Rhetoric-in-Action Award 2020 Recipient Jessele Perez


Jun 17, 2020

Every year, the Rhetoric Department presents an award to a graduating Rhetoric major who has demonstrated academic excellence and has been actively involved in either community service, art practice and performance or professional work outside the academy and department. This year’s extraordinary events have shown the extent to which meaningful and transformative action also takes place in the private sphere, which has been reconfigured under the COVID-19 pandemic. Conventionally, private actions are understood in opposition to public rhetorical actions, but feminists have long taught us to question this convention and to inquire into the separation of the public and private as exclusive domains of human relations. 

In the United States of America, the pandemic and its concomitant social and economic crises have revealed how “essential work” has inequitably burdened vulnerable workers of color and women. They have exposed the public sphere’s reliance on domestic labor as one of many forms of “essential work” that are central to the creation and maintenance of public life and as such, constitute the common ground on which rhetoric is practiced. Demarcating and preserving this common ground is the essence of rhetoric, in all of its forms. 

This year, we recognize the unsung labor of caregiving by naming Jessele Perez the recipient of the Rhetoric-in-Action award. Jessele transferred to Berkeley from Contra Costa College, enrolling in college only after her fifth and youngest child was able to begin daycare. During the shelter-in-place order of the spring semester, Jessele accomplished her own distance learning and that of all five of her children, while eight members of her extended family tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the extraordinary burden upon her, she persevered in her studies and graduated this Spring 2020, completing her education in Rhetoric and a dream she had wished for “only once in my life.” We hail Jessele Perez’s struggle and her momentous academic achievement.