Communication professor pursues unconventional path toward success

Assistant professor of communication Lee Pierce attended several undergraduate schools before completing her doctorate at the University of Georgia. Pierce has hosted a TED Talk and her research topics range from Taylor Swift to Beyoncé. (Annalee Bannison/ Photo Editor)

Assistant professor of communication Lee Pierce can be described as far from ordinary—in both her life experiences as well as her vibrant personality. Her intelligence is highly apparent and unwavering, despite the somewhat tumultuous path she took throughout her undergraduate career.

As an early graduate from high school, Pierce attended college at Geneseo when she was just 17. Her dissatisfaction with higher education, however, resulted in her bouncing around from college to college. Pierce spent a semester at Cornell University as a political science major and a semester at Elmira College as a business and marketing major. 

“Going into college, I didn’t have much guidance,” Pierce said. “I failed out more times than I can count. My parents owned a restaurant that I worked at and growing up in hospitality, you don’t have firm guidelines. You’re able to schmooze your way out of things.”

After attending multiple colleges, Pierce finally completed her undergraduate degree and attended SUNY Brockport for a Master’s. It was at Brockport where Pierce was first introduced to rhetoric—the study of how language choices produce certain effects.

In an unexpected turn of events after graduating from Brockport, Pierce was fired from a job she took at Rochester Institute of Technology. She ended up getting paid a small settlement from a lawsuit she filed.

“I used the money to go to Mexico with a guy I was seeing at the time,” Pierce said. “He ended up leaving me after a month, but I stayed for three more months and ate street food, surfed and read on the beach.”

Pierce found Mexico to be nice break and felt ready to continue working toward a career after returning to the United States. She applied to the University of Georgia for a doctorate program in rhetoric and was accepted. 

Since graduating, Pierce has incorporated her creative personality into her teaching career. She once taught a class at the University of Georgia called “The Politics of Style: Or, the Curious Case of Taylor Swift,” inspired by her TED Talk.

“I had read an article by this brilliant writer who does horror film criticisms about the use of space and time,” Pierce said. “And I was like, holy crap, I can take everything she said and apply it to Taylor Swift’s music videos.”

Taylor Swift’s 1989 stirred up controversy regarding post-colonial racism and the political correctness of her music videos, with people doing rhetorical criticisms on songs like “Style” and “Blank Space.”

“I was thinking the entire time watching these videos, ‘This is so wrong. You’re not getting what’s going on here,’” Pierce said. “The class was born out of untying all these knots.” 

The class inspired Pierce yet again to write about Beyoncé’s music video “Formation.” Pierce is currently writing a book called Syntaxing the Social: Readings of the Rhetorical Present. In parts of this book, she discusses the use of time and space in Beyoncé’s music video and the different narratives surrounding being black.

“When Americans think about what it is to be black, you have two narratives,” Pierce said. “One is the resilience narrative ... the second is the trauma narrative, which focuses on how the eternal trauma of slavery and how there will always be pain and suffering. In Beyoncé’s video, a third alternative narrative emerges.”

Aside from her academic interests, Pierce remains occupied with many hobbies. She was in an all-girls cover band called the Misogyfits, which sang songs about men hating women. She was also on the Geneseo women’s rugby team and has continued to play on various teams since attending Geneseo. Additionally, Pierce is a certified yoga instructor and now teaches aerobics. 

Pierce is someone who cannot be solely defined by her hobbies and career, but rather as an enthused and inspiring person who has considerable things to say about the world as a whole.