Friday, December 24, 2010

CCCC Conversations on Diversity

The CCCC Conversations on Diversity will break for the holiday and resume with new blogging posts on January 6, 2011.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Moments of Disability and Diversity

Introductory Bio

Jay Dolmage is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, where he teaches rhetoric and writing. His research interrogates rhetorical constructions of the body, bringing together disability studies and rhetorical theory. His scholarship has appeared in Rhetoric Review, Prose Studies, Journal of Advanced Composition, Disability Studies Quarterly, College English, Cultural Critique and several edited collections. Jay is Chair of the Committee on Disability Issues in College Composition for the NCTE, and the Editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies.

Blog Post

In composition’s history as a remedial space (see Shaughnessy), or as a sorting gate (see Shor, Clark, Fox), from Harvard in the 1870s to CUNY in the 1970s, composition grew and contracted in reaction to diversity. The Harvard paradigm and the CUNY paradigm—which have been foundational in our histories of composition—offer interesting micro-histories that are worth exploring. We know that these two major “foundational moments” of composition were profoundly about diversity. They were also shaped by disability. In this blog post I am going to look at the Harvard moment and the CUNY moment from new angles, focusing on their relationship to disability. What’s the point? My suggestion is that in every discussion of diversity, disability can be found operating in myriad, nuanced, but often invisible ways. I want to look at two moments to reveal some of these operations, negative and positive.

Moment One: “Emergence”

Disability history in the West, unfortunately, is most powerfully defined by the eugenics era—a time when people with disabilities were sterilized, institutionalized, and when disability as a concept was used to stigmatize a wide range of non-whites and foreigners who might also be excluded or eradicated under the aegis of “better breeding.” For the greater part of Western history, people have imagined a universe with no people with disabilities in it. Every major North American institution holds this history in its bones. Eugenics has shaped attitudes about disability. What has been less fully explored is the way that the eugenic perspective on disability shaped the modern university.

The “birth” of composition in the late 19th century at Harvard represents a moment that has been extensively analyzed by others, most notably James Berlin. But I want to align this era with the attitudes about ability that the concurrent eugenic rhetoric was making popular, suggesting that these early days of composition in the U.S were shaped by eugenics and became an instrument that applied and accented eugenic ideology.

The Harvard model of education at the turn of the 20th century saw the university not as the place to elevate society based on the education of all of its citizens, but the university as a place to sort society based on the education of the “deserving” few. Ira Shor and James Berlin have written about the discipline of composition’s history as a “curricular cop and sorting machine” at Harvard, and Shor defines this as “composition for containment, control and capital growth” (“Our Apartheid” 92). For instance, in 1874 at Harvard, a test in English writing was instituted to “ensure that the new open university would not become too open, allowing new immigrants, for example, to earn degrees in science or math without demonstrating by their use of language that they belonged in the middle class” (Berlin 23).

As James W. Trent and others have shown, the history of eugenic research, testing, and promotion at Western institutions such as Stanford and Harvard shows us that universities have been the arbiter of ability in the United States. American academics have delineated and disciplined the border between able and disabled, an “us” and a “them.” The line-drawers were able to solidify their own positions as they closed the doors upon others. Charles Benedict Davenport, a Harvard Ph.D and instructor and David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University, are recognized as the fathers of the American eugenics movement in the early 1900s. Davenport, perhaps the eugenics movement’s greatest proponent, defined the movement as “the science of the improvement of the human race by better breeding” (1).

The eugenics movement resulted in the institutionalization of millions of Americans in asylums, “idiot schools,” and other warehousing institutions, where people were abused, neglected, and, often, forcibly sterilized. Many children from large immigrant families were shipped to these “asylum schools,” women were incarcerated as “hysterical,” and they housed a radically disproportionate number of African Americans, Eastern Europeans, and lower-class children, all expendable according to eugenic thinking.

Starr Jordan and Davenport also worked to apply ideas about the “natural” stratification of society at American universities, including their own. As Trent and others have pointed out, American academics systematically developed the means to segregate society based upon arbitrary ideas of ability—the university was the place for the most able, the mental institution the space for the “least.”
I want to suggest that when we study composition’s beginnings we also understand these historical contexts. There is a rhetorical history that provides a discourse and a power for this sorting—that is, the defining and stigmatizing of those excluded from the university and the justification of that move based on a eugenicist and racist “science.”

Moment Two: “Revolution”

In the 1970s, at CUNY, and specifically the City College of New York, following the explosion of open admissions, the philosophy of education shifted radically away from the Harvard paradigm. There was a movement in America towards “universal higher education” in the late 1960s, fueled by connected social movements that emphasized equity and equal opportunity.

At the time, this was a controversial move, of course. And problems arose. At CUNY, the response of the writing program was to create huge remedial basic writing classes. Ira Shor has argued that, following this advent of open admissions and the remediation of students, “basic writing added an extra sorting-out gate in front of the composition gate,” to “slow the output of college graduates” and “manage some disturbing economic and political conditions on campus and off” (“Our Apartheid” 92-93). In this way, although the push was towards universal higher education, the result at times simply added layers of stratification to the sorting function of the university.

