Rhetoric and Reality Discussion


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”

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. Continue reading “The Book We Need by María Carvajal”

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”

“Producing the Future: The Book I Need” by Jaquetta Shade

In 2017, SWR initiated a new project, “The Book I Need, designed to sponsor discussion on what type of scholarship the series should be publishing – particularly from the perspective of graduate students.

The first respondent to this prompt was  Jaquetta Shade (PhD candidate in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University and member of the American Indian Caucus) who focused her talk on “Producing the Future: The Book I Need.” In this talk, she reflects on responses gathered from a Google survey and conversations with fellow graduate students and faculty about what kind of book the field most needs right now. Jaquetta shares some of the feedback she received, recognizing the many areas of inquiry still in need of attention. She then calls for a “a book on teaching writing in the time of Trump” that will prompt students and scholars to engage their critical literacies towards change.

Please click here to listen to a recording (mp3 file) of Jaquetta’s presentation. This audio file was recorded by sound engineer Brooke Chambers and includes three sound bites (cited below). Please click here to access a transcript of her presentation.

Sound Bite Citations:

Avantdebris. “Rally.” February 10, 2017 via FreeSound.org, Creative Commons          Attribution.

Miekyj. “Paging Through Book.” October 28, 2015 via FreeSound.org, Creative Commons  Attribution.

MLoveless89. “TrumpProtest_110917.” May 13, 2017 via FreeSound.org, Creative  Commons Attribution. 

Answering Berlin’s Call: The Unfinished Work of Rhetoric and Reality

I still remember the moment as an undergraduate in the late 90s when I randomly pulled Berlin’s Rhetoric and Reality off the shelf of my college library. At that time, I was a literature major passionate about critical theory, English teaching, and social justice. After I read Berlin’s book, I became an aspiring composition and rhetoric scholar. In Berlin’s work, I found a vision of a field dedicated to the teaching of writing as a deeply philosophical and political activity that could contribute to material social change—a vision that inspires me to this day.

When I came to graduate school (a land where one learns to critique everything one loves!), I came to take a much more critical view of Berlin’s work. I started to realize how Berlin problematically centered attention on the writing of white men at privileged institutions—leaving us with a very narrow and exclusionary understanding of the field’s history. (Terese Guinsatao Monberg’s post in this series compellingly engages this important line of critique). I also came to see how Berlin’s famous epistemological taxonomy was leading many compositionists to completely disregard the insights of scholars who had been deemed not epistemic enough in orientation—a point Lisa Ede eloquently made in her Situating Composition.

Building on Ede’s work, my own book, Remixing Composition, argued for a historical methodology of remix that sought to resist the kind of hierarchical taxonomies that animated Berlin’s narrative. In hindsight, though, I think my book sought not so much to critique Berlin’s work itself, but rather to challenge the claims of “Berlinians” who increasingly turned his provisional taxonomy into a rigid orthodoxy (e.g “we don’t need to read the expressivists anymore since Berlin told us they were problematic.”) Yet, Berlin quite explicitly warned us not to take his narrative as the final word, reminding readers that “I do not claim to be definitive. A great deal more needs to be said about this period, and I hope others will be encouraged to do so” (19). Here, I can see Berlin encouraging scholars in the field to complicate and extend his narrative—as many have done in the past 30 years.

When I re-read Berlin’s work now, I’m most struck by his ambitious attempt to offer a comprehensive overview of the field, noting that he sought to “include all major and most minor developments in the teaching of writing in American colleges from 1900 – 1985” (18). I can’t think of a historical book in the field since that has set out quite such an ambitious plan of coverage. And, in many ways, this is a good thing. After Berlin, scholars have increasingly turned towards composing more focused and deep historical case studies that have added much complexity and insight to the stories we tell about our past.

Nevertheless, I find myself wondering if it may be time once again for scholars to imagine broad historical projects that attempt to take stock of the increasingly massive archive(s) of writing instruction in the twentieth century. I think we could use more meta-analyses that synthesize the insights of all the diverse historical scholarship that has been published over the past thirty years. We could also make more use of distant reading and other quantitative textual analysis methods to locate and visualize trends in the field’s archives (as scholars such as Ben Miller and Derek Mueller have suggested).

Although distant reading methods might help us make better sense of large digital archives, we must remember that our own positionalities will inevitably shape the questions we ask of these archives and the methods we use to engage them. Furthermore, we should remain mindful that much of the history of the field has not been digitized—that contemporary digital archives, like Berlin’s history, still tend to privilege white men at “elite” institutions.

Berlin’s attempt to be comprehensive inevitably failed in some ways because it was not a task that could be accomplished by one person alone. Recognizing this, I think we need to imagine how “big histories” of the field might be composed collaboratively by collectives of scholars employing diverse methods and engaging diverse archives. Such collaborative histories would still inevitably have limitations, but they could allow for more complex stories to arise. What ideas do ya’ll have for how we might work together to compose “big histories” of the field?

-Jason Palmeri, Miami University


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The Rhetoric and Realities of Writing Instruction Today

As I re-read Rhetoric and Reality, some twenty years after my first reading of it in graduate school, I similarly observed the inattention to race, gender, and language diversity Asao Inoue and Terese Guinsatao Monberg noted in their recent SWR blog posts. I also noticed Berlin’s neglect of two-year colleges in his historical review of writing instruction. Although two-year colleges were a significant part of the postsecondary landscape throughout the historical period Berlin chronicled—and have long been the primary site of basic writing instruction, two-year colleges (and basic writing) are largely ignored in Rhetoric and Reality, despite their contributions to writing instruction theory and practice. Today, two-year colleges and open-admissions colleges, the most democratic of postsecondary institutions, enroll half of all college students and teach the majority of undergraduate writing, between developmental writing and first year composition courses. However, they are still under-represented in disciplinary scholarship.

In my review of Rhetoric and Reality, I was also particularly struck by the repeated rise and fall in prominence of particular beliefs about writing and writers and their manifestations over time, the consequences of such beliefs, and the conditions that create and recreate them. A few familiar patterns immediately caught my attention: the denigration of students and student writing (see Hesse’s recent Chronicle article), the vilification of high school English teachers, the shifting purposes of writing (e.g., a vocational skill, a means of exclusion, a service to other disciplines, the foundation of democracy), the reliance on objective standards and standardized testing in writing assessment, the marginalized place of writing instruction and instructors in the academy, even the erasure of First-Year Composition and Basic Writing from the curriculum. Reading Berlin’s historical account of writing instruction made me think Karr may be right: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Continue reading “The Rhetoric and Realities of Writing Instruction Today”