The Book We Need by María Carvajal

Presented at CCCC 2018

[The Above is an audio version of the ‘Book We Need’ talk presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, which is followed by a transcript of the same talk given by María Carvajal, PhD student at the University of Illinois—Urbana Champaign and member of the Latinx Caucus.]

Hi! My name is María Carvajal. I’m a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and a member of the Latinx Caucus. When Steve Parks approached me last year to see if I wanted to share what book I thought the field needed my first thought was, oh wow, this sounds like such a great panel. But also, how am I supposed to speak for the field? This semester, I’m reading in preparation for my special fields exam, so the book I really need is a book that summarizes, analyses, and critiques all of the texts in my reading list. But since nobody but me would likely want to read such a book, I have been thinking really hard about what book I think we need for months. This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. New events kept happening almost daily that I think needed and still need the field’s attention.

My first personal shock came when Trump announced the immigration ban. I felt affected personally, even though my family is not from any of the countries that were mentioned, most of them do live abroad, and I worried if the ban wouldn’t take us down a slippery slope. Joe Shapiro was then pardoned and before I had time to digest this information, Charlottesville happened. By the end of August and early September, we saw the White House take an even more public stance on denying global warming, even as natural disasters were occurring on what seemed to me a daily basis. We had Hurricane Harvey in Texas, wildfires in California and Portland, and Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico and Florida. Especially during the natural disasters, I kept thinking that those who were already most marginalized would suffer the most—folks without flood insurance; single parents; black and brown people; Puerto Ricans, because Hurricane Irma really showed us how the White House and lots of people on mainland US view Puerto Ricans: as not really Americans. I wasn’t only worried about friends and family, I was worried about the future of science and the future of the planet.

On top of all of this, DACA was repealed. When this happened, I had no words; now young people, most of whom have worked hard, paid taxes, gone to school, served in the military were being attacked and treated the way so many others had been treated by this administration—as if they don’t matter; don’t belong; don’t deserve respect. DACA recipients are our future. They’re my friends, my colleagues, my students. And yet the administration didn’t care then and still doesn’t.

This was only September of last year, and things have only continued to get worse. We saw how the government wanted to tax graduate students’ tuition waivers, we still don’t have immigration reform, Dreamers and DACA recipients still don’t know what the future holds. We’ve seen Russian meddling, memos that dominate the news for months, more and more men accused of sexual assault and harassment, just to name a few examples. Even within Cs and NCTE, we have also had to come to terms with our own decisions and roles in systemic issues, leading many individuals and groups to boycott this year’s Cs. I really could keep going on and on. But I think we get that trying to think of a single topic for a book that the field needs is no easy task.

Because so much was and is happening and changing on a daily basis, I decided to focus on a topic for a book that could benefit as many people as possible. I think the book we need is one that discusses how to be politically and civically involved in our scholarship, our teaching, our research, and outside of our own institutions, in the communities we live in, during the Trump era. This book should specifically focus on how to do so for individuals and groups who are marginalized, for people of color, for women, for LGBTQ people and for those at the bottom or toward the bottom of academic hierarchies and the possible intersections of all of these positionalities and identities. In other words, on those who are likely to gain the most from this type of involvement and advocacy but who are also most vulnerable. And here I don’t mean that we need only people with certain positionalities or only those who have more stable positions to do this work, rather that we should be better at advocating for each other, at being smart about our civil engagement and activism, and that we can use our knowledge for positive change in our current political climate.

It makes sense that those who are black and brown, those who are most disenfranchised and marginalized, who have the most to lose, and who are most negatively impacted by these issues also tend to be the most involved activists and outspoken voices in fighting injustices. Of course, this is in part because these decisions and events impact them personally and have real consequences for their daily lives and futures. And while I’m 100% sure that being outspoken about the things we find wrong in the world is generally good, I think that we, as scholars, teachers, students, future faculty members, current faculty members, tutors, editors, and administrators, etc. would benefit from looking at activism and political engagement in the Trump era in terms of who is being active and outspoken, and who has the most to win and lose in these situations, as well as who is choosing not to participate, and who is being left out. Doing so could help us ensure that we’re better prepared to be involved in creating positive change and that we’re not going at it alone or without support that could help us succeed.

In the context of higher education, we tend to say that tenured faculty can and should fight battles that those with less job security can’t because they would suffer adverse consequences for doing so. We tend to see non-tenured faculty, junior faculty, some academic professionals, graduate students, and undergraduate students in some ways and depending on the institution as more vulnerable. But I think we would benefit from a book that provides an even more nuanced understanding of this—one that is intersectional and keenly aware of what is happening in the current political climate and that provides solutions to ensure that we can all help each other and work towards a better future.

