Carnegie Mellon University
March 07, 2022

Show and Tell

By Michael Henninger

Ryan Scarpino

Jimmy Lizama wants to get the word out.

As a student in Carnegie Mellon University's Ph.D. in Rhetoric Program, Lizama appreciates the power of language, and he's interested by any opportunity to share his findings. He studies political arguments, and aspects of his identity are central to his work.

"I am of Central American heritage, and a first-generation college student. You could say that I'm marginalized by systems and ideology, and that's the reason I started researching."

Lizama recently presented his ongoing work at a Graduate Students of Color Research Show and Tell jointly hosted by CMU's Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion and the University of Pittsburgh. The inter-university series provides students a chance to connect, discuss their experiences and share current projects while building support networks.

"Sometimes people don't even know what rhetoric is. There's a popular misconception that rhetoric is inherently bad, and used to hide someone's true agenda," Lizama said. "But it's also in our everyday lives — the persuasive element of conversation."

For those gathered in the virtual session, Lizama discussed his recent research examining securitization.

"Securitization is basically a rhetorical trope, and it happens when a speaker characterizes a political issue as an existential threat to a given person, place or thing," Lizama said. "We see it all the time in politics, but it's not restricted to politics."

Lizama is examining the long-held notion by political scientists that the use of securitization is decidedly negative. While he can point to examples of politicians using the tactic to justify extralegal or unconstitutional actions, he said that in matters such as climate change, the technique may in fact be used for positive outcomes.

In another study, Lizama scrutinizes the way the Trump administration used the MS-13 gang in El Salvador to frame the conversation about immigration policies toward Central America.

"In many sectors of society, if you are successfully accused of racism, that will hurt your platform. The Trump administration framed the conversation so that we weren't talking about race but rather national security. In discussing MS-13, what they're really doing is looking at immigrants through the proxy of criminality, while accomplishing their goal of advocating for stricter border regulation."

After his presentation, students, faculty and staff from both universities were invited to ask Lizama questions and give feedback.

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