At about the same time that CUNY was opening its doors, the disability rights movement was beginning to make substantial gains across the country. In San Francisco the very first Disabled Students Program, run by students with disabilities to provide self-advocacy, began at the University of California at Berkeley in 1970. Reacting to the history of the forced institutionalization of people with disabilities, the first Center for Independent Living was also created at Berkeley in 1972. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was then passed in 1975, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund offices were started in Berkeley and D.C in 1979, and the Americans with Disabilities Act was finally passed in 1990.

Throughout this time, boycotts, sit-ins, and civil disobedience became ways to draw attention to the barriers facing many people with disabilities.
CUNY and Berkeley were both part of a large ideological shift, as they were also part of a huge demographic shift. In some ways, it was the same students who were entering CUNY and organizing at Berkeley—many veterans of the Vietnam war, and many veterans of the political action against this war. These people now turned some attention to the class war that American universities had been complicit in and argued that higher education should be a civil right.

The central tenets of the disability rights movement have been pride in disability identity, collective self-representation, and a concentrated effort to remove barriers to access, perhaps most remarkably those barriers that have kept people with disabilities out of social institutions like universities. Central to this history has been the idea that disability is created in part by a social, physical, and educational environment shaped in ways that exclude. Eugenics works to strongly ground inferences about social worth in biological formulae, using science to suggest that differences between people are pre-determined, genetic and immutable.

But what if, instead of the idea that nature determines individual success, we saw the world as inequitably shaped and built, and believed instead, that the reform of society and culture would allow for a more equitable world? This view, applied to education, follows the hopeful CUNY model of “universal education”—believing that, given access, anyone can learn and, more broadly, suggesting that the university is the place to elevate society based on the education of all of its citizens, rather than a place to sort society based on the education of the “deserving” few.

As ideological compacts, as micro-historical snapshots, I want to align the CUNY moment and the Disability Rights Movement against the Harvard composition paradigm and its alliances with eugenic rhetoric. Doing so, I hope, gives us means to conceptualize broad trends in attitudes about disability as they map across histories of composition. Doing so, I also hope, helps us to better critically focus on our shared future.

Shared Futures

What is this shared future? What will the next moments of emergence or revolution look like? And how will they bear on our discussions of diversity? Here are some ideas.

Online courses are growing at a rate of ten times the growth of on-site classes, and more than 20 percent of U.S. students took an online course in fall 2007. How can we ensure that these courses are going to be accessible to all students? How will we guard against an impulse that is the seeming inverse of this inaccessibility? That is, how will we make sure that students with disabilities are not going to be funneled away from on-site classes and into online classes as a method of exclusion?

Segregated colleges now exist for students with learning disabilities, and within regular colleges, many extra support programs for students now also come with huge price tags. If some doors are opening wider, what other doors are closing? If the ADA is providing minimal accommodations, and anything extra costs a lot, how are our colleges really responding to the diversity of learners?

An expanded understanding of a wider range of disabilities has also led to a rhetorical outpouring of troubling language: students with emotional and psychological disabilities are characterized according to their “warning signs”; students with PTSD are seen to be “ticking time bombs” and more segregated programs are being created for veterans within American colleges; autism is seen as a costly “epidemic” that is now hitting higher education. How do we respond to this stigmatization? How can we recognize the eugenic undercurrent in such discourse?

Each of these new developments may translate into a new moment for composition – an opportunity to shape or be shaped according to the diversity of the students we meet in our classrooms.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

An Updated SRTOL?

Introductory Bio

Suresh Canagarajah is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor in Applied Linguistics and English at Penn State University. His multidisciplinary research has made contributions to fields in sociolinguistics, rhetoric and composition, and migration studies. His publications have won prestigious awards in these fields. His book Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching (Oxford UP) won the Mina Shaughnessy Award for the best publication on the teaching and research of English language and literature from the Modern Languages Association of America. His publication A Geopolitics of Academic Writing (U of Pittsburgh P) won the Gary Olson award for the best book in rhetorical and social theory from the Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition. His article “World Englishes and Composition: Pluralization Continued” won the Richard Braddock Award for the best article from the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Through such publications, Professor Canagarajah has made a significant contribution to fostering a pluralized understanding of the English language, appreciating the linguistic and literacy resources of multilingual speakers, and developing teaching practices that affirm the identities and values of international students.

Professor Canagarajah has made important contributions to the professional community. He edited the flagship journal of the international organization Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages, TESOL Quarterly, from 2004 to 2009. He is widely credited for internationalizing the journal with increased submissions and publication from more diverse countries, and diversifying the research approaches and essay genres represented in the journal. He is the incoming President of the American Association of Applied Linguistics. He has won fellowships in several universities. He was the Benjamin Meeker Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Education at Bristol University (UK) in 2007. He will be a fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) in Cape Town, South Africa, next summer. He has been named Thomas R. Watson Visiting Distinguished Professor in fall 2011 at the English Department of the University of Louisville.

Professor Canagarajah will chair the 22nd Penn State Conference on Rhetoric and Composition July 10-12, 2011 on language diversity. Information can be found at

Blog Entry

Buthainah, a student from Saudi Arabia, opens her literacy autobiography as follows: “As I type each word in this literacy autobiography, storms of thoughts stampede to be considered and mentioned. Which experiences should I value, which shall I consider, and which should I ignore. . . As I click the keys on the keyboard, an illustration of my literacy development shunt me to continue my ongoing learning adventure from my academic communities, my home, and my life experiences.”

