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Imagining a More Just Field: an Unconference and Call to Action

So much has happened since we last convened in Baltimore 2019. The world is different. We are different. Our writing programs, organization, and field are different. We have much to discuss and much work still to do–some of it new, but much of it long overdue. We circulate this call for proposals in the weeks following the racially-motivated murders of 10 Black people by a White college student in Buffalo, and in Uvalde, 19 schoolchildren and two teachers, mostly Latinx. The killers and teachers could have been students in our classrooms. The fourth-graders might one day have become our students. Meanwhile, the public health and economic crisis of the pandemic continues to exacerbate racial and other inequities for multiply-marginalized students who are or will soon be our students (Fortuna, et al., 2020; Horsford, et al., 2021). These are but two major incidents in a long history. While It may be difficult to imagine how our work as writing program administrators and instructors might prevent such devastation, but it behooves us to seize this moment to interrogate our commitments to using our positions to mitigate the effects of these and other forms of education violence, and to imagine more and better opportunities for life-making (Mustaffa, 2017). So much has happened since we met in 2019, yet not nearly enough has changed.

Amidst mounting inequality and amplified demands for social justice, CWPA’s organizational policies and practices have come under increased scrutiny, manifesting in widespread calls to revise the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Writing (e.g., Institute of Race, Rhetoric, and Literacy, 2021) and reimagine the organization as a whole. The past decade has seen an increasing number of scholars of color interrogating the racism they’ve experienced in our writing programs, institutions, and organization (Carter-Tod, 2020; García, 2017; García de Müeller & Ruiz, 2017; Green, 2018; Kynard, 2015; Perryman-Clark & Craig, 2019; “Special Issue: Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racist Projects in Writing Program Administration,” WPA, 2021; “Symposium: Challenging Whiteness,” 2016). In 2011, for instance, Collin Craig and Staci Perryman-Clark reflected on the racism they encountered as graduate students attending the CWPA conference. In their 2016 follow-up, they noted that “the more things change, the more they still stay the same,” yet they also observed that “through rhetorical action, we can engage in the kinds of coalition building that bring awareness to inequities and racial microaggressions in strategic ways” (p. 20), and they close by “propos[ing] CWPA as the next intellectual space that engages whiteness as a call to action” (p. 25).

This year’s convening will do just that. We invite you to join us for an unconference where we will build on the findings from CWPA’s current Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) audit to imagine a more just organization and field. Together, we will put our imaginations to “just use” toward the kind of antiracist and equity-minded coalition building that will enable us to transform ourselves, our writing programs, and our professional spaces. As Natasha N. Jones and Miriam F. Williams (2020) urge us to consider:

 A just use of imagination is not destructive, even as it seeks to dismantle, because using imagination in this way also calls for the replacement of oppressive practices with systems that are founded on equality, access, and opportunity. What can you imagine? And, how does this use of imagination not only shift perspective, but work to ensure the realization of justice and equality?

Here’s what we imagine: Rearranging conference structures and practices into new formats that might better achieve our goals of sharing, listening, and collaborating, spread out over eight weeks because we aren’t interested in Band-aid solutions, quick fixes, how-tos, or window dressing. We will deliberately move away from the traditional conference format that has historically excluded marginalized members of our community. These condensed conference formats afford meager space and time to adequately address issues of accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusivity–words that Sara Ahmed (2012) reminds us can serve as hollow placeholders for the real work of social justice that needs to happen. We want to create and implement a more democratic and transparent infrastructure that guarantees the continuance of antiracist and anti-discriminatory work in the core business of CWPA, embedded in its by-laws and all governing documents. We want to form a community that can sustain this vital work over the long-haul and make our organization more liveable and vibrant. In other words, we want to “jam the system” as Blewett et al (2019) admonish:

 Unchecked racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia, ableism, and nativism reproduce                  inequalities that become ordinary, entering into the commonsense of a place—and of   a discipline. Where or how to jam the system? To make the ordinary understood as made and, with painstaking effort, able to be remade?