So I know so far I’ve been pretty vague as to what this could look like, especially in the context of higher education. It so happens that recent events that took place at my university can illustrate what I mean. Beginning on February 26th, the Graduate Employees’ Organization or GEO, the union that represents U of I’s TAs and GAs went on strike. This strike followed 11 months of bargaining and close to 200 days of work without a contract. And while there are way too many issues and systemic problems that led to this strike to talk about here today, I do think that it offers an interesting example of something a book like the one I’m proposing could help us understand. The strike is an example of how graduate students, who occupy a more precarious position than, say, faculty members, chose to fight for the future of a university and for higher education more generally. And while we had the support of faculty members, both tenured and non-tenured, we potentially still had a lot to lose since we occupy one of the lowest positions at our university. We weren’t the first or the last to engage in this kind of action and yet the strike showed me that there is more we could all do when we feel the need to rise up and fight battles we deem worth finding if we have the tools and knowledge to do so.

At a more personal level, as someone who is not a US citizen, I’m always concerned with what potential consequences my actions might have for my future immigration status. So when I began to hear words like “strike vote,” “strike card” and “strike date,” I immediately started to worry. However, as unionized employees, we did have a right to strike and we felt like this was the next logical step after months of the administration stalling. Knowing that I couldn’t be fired helped my anxiety about the strike, but deciding to participate meant potential ducked pay and lots of concern about the visibility that the strike could potentially bring. Still, I knew I had the support of other union members and most of my department. And I knew that I was doing the right thing—that I was fighting for a contract that would acknowledge the value of graduate employee’s work and that I would be fighting to ensure that future students have access to higher education and that they can have diverse teachers and role models. Yet, during the second week of our strike, when I was asked if I wanted to occupy a building on campus, I again couldn’t help but think about possible implications, even if this was a peaceful occupation. Thankfully the members of the GEO leadership were really understanding when I voiced my concerns and were able to find someone who didn’t have the same concerns as me to occupy the building.

            Although the occupation only lasted two days and we finally got the contract we fought for and deserved, this event exemplifies what I think the field can help us understand better—how to be involved politically or in activist work that might require, call for, benefit from, or even hinge on involvement by groups and individuals who are already vulnerable and perhaps marginalized and what roles we can all play in such events. A successful book on this topic would also need to take into account the history of political involvement by marginalized groups and individuals because people of color, LGBTQ folks and other vulnerable and marginalized individuals and groups have been fighting battles similar to the ones we currently face for a long time. Finally, a book of this type would obviously benefit from having a variety of voices and perspectives that can help us understand what all of this means for junior and non-tenured faculty, for undergraduate and graduate students across a range of institutions, and for communities outside of our institutions. It would also benefit from voices that can help us understand the role of universities and professional organizations like Cs in these conversations, movements, and events at this particular moment in history. And while I don’t have solutions to these issues, I believe such a book would be beneficial to many, if not all, in our field and that we have the capacity, and perhaps even the responsibility, to create such a book.

 

Thank you.  

 

 

Black Perspectives on Writing Program Administration: From the Margins to the Center

by Staci M. Perryman-Clark and Collin Craig

Over the past year and a half, we’ve been collaborating on the edited collection for CCCC SWR. Up until this point, much of our work has focused on anti-racist pedagogy both in the classroom as Black writing educators, in writing programmatic policies, and in disciplinary spaces that engage WPA research and scholarship. Through our collaborative work, we’ve asked the field to think more deeply and critically about how we foster stronger allyship not only with and for students of color, but also with each other as educators and disciplinary colleagues. For us, we see our current project as a more extended opportunity to gather a variety of voices that enact and move forward anti-racist pedagogies both in the classroom and as colleagues in our disciplines. We see WPA work, then, as a space to think about anti-racist pedagogy to effect not simply, classroom innovation, but also disciplinary and institutional transformation. In short, our current project includes voices from allies, WPAs of color working at PWIs, and WPAs of color working at HBCUs. Each contributor shares their administrative experiences and perspectives that highlight ways in which WPAs might leverage allyship to employ anti-racist pedagogy, with a particular focus on Black students and writing program curricular development. For us, anti-racist pedagogy is not simply an issue that pertains to students in our classrooms; based on the stories from these voices, we firmly believe that anti-racist pedagogical instruction requires our colleagues to learn how and what it means to practice anti-racism, and in particular, avoid racist, microaggressive behaviors in our daily interactions with one another. From being mistaken for another African American woman on campus despite no other resemblance than skin color, to being constantly asked to show ID before entering a campus building to host weekly office hours, a variation of microaggressive behaviors can shape the everyday realities of Black academic life.