I am particularly struck by the phrases “storms of thoughts stampede” and “shunt me.” In my feedback to Buthainah, I ask her: “The phrases I have highlighted in this paragraph will be considered unidiomatic by native speakers. Did you have any second thoughts about using such phrases?”

Buthainah is adamant in her response that she used these phrases after considerable reflection and that these are her creative options for voice: “Actually, I am surprised to hear that because I discussed the first phrase with an American poet and a writer who actually really liked it because it provides the readers of a visual for what I felt at that time. I do not see why only bulls stampede – this verb can be used figuratively as well. I do not think that this is an issue of native speakers of English, I think that it is a stylistic choice.”

Buthainah’s response reminds me of recent applied linguistics research that reveals that multilinguals who use English with each other negotiate language forms afresh to co-construct meaning according to their own interests and values, without worrying about native speaker norms.

But what should I do in an American writing classroom? Should I teach Buthainah the conventions of Edited American English (EAE), after making sure that I say something nice to acknowledge her creativity? Or should I go further and encourage her to develop this form of usage in her writing? I pose myself the question I always ask when I am confronted with linguistic diversity in my classrooms (more to affirm my position rather than in consultation): “What would SRTOL say?”

After some reflection, I realize that the “Students’ Right to their Own Language” statement doesn’t have much to say about students like Buthainah and their usage. What I observe is the following:

-- SRTOL is based on recognizable dialects. Buthainah’s usage doesn’t appear to belong to a stable variety of English. Hers is an emergent form, which shows the influences of her first language and culture. The essay features a hybrid language that shows the traces of Arabic, French (her third language), and personal appropriations of English.

-- Even if I can show that Buthainah’s usage belongs to a recognizable variety, SRTOL won’t apply to her. SRTOL recognizes only the “heritage of dialects” in this “nation.” Less prestigious varieties are affirmed on the basis that “A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects.” The explanatory document (published in a special issue of CCC in fall 1974) is also framed in relation to dialects of English in the US. I am not sure what to do about varieties from outside the USA. For this reason, students of Indian English, Jamaican English, and Nigerian English are also left in limbo.

-- It also doesn’t appear that Buthainah’s usage is one of those “dialects of . . . nurture” into which students are born or socialized. Buthainah’s is a performative act of shuttling between languages for temporary ownership, identity claims, functional purposes, and fluid community membership. She doesn’t have “native” status in this English usage, an important consideration for SRTOL.

-- SRTOL won’t let me encourage Buthainah’s current usage or its further development . SRTOL is largely a policy of tolerance rather than promotion. It says: “We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.” What it expects from teachers is sufficient sensitivity as to not denigrate or suppress less prestigious dialects. But how far should we go in affirming less prestigious dialects?

-- The pedagogical option recommended is to move such students gradually towards EAE for formal writing purposes, while affirming their community dialects for oral and in-group purposes. The explanatory version says:

Teachers should stress the difference between the spoken forms of American English and EAE because a clear understanding will enable both teachers and students to focus their attention on essential items. . . Students who want to write EAE will have to learn the forms identified with that dialect as additional options to the forms they already control. . . . Therefore it is necessary that we inform those students who are preparing themselves for occupations that demand formal writing that they will be expected to write EAE.

From this perspective, Buthainah’s argument that such usage is necessary for her voice in her academic writing seems to go a bit too far. Also, the binary distinction made between EAE and other varieties doesn’t permit the possibility of Buthainah meshing her preferred dialects with EAE. What I am left with is the following strategy: I can encourage her to use her preferred variety of English in conversations in informal and in-group contexts; however, I must teach her EAE for writing and formal purposes.

When I realize all this, I feel like dropping from my thoughts a more difficult question I have—i.e., whether I should encourage students from the dominant varieties of English in my class to develop intelligibility, if not proficiency, in Buthainah’s language. Shouldn’t all our students—both native and nonnative—develop their repertoire by familiarizing themselves with the varieties found in the classroom and society? SRTOL shows the limits of a “rights discourse” in relation to a “resource discourse.” While a rights-based policy simply affirms the existence or preservation of a different code or culture, a resource-based policy looks to develop and promote these codes and cultures for the mutual enrichment of the diverse communities in a polity.

Let me be clear: SRTOL, written and adopted in 1974, was far ahead of its time in articulating the connections between language, power, and pedagogy. However, today in the twenty-first century, it is beginning to show the traces of the dominant ideologies of its original context.

In terms of language, SRTOL is informed by a structuralist orientation. It focuses on systematized varieties of language, with a stabilized grammar. In this sense, languages are treated as separate and discrete entities. However, many of us now adopt a practice-based orientation, which posits languages as always in contact and influencing each other in subtle ways. Users negotiate the diverse languages in their context, leading to an ever-shifting and evolving emergent grammar (a term introduced by Paul Hopper in the late 1980's). Such hybridity and fluidity in language use provides more communicative possibilities beyond the highly structured inert products posited by structuralism.

