by shielding my eyes or looking away. But instead, as Pema Chodron would suggest, I’m choosing to look at and be with the shit. And consistently look carefully at my own practices and scholarship in regard to how I can motivate transformation, social justice, and disruption of #CommunicationSoWhite.

Third, this award comes with a huge feeling of gratitude.  I couldn’t have done this alone. The scholarship I’ve accomplished over the years (which include a couple books and over 90 scholarly manuscripts) has been amassed in community with other people—including mentors, colleagues, coauthors, students, and communities of supporters. In preparing for my Distinguished Scholar talk, I spent several hours collecting and ruminating on the many people who have served as cheerleaders, constructive critics, thought partners, and hand holders. Tears ran down my face as I considered the overflow of memories. My thanks and appreciation is overflowing for these amazing human beings.


Finally, I’m not done yet. Although Distinguished Scholar is a “career” award, I’ve still got lots of juice to squeeze. Some of my future trajectories are captured in this graphic. The rocket ship makes me smile and feel energized for what’s next. I hope others will join on the ride.