To deliberately jam the system and imaginatively remake it, the unconference will be framed around this year’s featured event, an Antiracism Workshop. A limited number of registered participants will work with a group of eight facilitators to explore and develop antiracist approaches to interrogating and transforming various pedagogical, programmatic, institutional, professional, and community spaces and how we operate within, alongside, and sometimes despite them. Those who participate in both the workshop and the unconference will have the benefit of an integrated experience. The workshop will meet synchronously every other week for the length of the conference, providing ample opportunity for participants to reflect and synthesize what they’re learning within and across each alternating space. Each of the four workshop sessions will involve whole group and breakout group activities led by the facilitators intended to foster sustained communities of practice.

Unconference participants will have asynchronous options to participate, but we will gather synchronously every Thursday and Friday from September through October to:

  • Facilitate an expanded, integrated antiracist workshop aimed at antiracist professional development and coalition building (separate workshop registration required)
  • Share progress on our ongoing DEI audit and hear from the facilitators
  • Learn from two expert plenary speakers
  • Host active listening sessions
  • Learn from each other via proposed sessions

We invite you to share what you know and question what you don’t as you join with colleagues in creating new knowledges and action plans. Toward those ends, we invite you to think through some questions with us:

  • How are we defining the terms “access,” “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion”? How do they mean different things for different people such as administrators, instructors, students, and other stakeholders of specific positionalities? How have they been employed (and received) in different spaces such as curricula, the classroom, writing programs, WAC/WID programs, writing centers, professional development, teacher/tutor-training?
  • What has your own journey toward becoming a more antiracist teacher or program administrator looked like? What has your writing program’s journey looked like? What obstacles have you encountered along the way? What opportunities have you encountered for further growth?
  • How does your experience challenge commonplaces in writing program administration, rhetoric and composition, or higher education, particularly in relation to its commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  • What questions do you have/are you working on to make writing and WPA more equitable? What do we want the field of WPA to be? And who do we want WPAs to be? What are the challenges to writing programs and WPA work becoming more equitable, accessible, and inclusive?
  • How do we persevere in this work in the face of resistant or even hostile working environments? How do we persevere in the current political climates?
  • What does an antiracist writing program/curriculum look like? What does an antiracist classroom look like?
  • In what ways have our pedagogical, professional, and programmatic spaces been historically unwelcoming to marginalized scholars and practitioners? In what ways are they still exclusionary? What can we do to change this?
  • How might we design more equitable transitions into our programs from secondary schools, migration, military, prisons, and other institutions?
  • How do our roles as administrators and instructors perpetuate gatekeeping mechanisms such as standard Englishes, and writing program pedagogies, policies, and practices? How can we reimagine these roles?
  • How can we develop more explicitly antiracist assessment protocols in the classroom? And at the programmatic level?
  • How can we employ data-driven decision making, disaggregating by race and other demographics, to better understand how our policies and practices affect success and retention of students of color?
  • What methods from within and beyond our field can we employ to interrogate the structural and systemic issues impacting our work? How might we employ them to more critically, systemically, and productively reflect on, then counteract our personal, programmatic, and institutional complicity in education violence?
  • What is WPA-GO/graduate students’ role in establishing, developing, and maintaining a sustainably inclusive pipeline to the CWPA/the WPA field? And what does inclusive mentoring look like?
  • What does it mean to be an ally/accomplice in the writing classroom? In the writing program? In the teaching practicum? What does it mean to be an advocate for equitable writing practices on campus? In the community?
  • What do antiracist hiring practices look like? How can we go beyond hiring faculty and staff who just look, speak, and think differently?
  • What do antiracist editorial practices look like? How can we extend the work of citational justice toward more equitable and inclusive scholarly practices? 
  • How do we make connections between the various silos of WPA work around the US and other regions of the world? What colonizing and decolonizing ethics need to be considered here? And how might this work inform antiracism and other inclusive efforts?
  • How can we identify our field(s), journals, organizations, and our very own programs as white supremacist and hegemonic structures? In what ways do these structures frustrate our work? And how do we negotiate an antiracist commitment to dismantling these structures, policies, and practices with the administrative imperative to sustain or even grow these same structures? Are they even reconcilable?
  • What lessons can we apply from the struggle for racial injustice to address other injustices that affect our writing programs (sexism, ableism, nativism, homophobia, transphobia), and vice versa? What intersectional cross-movement coalitions can we build?