The structuralist orientation leads to a sociolinguistics based on contextually appropriate norms for communicative success. Each domain has its own dialect or register that needs to be recognized and upheld. These norms are treated as different but equal. However, in contrast, a post-structuralist linguistics adopts a critical orientation to language that assumes nothing instrumental or value-free about norms. We now realize that the norms of certain domains favor some groups over others. Therefore, a poststructuralist linguistics treats norms as not settled but as persistently open to negotiation.

The hybridity in language that it affirms offers us more possibilities to bring values and voices from elsewhere into the discourses of specific domains, reframe the contexts and norms, and achieve our own interests. New developments in textuality have provided other answers to the question of what is appropriate or coherent in writing. The multimodal and multilingual nature of texts suggests that writing doesn’t have to involve only one dialect or the other.

SRTOL’s social vision was and continues to be circumscribed by national boundaries. It perceives the locus for policy making as the nation-state. It is for this reason that it doesn’t address the language use rights of migrant and transnational groups. It is also silent about the rights of languages other than English. Understandably, it doesn’t consider the need for students from the dominant language groups to learn the varieties of English, or even languages, outside the United States. In the current context of transnational production, finance, popular culture, and digital communication, Anglo-American students are compelled to negotiate diverse languages in their everyday life. The languages students from outside the US bring to American classrooms are a resource that should be harnessed and promoted—if for nothing else than the good of the nation, all language, and writing instruction.

Our professional organization has recognized these new developments and reaffirmed SRTOL in 2003 to acknowledge that the passing of time didn’t affect the relevance of this statement. Thus, in August 2006, it added an updated bibliography that addresses many of the social and philosophical changes we have seen since the adoption of the SRTOL in 1974 (see

Perhaps the next time we take up SRTOL for consideration, we should ask ourselves how we can build from its position of strength and its legacy of radical change to formulate a statement that addresses the language resources brought by the broader cohort of students we currently have in our classrooms, the multimodal and multilingual textualities that offer new possibilities for writing, and the expanded repertoires all of us need for transnational relations.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Realizing Diversity as an “Excitable Utterance”

Introductory Bio

Susan Miller is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Utah. She has directed writing there, at Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her books include Rescuing the Subject: An Introduction to Rhetoric and the Writer, which won the Journal of Advanced Composition Best Book award and has been re-published with new materials by Southern Illinois University Press. She wrote Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition, which won that JAC Best Book prize, the MLA Mina P. Shaughnessy prize for best theoretical book and the National Council of Teachers of English/CCCC Best Book award. Her Assuming the Positions: Cultural Pedagogy and the Politics of Ordinary Writing was named a Choice Best Academic Book and also shared the National Council of Teachers of English/CCCC Best Book award as one of two books that have twice received or shared this award. She has most recently published Trust in Texts: A Different History of Rhetoric and The Norton Book of Composition Studies.

She has been a University of Utah Bennion Public Service Professor, has served as academic advisor to the Board of a Salt Lake Jail literacy initiative, "Booked," and serves as Permanent Advisor to Salt Lake Community College's Community Writing Center. She has chaired a University of Utah Tanner Lecture and Utah's College of Humanities Committee on Gender. She has served as a member the Conference on College Composition and Communication Executive Committee, its Nominations Committee, and the James Berlin Dissertation Prize Committee. She also chaired the first Executive Committee of the Modern Language Association Division on the Teaching of Writing, has twice chaired the MLA Division on the History and Theory of Rhetoric and Composition, and has served twice as a member of the MLA Delegate Assembly.

Her teaching has focused on first-year composition and on initiating a range of courses in new graduate-level programs in rhetoric/composition. She also teaches the History of the Book in collaboration with the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, leads a creative writing workshop for university and community medical professionals, and sponsors a national summer writing retreat for doctors.

Blog Entry

I once taught an undergraduate whose legal research (she’s a lawyer now) analyzes the paradoxical results of legal exceptions to hearsay rules. Contrary to the usual dismissal of hearsay evidence, in domestic violence cases “excited utterances” (in the US, less clearly called “excitable speech”) are accepted as factual. In other words, the system--police and judges who process these events--automatically apply to them the scenarios of Law and Order scripts, which regularly portray fearful battered women who “won’t speak up,” or who will instead readily lie to make a point. So police and courts act on excited utterances (“He said he would blow my head off!”) that are often precisely “excited,” provoked, rhetorical statements that are treated legally as “truth,” completely apart from the larger relational contexts that produce them. This requirement, to accept excitable speech as fact, enforces a letter of the law that may destroy family relationships by casting people with complicated histories and many possible futures as the characters of a simple made-for-TV story. As teachers who highlight the nuances of language and its always-approximate constructions of realities, we notice this denial of rhetorical credibility to women, as to many other groups. Their language is often disenfranchised by a normative deafness that reads what we say through already expected identity politics.

I have also regretted excited utterances in my own teaching. This same student recently told me how she shared something I said in her class as an example of such political assumptions during a campus job interview. She told her hosts that in my literacy studies course, she had enthusiastically warmed to the class’s presumed purpose, thinking it would be teaching (at least partially) how to correct the language and thus improve the lives of the illiterate. When I began the course that semester by asking about literacy practices in the students’ hometowns, she replied, “In my school, I was the only one who ever read a book, or watched PBS, or kept up with news that wasn’t farm reports, or ever read fiction other than romances or mysteries. I was the only person who went to the one Shakespeare play.”
She then told her approving job interview hosts, “And she [referring to me] listened closely, thought a minute, and said, “Isn’t that a sort of fascist attitude toward your neighbors?” She met the job interviewers’ gasps (“You poor thing”) with the following response: “I was crushed. But I went home and thought about it a lot. She was right.”

