Alumni Stories | Communication Studies | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Liberal Arts

Alumni Stories

J.J. Ceniceros

J.J. Ceniceros

MA, 2016
Arts Center Specialist
City of Lewisville (Texas)

Which attributes of the Communication Studies (formerly Speech Communication) program at SIU influenced your decision to pursue your degree here than elsewhere?

When I was first researching graduate schools, SIU was not even on my radar. I actually first learned about SIU after one of my advisors suggested I consider the program. After looking through the instructors and classes, I instantly was impressed at the scope of quality work being done at SIU. I toured multiple institutions, and I really found out how special SIU really was. There was a “diamond in the rough” quality about visiting SIU that was mesmerizing and a ubiquitous mentorship that was evident between instructors and students. The culture felt so familial, and I wanted to be a part of that.

Who were some of the scholars and practitioners that you admired as a graduate student? Were any of them alumni of the department?

I certainly admired and was inspired by all of the SIU Communication Studies and Theater faculty members. The foundations of my research were grounded by Gloria Anzaldúa, Diana Taylor, and Guillermo Gomez-Peña. The playwrights that greatly influenced my style were Luis Valdez, María Irene Fornés, and Nilo Cruz.

What experiences as a graduate student in the program have been helpful for your current work?

I very often find myself referring back to the same strategies used in teaching at SIU to develop mentoring strategies for fellow employees and clients. Many of those pedagogical approaches intersect and influence my training style today, which has helped me foster productive and meaningful work relationships. Those same strategies help clients and employees grow and discover their own strengths, which ultimately maximizes operational success.

Given your interest and experience in play writing, directing, performing, and lighting, where do you see your career going over the next several years?

My long-term vision is that I can lead an arts organization or performance arts space that can be a place that other artists and practitioners can succeed. I am fortunate to be able to work at a relatively new performing arts center where we have been offered generous flexibility to work with a variety of artists, musicians, and performers. I continue to gain experience in other facets of the production along the way: marketing, interpreting contracts, facility management, etc. As I continue to finesse those skillsets, I hope that I can lead a similar organization that can give back to the performing arts economy in the same way it has given back to me.

Is there anything that you would like to add? (What should prospective and current graduate students know?) 

My years at SIU were the most fulfilling years of my life to date. I grew so much intellectually, emotionally, and creatively in a way that I never thought possible. I am proud to be a member of the Saluki family!

Tami Spry

Tami Spry

Ph.D., 1991
Professor of Peformance Studies
St. Cloud State University

Which attributes of the Communication Studies (formerly Speech Communication) program at SIU influenced your decision to pursue your degree here than elsewhere? 

My decision to apply to SIU was based on its reputation for excellence in performance studies, or interpretation as it was called in the 80s. Dr. Marion Kleinau was a leading figure in the interpretation and staging of literature. Dr. Annette Martin, my mentor at Eastern Michigan University, thought my background would be a good fit for the SIU program in interpretation. She was correct. And then, of course, I had the incredibly good fortune to work with Dr. Ron Pelias who became my dissertation advisor, as well as working with Dr. James Van Oosting and Dr. Nathan Stucky.

Please share some highlights from your experience as a graduate student in the program. 

There are so many formative experiences to choose from in my time at SIU, many of which occurred in classroom discussions and bearing witness to the extraordinary work of peers such as Dr. Scott Dillard, Dr. Craig Gingrich-Philbrook, Dr. Amy Burt, and Dr. Laila Farah just to name a few.  We had an incredibly supportive and collaborative cohort in that we challenged and embraced one another’s work.  Sometimes graduate programs can engender competitive games of academic “gotcha” where one seeks status by publicly shaming others who have not articulated a theoretical position “correctly” or read the expected canon. Such acts of bodily discipline, no matter how critically astute or informed, are blunt tools that construct, as bell hooks might say, the Master’s House. I owe any aptitude that I may have as a performance scholar to the compassionate caring academic climate created and maintained at SIU.

Several graduate students in performance studies have mentioned you as a scholar they admire. Who were some of the scholars that you admired as a graduate student? Were any of them alumni of the department? 

I wanted to be D. Soyini Madison or Dwight Conquergood when I grew up. I still do.  But I have also benefited greatly from the works of SIU alum such as Kristin Langellier and Eric Peterson, Jake Simmons, Craig Gingrich-Philbrook and so many others. The Department of Communication Studies has produced and housed deeply influential scholars in performance studies which is one of the reasons I am proud to put my name amongst the likes of theirs.

You have contributed so much to performance studies and autoethnography, including but not limited to Body, Paper, Stage: Writing and Performing Autoethnography. What areas of performance studies and/or autoethnography do you see growing in the next few decades?

I am very excited about the ways in which performance studies and performative autoethnography might contribute to posthumanist and materialism praxes. The embodied nature (a wonderful phrase to unpack in the contexts of posthumanism and ecocriticism) of performance and performative autoethnography allows research artists to speak body to material body with non/human beings. Also, the ethical basis of performance speaks volumes to the decentering of human hierarchy, i.e. the idea that humans are the only beings capable of agency and agentic narrativity.  Performative autoethnography with its decentering of any notion of a coherent “I” can be a vehicle for articulating the radical relationality of animals/humans/rock/trees/paper/stage.

And always, I’m hopeful that performative autoethnography continues to move toward articulating the ways in which we are accountable to others as much as we are to self, that we are as careful and compassionate in articulating the ways in which pain is a relational engagement; only through articulating this engagement with others are we able to find ways to move through pain together.  Performance is the possibility of materializing love.