Student Spotlight: Charles Athanasopoulos

Charles Athanasopoulos, portrayed as a 4th year Ph.D. student in 2021

In his doctoral research, Charles Athanasopoulos, Ph.D. student in Communication, examines how certain preconceived notions about race and gender are concretized through everyday ritualistic and rhetorical practices that comprise our current anti-Black cosmos. Athanasopoulos’ dissertation, tentatively titled “Rhetorics of Complete Disorder in Post-Ferguson America,” examines the dynamic and conflicting acts of symbol creation and destruction surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Originally from Queens, New York, Athanasopoulos completed a BA in Religious Studies, with minors in Writing Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at Wake Forest University in 2018. A love for a nontraditional style of policy debate that emphasizes the fusion of Black radical theories with a focus on performance and rhetoric led Athanasopoulos to the Ph.D. program in Communication in the Dietrich School. His main research areas are Black rhetorical studies, afropessimist thought, iconography, and media studies. His love for this interdisciplinary field of study is also evident in his pedagogical efforts to teach Argument and Public Speaking through popular culture themes in courses such as “Argument & the Rhetoric of Social Movements” and “Argument & the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election.”

Athanasopoulos has analyzed and archived public art and monuments across the U.S., studying iconography and its relationship to (anti-)Black rhetoric(s). To “gain hands-on experience in applying [his] theoretical knowledge to an actual icon or monument,” translate his insights into action, and “expand [his] methodological toolbox,” Charles connected with the Philadelphia-based Monument Lab through an immersive (virtual) summer fellowship sponsored by the Dietrich School’s Humanities Engage initiative (A.W. Mellon Foundation) in 2020. While collaborating with Monument Lab, an organization which “facilitates critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments,” he helped develop an augmented-reality scavenger hunt in Charlottesville, VA, researched public art with funding ties to Confederate legacy groups, and published a short essay on Monument Lab’s website bulletin which analyzes street art that emerged following the 2020 George Floyd/Breonna Taylor protests. Building on his experience with Monument Lab, Athanasopoulos is currently conducting dissertation research on a newly created Black Lives Matter mural located in downtown Pittsburgh.

Aspiring to a tenure track career, Athanasopoulos concluded that the summer graduate internship afforded him “truly enriching opportunities to expand the scope, method/techniques, and accessibility of my scholarship.”