It’s not much fun to realize that students often forget our names before the next term or that they so vividly recall words we don’t want repeated, ever, certainly never out of context and without explanation. My remembered “sort of fascist” phrase from long ago grated on my ears now—I was immediately defensive and righteously worried about my permanent record. But I also imagined that surely I had never again said anything like that to a student. In fact, I probably had, over time, learned caution about my vocabulary (if that is the test of never again saying “anything like that”). But juxtaposing her legal research results with this vivid anecdote, I can’t be so sure now.

On reflection, I understand better the intensity of my classroom response and its place in all my teaching about and through diversity. Like others writing in this blogging series, I am deeply marked by my childhood experience of diversity in maybe the world’s most foundationally complicated city, Washington, D.C. My thesaurus’s treatment of that word, diversity, includes the city’s local facts in evidence since its plotting in 1800: The term has always embodied range, variety, mixture, miscellany, and assortment, the word’s alternatives.

Washington, DC is a special place prescribed by the US Constitution, a “District of Columbia,” made for a federally collected, predominantly transient population. This national space was surveyed by an African American and planned by a French recruit to the Revolution. Refugees first populated it. Later and still, temporary residents have joined them in work that involves regularly scheduled arrivals and often-permanent departures after military, judicial, congressional, and executive assignments for the nation. Paradoxically, the relatively small contingent of detached civilians like my family and me experience such shifting circumstances as entirely normal. We are less surprised by differences than by similarities. Washington, DC is only rarely thought of as a place of original affiliations, or of a unified city spirit. Few temporary residents and visitors notice that it doesn’t have an unadulterated “image.”

Obviously, all of us under the guidance of institutional “diversity” have in some measure felt the demands of similar fluctuations. We have realized that similarities are as nuanced as differences, and that monolithic ethnic, racial, regional, sexual, religious, or for that matter, disciplinary identities are bygone fictions that cannot be retrieved. But these have also not yet been entirely replaced in assured ways. And even without noting these instabilities within ourselves, which are incrementally exposed by new biological and historical information, nor attending to new methods of posing and answering questions about identity, we have cooperatively and passively followed many dictionaries by thinking diversity is achieved as “variety”—as it is defined in a dictionary, as in one example, “a city of great cultural diversity.”

That same dictionary also separately defines the term as “social inclusiveness,” what I take to be the energy attached to the word in our institutions--CCCC and a larger cultural phenomenon, post-secondary education. But social inclusiveness is double-edged. The phrase attaches itself to separate, excluded groups that appear in the completion of this dictionary’s definition as follows: “ethnic variety [and] socioeconomic and gender variety, in a group, society, or institution.”

Dictionary “diversity” further acknowledges that the word implies “discrepancy.” In this closing dance step, the definition gets down: Diversity is “a difference from what is normal or expected.” Diversity is not entirely, with us, or with anyone, a “socially inclusive,” liberal acceptance of “the Other.” The sources of institutionalized diversity prevent it from being a surprising historic achievement that we can individually and collectively claim. Laws have mandated such acceptance, and people well-schooled in reason and generosity enacted that mandate. Its irrefutable evidence of our humanity as teachers visibly cooperates with the positions and projects that colleagues writing this blog about diversity have, thank goodness, imagined and enacted. The formerly praise-worthy idea of “tolerance” has quickly become uncomfortable for women and many others, who now assume we contribute to a normal, expected variety, and not as “tolerated” interlopers.

That is, diversity is not now a halcyon dream without successful, hard won, perpetual enactments. But by virtue of its built-in, often nurtured, “discrepancies,” it remains problematic. My obviously well-intentioned student enrolled in a literacy studies course that immediately put her in touch with her individuality (and thereby with evaluative convictions about those who were not meeting what she assumed were still institutionally expected, “educated,” norms).

As her teacher, I immediately expressed my “own” opinion about her individuality and her expectation. I asserted that categorizing others makes Others of us. Both of us ignored an obvious premise, that if we are to rewrite institutional structures and improve their results, we need relationships constituted by interactions with difference, unmediated by evaluative beliefs about superior and inferior cultural norms. Yet in most instances, we instead perceive language uses, sources of authority, preferred entertainments, and the aspirations of others as “not ours,” and we rank their significance or importance to us. We still occupy a mainland constituted by numerous accessible spaces of privilege that are nonetheless surrounded by discrete islands of difference and hierarchy.

This is to worry again about Ann Frank’s adolescent and ultimately deadly belief that people are (all) really good at heart. Experience teaches us that both insiders and outsiders are capable of sexism, racism, and especially of unacknowledged classism that encourages us to “treat” with tolerance and lessons those who are outside what we take to be our indispensable boundaries. Yet as my student’s mature legal research argues, we, and “socially inclusive” diversity itself also have a rhetorical identity well apart from “excited utterances.” Our shared interests across many diverse groups can determine the elections, curricular choices, supported research, and community projects of our organizations. Obviously, those interests are themselves always shifting, rhetorically selected, ways to form relationships with each other.