Additional contributions to our project, however, do provide pedagogical examples of what anti-racist pedagogy looks like in curricula and how students have benefitted from these practices. In a chapter from our project, we use the CWPA Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (http://wpacouncil.org/framework) to provide a framework for what success for Black student writers looks like in postsecondary writing programs. We even highlight a few examples of HBCU and PWI programs that are enacting successful pedagogies that support Black students. For us, anti-racist pedagogy means that students of historically oppressed populations, including Black students, are provided with the tools and institutional support to perform successfully in writing programmatic settings.

These days, our work at institutional sites has moved us beyond writing programs toward even larger institutional transformation. For Staci, she was recently appointed as the Associate Director of her university’s teaching and learning center, the WMU Office of Faculty Development (https://wmich.edu/facultydevelopment). In that role, she has developed a Teaching Inclusivity Series (https://wmich.edu/facultydevelopment/programs/teaching-inclusiity-series) that promotes workshops including anti-racist responses to Charlottesville. For Collin, his work as Project Coordinator for the university Black and Latino Male Initiative has allowed him to identify how to bring non-curricular driven learning environments in conversation with anti-racist, culturally sustaining university writing program learning objectives.  In effect, for us, we believe that in order to move the field forward in our adoptions of antiracist pedagogy, we also need to advocate more strongly for institutional change beyond the work we do as WPAs in campus-wide writing programs.  Moreover, while as a field, we should of course care about Black student success in writing programs, we must both connect and engage them with the larger sociopolitical issues facing Black students and our appeals to racial justice. This book, then, positions the work in writing programs with the work of social justice.

 

 

Making Our Future Through Anti-racist Citation Networks

This year’s SWR blog continues to be dedicated to considering the position of anti-racist scholarly practices to counter prevailing white-supremacist cis-heteropatriarchal Americentric normate practices, and holding each other and ourselves accountable for making this work central to our academic lives. Past and future contributors, include Asao Inoue, Staci Perryman-Clark, and Collin Craig. As C’s approaches, an event that many use to “map” themselves onto the field, we thought a consideration of citation practices might make an interesting contribution to that discussion.

We hope you enjoy the following post. We also hope you look forward to reading Staci and Collin’s discussion of African-American identity and WPA work in the coming weeks.

Steve Parks, Editor

Andre Habet, Associate Editor

P.S. Forgive the bit of delay since our last post, we’ve been working on this season’s author interviews audio book excerpts. Watch the CCCC/NCTE listserv as well as the SWR Facebook for their appearance soon.


 

Like pretty much anyone with access and ability to make it to a movie theater, I recently watched Black Panther. Like many others, it blew me away and sent my mind churning over all its various elements. What the movie triggered in me was a rethinking once again of the work of Jacqueline Jones Royster in Traces of a Stream, and the way she takes on the work of recovering 19th century American black woman’s literacies as a means of establishing a lineage for her and other black woman academics whose own literacies are regularly discounted by mainstream white academia.

Similar to Royster, I have been trying to create a reading of the field of rhetoric and composition that works for me and connects me to my communities, thinking through sites where lineages are created. Currently, I am working through an independent study that looks at the intersections of disability rhetorics, architecture, mobility studies, and food studies. In thinking through these intersections, and the work being done within them, I find myself regularly doing an activity after encountering any work I feel may be relevant to the work I want to do. I find myself looking up each individual scholar in search of an image of them, and then using that image as a means to then interrogate how their public identity’s positionalities may be influencing the biases of their work. I do this because I am trying to create a lineage that speaks to an embodied understanding of the world: one that is non-white, queer, and gives consideration to non-normative bodies by which I mean recognizing that no bodies fit a norm and that normal is grade-F balony. Continue reading “Making Our Future Through Anti-racist Citation Networks”

Antiracist Writing Pedagogy: Racialized Places of Labor and Listening

by Asao B. Inoue
Professor and Director of University Writing & the Writing Center
University of Washington Tacoma

 

First, an exercise in listening, not for me, but you, dear reader. The place I grew up, and the place in which I began reading and writing. This is the origin of my antiracist pedagogy.

I grew up in North Las Vegas in government, subsidized housing. Each apartment was white brick with three windows, one next to the front door, and one in each of the two bedrooms. Thinking back now, our home seemed like a cement box, not a home, yet it was my home. One of my strongest memories of living on Stats Street in North Las Vegas was coming home after the landlord had fumigated the entire building. We opened the door to find literally thousands of dead or dying cockroaches everywhere. They created a bed of carcasses the size of quarters and silver dollars on the floors and carpet, some still writhing and twitching. The roaches, legs up, formed a layer of bodies on tables, couch, chairs — everything. Some were dangling from the ceiling, dropping periodically. They ticked when they hit a hard surface. I remember the ticking.