We believe many of these questions are best addressed through synchronous, exploratory sessions that bring both research and personal experience to bear on the tensions we face in our writing programs every day. To that end, we encourage you to propose synchronous guided problem-exploring sessions, workshops, reading groups, or other ways of engaging participants in direct reflection and action. We also have options for asynchronous participation, including facilitated electronic text discussions and prerecorded research and poster presentations. Regardless of format, all presenters and “speakers” will take the lead on facilitating the session and shaping the conversations and activities of our unconference participants. We want to include as many voices as possible, and we hope you will join us. 

A more detailed schedule and fee structure (including scholarships) will be released on our website shortly, so please keep an eye on it. The submission portal will open on June 15 and close on July 15. Decisions will be sent by August 15, and the event will begin September. 

If you have any questions in the meantime, please contact one the following members of the steering committee: 

For workshop info, contact, Al or Brian: harahap@ou.edu  bhendrickson@rwu.edu ;

For registration issues, contact Kelly: keblewet@iu.edu ;

For website issues, contact Amanda: amandapresswood@brandeis.edu ;

If you are a grad student needing support or more info, contact Laura, Jennifer, or Turnip: laura.hardinmarshall@slu.edu  jburkereifman@ucdavis.edu  tavandyke@miners.utep.edu ;

For scholarship enquiries or any other general queries about the conference or CWPA, contact Susan: cwpapres@gmail.com .

Submit a Proposal! 

 

Bibliography

Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included. Duke UP.

Blewett, K., LaVecchia, C. M., Micciche, L. R., & Morris, J. (2019). Editing as inclusion activism. College English, 81(4), 273-296. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/shss_facarticles/802 

Carter-Tod, S. (2020). Administrating while black: Negotiating the emotional labor of an African American WPA. In C. A. Wooten, J. Babb, K. M. Costello, & K Navickas (Eds)., The things we carry: Strategies for recognizing and negotiating emotional Labor in writing program administration (pp. 197-214). UP Colorado.

Craig, C. L., & Perryman-Clark, S. M. (2011). Troubling the boundaries:(De)constructing WPA identities at the intersections of race and gender. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 34(2), 37-58. http://162.241.207.49/archives/34n2/34n2craig-perryman-clark.pdf

Fortuna, L. R., Tolou-Shams, M., Robles-Ramamurthy, B., & Porche, M. V. (2020). Inequity and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color in the United States: The need for a trauma-informed social justice response. Psychological trauma: Theory, research, practice and policy, 12(5), 443–445. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000889

García, R. (2017). Unmaking gringo-centers. Writing Center Journal, 36(2), 29-60. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44252637

García de Müeller, G. G., & Ruiz, I. (2017). Race, silence, and writing program administration: A qualitative study of US college writing programs. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 40(2), 19-39. http://associationdatabase.co/archives/40n2/40n2mueller_ruiz.pdf

Green, N. A. (2018). Moving beyond alright: And the emotional toll of this, my life matters too, in the writing center work. The Writing Center Journal, 37(1), 15-34. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26537361

Horsford, S. D., Cabral, L., Touloukian, C., Parks, S., Smith, P. A., McGhee, C., Qadir, F., Lester, D., & Jacobs, J. (2021). Black education in the wake of COVID-19 and systemic racism: Toward a theory of change and action. Black Education Research Collective. Teachers College, Columbia University. https://www.tc.columbia.edu/media/centers/berc/Final-BERC-COVID-Report-20July2021.pdf

Jones, N. N., & Williams, M. F. (2020). The just use of imagination: A call to action. Association of Teachers of Technical Writing.

Kynard, C. (2015). Teaching while Black: Witnessing and countering disciplinary whiteness, racial violence, and university race-management. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(1), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.21623/1.3.1.2

Institute of Race, Rhetoric, and Literacy. (2021, June 11). Abbreviated statement toward FYC goals. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0YO3K4IVIJLJTNSBGl5HJKOdddAK73spe2GbOmJn1w/edit

Mustaffa, J. B. (2017). Mapping violence, naming life: A history of anti-Black oppression in the higher education system. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 30(8), 711-727. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2017.1350299

Perryman-Clark, S. M., & Craig, C. L. (2019). Black perspectives in writing program administration: From margins to the center. NCTE.

 

Important Dates

None at this time.