Walter Benn Michaels' The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, 2006; Jesse Stuart's, The Thread That Runs So True: A Mountain School Teacher Tells His Story, 1950; and Lisa Delpit's article, "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children," (1988), represent a few suggested titles on diversity that reflect some of the reading and writing for this blog post.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where Real Indians Trade

Introductory Bio

Resa Crane Bizzaro is a member and Co-Chair of the CCCC Native American Caucus, and her research focuses on Native American identity. Bizzaro studies the rhetorics of unenrolled Native Americans in this country, focusing on exclusions determined by both U.S. and tribal governments. In particular, her work comments on the loss of rhetorical power and sovereignty indigenous nations in this country face by refusing membership to those people who cannot demonstrate an appropriate blood quantum. Among a variety of research interests, Bizzaro is currently at work on a project that looks at indigenous peoples and their treatment by the established medical profession, more specifically in the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy. In 2008, Bizzaro joined the faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she is a member of the IUP Native American Awareness Council. Bizzaro is also one of the founders of "Blankets for the Elders," a non-profit organization that collects blankets, coats, warm clothing, and heaters for distribution at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Resa's work has appeared in College English, College Composition and Communication, and a number of edited collections.

Blog Entry

Just before we entered the station in central New Mexico, an old building appeared on my left. I moved to the train’s window to get a better look—block walls crumbling, iron bars rusting over empty windows, and letters fading but still decipherable:

Trading Station
Once white with red letters, the walls had collapsed on either side, making many of the letters near the margins illegible. I sat stunned at the scene outside my window. Too late, I reached for my camera, but the train slid past leaving the small station empty. I vowed to be ready on the return trip that afternoon

As I think back on that experience, I am reminded of my own "real Indian" heritage. Although many people mistake me for a descendant of European immigrants, I am a real Indian (Cherokee and Meherrin, to be exact), and it’s unsettling to see reminders in New Mexico of the hardships and accommodations made by my family in Georgia and North Carolina. When I was about ten, I found out that my paternal great grandmother was Cherokee. What I didn’t find out until nearly thirty-five years later—while looking through the Dawes Roll—was that my paternal grandmother (the daughter-in-law) was Cherokee, as well. When I was in college, I was told by a researcher that my mother’s family was most likely Meherrin, a small indigenous nation that had initially been thought to have “washed out” into the dominant population of eastern North Carolina.

Over the years, this knowledge has explained many things to me about my life, and it has brought me closer to those who are more like me. Most often, I feel more comfortable with indigenous peoples, who tend to share the same values I was taught growing up. While my parents may have been ashamed of their ancestry, and made every effort to “pass” as part of the dominant culture, I am not. I claim my heritage because it is my birthright. I feel obligated to speak out for those who are unenrolled but feel tied to these communities whose ways we have learned, albeit unwittingly.

My commitment to my culture and my overt practice of its ways have influenced how I approach life, teaching, and interactions in my communities. I do not separate these areas, for one thing, and I find that my life is like a spiral which incorporates and accommodates all these areas. I share this notion not only with indigenous peoples but also with Rebecca Dingo, who discusses ways in which we are all interconnected.

Alma Villanueva says “diversity is a way of seeing and being in the world,” and it seems to me that I have followed such a path my entire life. My grandparents and parents impressed upon me that I should respect all people, since I can’t always understand what prompts their ways. I was also taught that there is more than one “correct” way to achieve the same end—a lesson that I try to impart to my students, particularly in our use of language.

In the classroom, I make an effort to talk about language use and its consequences. Although I see it as my responsibility to discuss Standard Written English (SWE), I support the use of World Englishes. I have recently signed my name to a call for perceiving English from a world perspective—with multiple appearances, uses, and functions and variable meanings. Since I teach in a program that includes many international students, I see the necessity of such an approach. If English is to colonize the world—as it inevitably will, as it becomes the lingua franca among nations—then we must be amenable to the changes that will inevitably appear in its usage. These changes will occur even if we restrict our use of English to native speakers.

But the consequences of non-standard usage are played out at many levels. In teaching at several universities, I have seen placement “tests” which marginalize speakers of non-standard forms or those whose first language is not English. Typically, at places I have taught, students who use non-standard dialects are placed into low-level, non-credit courses in which they must demonstrate their abilities to use edited American English prior to their release into mainstream writing classes. These students’ struggles remind me of my own experiences in high school, where a teacher predicted that I would “flunk out ... [of college] before the end of the first semester” due to my “poor language abilities.”

In reading other blog entries here, I find that I agree with Malea Powell (and others) who maintain that they do not “add” diversity to their classrooms. Honoring all cultures and communication approaches is something I strive to achieve in my classroom, no matter the student or text. I do, however, feel the necessity of pointing out what values the dominant culture places upon written communication—being careful to design assignments that accommodate personal, regional, and cultural dialects, alongside standard written English (SWE). The use of SWE is an area in which my students demand instruction, as they have seen the direct consequences of an inability to communicate using the language of the dominant culture.