As the door swung open, my mother clutched us closer and sat down in the doorway of our apartment. The three of us sat on the cement stoop, and she put her face in her hands and cried. It was the first and almost only time I remember seeing my mother cry. I was maybe seven years old. A friend came over that night and helped my mom vacuum up the roaches. I remember snatches of the entire evening. It was traumatic for us all. I never really recovered from the experience. Piles of shiny-backed, brown roaches, some in their death-throws, most dead, that’s what I remember. The feeling of helplessness, of thinking how do we live in such a place? How have we lived in such a place? How do we escape? How will we ever make this our home again? How do I go to school tomorrow, and come home, and learn? You see, I knew, even then at seven or eight years old, that this was the place where I would need to do the labors required to learn. I would need to sit on those floors, or in that chair, and read my school books, or write the first essay I remember writing, ironically about who I was, about my skin, my color — yes, that’s how I translated the prompt, “who are you?” Those floors would be where I would sit and read each night, book after book, and win the second grade reading contest. It was not easy labor. Continue reading “Antiracist Writing Pedagogy: Racialized Places of Labor and Listening”

Overcoming Gratitude: How the GOP Tax Bill Could Impact International Students

On Saturday morning of December 2, millions of people in the United States woke up the news that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had passed in the Senate. For current graduate students, this was a step closer to the passing of the House’s version of the bill that would make tuition waivers taxable income, dramatically increasing the amount of taxes graduate student would have to pay in addition to the various ways the bill would devastate folks healthcare and labor security.

As an organizer working with the Syracuse Graduate Employees United (SGEU), I have been struggling over the past few weeks about how I might address this in the next installment of the SWR blog on anti-racist pedagogies. Given that the new SWR mission statement calls for an expansion of sites and discourses of study, I ultimately decided to share a speech I wrote for a rally (with help from Poonam Argarde, a fellow international student and friend) hosted by SGEU on Wednesday November 29 at Syracuse University. Its alignment with anti-racist pedagogies stems from a recognition of how existing structures within higher education, such as the ever-increasing workload expected of graduate students and the ever-existing threat to documentation status, work to keep marginalized bodies in precarity in order to maintain exploitative labor practices.

The speech was intended to address the ways that the bill will impact the lives of international graduate students as well as why I think union organizing will be key to collectively addressing any potential repercussions. Although this speech focuses on international students, I want to be clear that I don’t want to conflate all international students with students of color, but international students are often from countries largely populated by people of color, especially at my own institution. My hope is that by articulating the issues facing international students, we may be better able to join in solidarity with U.S. students of color, and recognize the ways in which we are sometimes pitted against each other within educational spaces heavily laden with white supremacist ideology that perpetuate narratives of competition between students of non-white identities.

Since last week, I have been finding other pieces highlighting the impact that the bill will have on international graduate students. Desiring something more polyphonic than my own voice, I have hyperlinked to those pieces throughout the speech. They are worth checking out and provide a more rounded view of how international students think they’ll be impacted by a change in the tuition waiver structure. Continue reading “Overcoming Gratitude: How the GOP Tax Bill Could Impact International Students”

Beware Becoming the Trojan Horse

I am a brown person of color that grew up in a non-US country where white supremacy manifested primarily in the absence of white people following the country’s independence in the early 80’s. My family’s socio-economic privilege inscribed me into whiteness with peers often calling me a ‘white bway’ even when we shared the same shade of brown. I, in turn, internalized this image of myself, simultaneously hating my brown skin and idolizing the whiteness of the Americans, British, and French I encountered through film. In my academic experience as a graduate student in the United States, I had never been in a position of discussing issues of race in a critical way until my first semester of my doctoral degree in a feminist rhetoric, and a Caribbean tourism and sex trade course.

I struggle with how to link my research interests (comics authorship, graduate student labor, and Caribbean tourism rhetorics) to a vision of the nebulous field of rhetoric and composition. Many of the names that I am told are important to know hit me with a dead thump because their prominence feels significant only within an Americentric context. As a person from a global south country with plans to return there following graduation, it is nauseating to think that if I passively take up the names and ideas of folks who most often circulate and talk to them through my scholarship that I may gain social capital, but likely, no definitely, come out of it primarily having embodied the scholarship of white American able-bodied cis-het folks. I see this possibility as dangerous not only for myself, but for future students I work with, carving myself into a Trojan horse that enters a Belizean institution under the guise of a shared nation-state identity only to then unleash rhetorics mired in the epistemologies of empire, patriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism. Continue reading “Beware Becoming the Trojan Horse”