My research adds to my understanding of the importance of an ability to use and understand this language. Like Victor Villanueva, I believe there are serious aesthetic, social, political, and rhetorical consequences for others when the language of the dominant culture marginalizes groups of citizens. My research demonstrates the effects of the historical and contemporary language that denies acknowledgement of unenrolled indigenous peoples in their respective nations. Not only does this lack of acceptance affect those who are unenrolled, it also affects indigenous nations whose rhetorical power would swell as their numbers increase if we are all counted.

While I could go on about how my research is impacted by language and issues of “diversity,” I think it’s more important to return to where my insights and actions have been most useful (to my way of thinking) and most directly beneficial. Based on research into language used to describe indigenous peoples, I began looking at living conditions on reservated lands—sovereign ground belonging to indigenous nations such as the pueblo where Kewa Station is located.

During a conversation with my Lakota-Cheyenne friend, Marji, in 2003, I discovered that Native Americans in South Dakota endured severe winter conditions with little protection; however, one blanket might keep a person from freezing to death. Together we established Blankets for the Elders, a non-profit group which collects blankets to ship to a distribution point in Pine Ridge. Although Blankets for the Elders has now fallen under the umbrella of a larger non-profit organization, our group's efforts have continued, despite my move to Pennsylvania in 2008. Currently, we're considering opening "Blankets North," so I can manage donations of warm clothing for children. I feel called to this work because of my interests in diversity and the need for my life to reflect that interest in helping people move out of poverty.

Three hours later, we approached the Kewa Station again. I had my camera in my hand, prepared to press the on button, when I heard the conductor over the loudspeaker: “Kewa Station; please gather your belongings and move to the lower levels of the train cars. And as a reminder, you are now on indigenous lands. You are not permitted to take pictures while the train passes through this area.” I was confused; no one earlier had announced our location or the prohibition on photography. Some people cared; some people didn't. But I understood that I could not capture a picture of a relic of what must surely be the long-gone past.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How Writing Centers Create Mini-Successes for Language Diversity and Latin@ Students

Introductory Bio

Paula Gillespie is an associate professor of English and the director for of the Center of Excellence in Writing at Florida International University since July, 2009. Prior to that she was a faculty member and directed the writing center at Marquette University. While there, she served on a subcommittee of the Diversity Task Force: “Attracting and Retaining a Diverse Faculty.” She has served as the secretary and then president of the International Writing Centers Association and has served on the Executive Committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. With Neal Lerner, she is the co-author of The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring, now in its second edition. She is the co-editor of Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation, which won the IWCA prize for outstanding scholarship. She and Brad Hughes designed the IWCA Summer Institute, which she has co-chaired three times. She and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Maine have been conducting a study on the short- and long-term effects of peer tutoring on tutors. She has consulted and/or led workshops on writing centers, writing, and peer tutoring in Germany, Greece, and Mexico.

Blog Entry

One year and one month ago I made a move that was as much a seismic shift as a transplantation. After 29 very happy years at Marquette University, a private Jesuit school set in downtown Milwaukee, I took a job as director of the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University, a public university often ranked the most diverse in the country.

Our FIU students come in every skin color imaginable. Of its 40,455 students in fall of 2009, 75% are classified as racial/ethnic minorities. Perhaps more telling is that 30% of these students come from families with an annual income of under $30,000. Many have gone to elementary and high schools in the poorest sections of Miami. Many are international, but are not middle-class, international students attending a US university, planning to return to home countries. Ours are multilingual students who might be the children of refugees, families that left their homelands under duress or who were forced to emigrate. They often bring with them the nostalgia and longing for a home they will never see again, and a sense that others have destroyed their homeland (Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, 2001).

In addition, the barriers of a new language make them feel alienated, silenced, and alone. In their homelands their parents may well have been successful professionals, but here, to assure that their children will get a good education, they take menial jobs at low pay. Many FIU students often work, not just to finance their educations, but sometimes to help support parents and/or children. At home they may speak and read fluently in Spanish or another language, but at school they struggle to find a word in English and feel ashamed when they make a mistake. Some say that in spite of their seeming fluency, they are never sure of themselves when they speak or write.

At the start of the academic year at Marquette in 2008-2009, I had no idea that I was headed for FIU. But while still at Marquette, I was fascinated by the work of a visiting Association of Marquette University Women (ASMU) Chair whose specialty is the retention of Latin@ (her term) students, Professor Alberta Gloria. Once I heard her speak briefly on her research, I felt that there was a close tie between what she asserted as the needs of Latin@ students and the needs of writers who seek the services of writing centers, both native and non-native speakers. Her work reminded me of the writings of Lisa Delpit and Gloria Ladson-Billings on the student retention of minority students. By the time she gave her open-to-the-public lecture at the end of her one-year stay, I knew I was headed for a new position in the Writing Center at FIU. By that time, Dr. Gloria's lecture and report of her year at Marquette were all the more relevant to me.

Alberta Gloria and her colleagues feel that changes must be made in American universities: that Latin@ students are blamed for their lack of success, are stereotyped, and do not so much drop out as they are pushed out of institutions. Her studies focused on students who did not have the standard advantages deemed necessary to success in college, but yet who persisted and graduated. Latin@ students, such as those at FIU, succeed by creating communities for themselves, and find mentors and role models who understand and respect their cultures. They find ways to achieve mini-successes, and these factors sustain them during dark times in college.

Immediately, when Dr. Gloria arrived at Marquette, she sought out the multi-cultural center, looked into the Latin@ student organizations, attended, helped publicize, and supported their events, involved her students in her research, and took them to conferences with her. Marquette was not a Hispanic-serving institution, as FIU is, but with and for the students, she created a metaphorical space where they could achieve mini-successes. She offered herself as mentor, role model, and cheering section.

This, to me, is the vital link between her theories and the work of writing centers. It sounded very much like the arguments Nancy Grimm has been advocating in both her written work (Good Intentions: Writing Center Work for Postmodern Times.) and conference presentations: we should be willing to go to some worthwhile lengths to make a writing center a diverse site, to focus on relationship in the center (such as Grimm's book on writing centers. Creating opportunities for Latin@s and others to encounter tutors like themselves pays big dividends

At writing centers, we educate our undergraduate and graduate consultants to talk with writers, not just to focus on the texts they bring us and hope we will fix. We engage them in conversations and in so doing help them to deepen and intensify their understanding of their subject matter. The high-order concerns we deal with often call for Bruffean kinds of conversations about the topic, the assignment, and their understanding of the goals for a written piece. But this experience in writing centers offers us rich opportunities to show writers that we are interested in Latin@ students, both in their cultures and in their traditions. When we praise elements of their writing, we actually create mini-successes for them.

At FIU, the tutors are more likely to speak Spanish – or French, or Creole - than English as a first language. Our tutors’ home countries include India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Honduras, Dominica, and Colombia. Some are L 1.5, having learned one dominant language at home and another at school or in the playground. FIU tutors are able to empathize with non-native speaking writers because they have been there, and they are willing to say so.

The tutors may even hold a discussion in Spanish to put the Writing Center student at ease. They may ask for a Spanish word that is eluding the writer in English, and then use a translation program to help find the right English word: “Yeah, I have trouble with prepositions, too, and when I do, this is the resource I use,” they often say to these students who seek help. In effect, our tutors serve as mentors for their writing, and as role models, someone like them who has succeeded and attained a level of expertise that helps them.

Latin@s and other international students fit in our writing center. They hang out and write there, hoping that between sessions they’ll be able to ask a quick question, or just overhear some good advice given to someone else. Some writers make our center their home away from home, a place they go to study. Most writing centers have a strong sense of community within and among staffers; our community, like many others, includes the writers.

Our tutors care deeply about one another. To them, skin color is perhaps the least important element in their relationships with one another and with writers. Still, many of them, tutors as well as writers, do not live on campus but have to return to their homes in a high-stakes city, where a lapse into academic English may be looked at as a rejection of their neighborhoods, of their home communities. Lesson: keep a keen eye on your code-switching. Many of my students have not yet used their education to buy their way out of their poorer neighborhoods. In fact, many of these students love their neighborhoods and would never leave them. But others can’t wait to leave. Some students face anti-Islamic biases; some have to struggle to protect their children from danger, and, of course, some are threatened by the renewed fervor for immigration reform.

The learning curve is steep here for me as a White professor; I don’t know and can’t discern my students’ own stratifications, but they are generous, open, committed, and caring. Like many minority communities, they care enough to help educate me. Mutual respect is the first and most significant phrase that I stress on the first day of my tutor education class, and I can see eyes widen when I urge future tutors to respect the beloved mother tongue a writer might bring in. I can see them relax into themselves when they realize that not only are they expected to respect others, but that their languages, their customs, their families are to be respected, too. They have important work to do, and they do it with excellence.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Our New Fall Series Will Begins on September 16

The "CCCC Conversations on Diversity" will begin a fall series with new, bi-weekly guest writers on diversity issues on Thursday, September 16. See you again soon. :)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Cultural Diversity in American Life, CCCC, and NCTE

Introductory Bio

Duane Roen is Professor of English at Arizona State University (ASU) where he serves as Head of Interdisciplinary and Liberal Studies in the School of Letters and Sciences. At ASU he has also served as Head of Humanities and Arts; Director of Composition; Co-Director of the graduate program in Rhetoric, Composition, and Linguistics; Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence; Coordinator of the Project for Writing and Recording Family History; and President of the Academic Senate. At Syracuse University he served as Director of the Writing Program. At the University of Arizona, he was founding Director of the graduate program in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English, as well as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English.

Roen serves as Secretary of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), as well as Vice President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA). He has written extensively about writing curricula, pedagogy, and assessment; writing program administration; writing across the curriculum; and collaboration, among other topics. In addition to more than 200 articles, chapters, and conference papers, Duane has published eight books, including Composing Our Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Stories About the Growth of a Discipline (with Theresa Enos and Stuart Brown); Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition [NCTE] (with Lauren Yena, Susan K. Miller, Veronica Pantoja, and Eric Waggoner); Views from the Center: The CCCC Chairs’ Addresses, 1977-2005.

Blog Entry

When I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in the 1950s, I had little awareness of human diversity. Most of the people I knew were descendants of Norwegian immigrants who arrived in the United States in the 1860s. Most were dairy farmers who lived within a few miles of my home. I first became vaguely aware of human diversity in the fifth grade at Willow Hill School, a one-room country school that enrolled children who lived on neighboring dairy farms. Approximately half of the children in the school had the same surname—Roen. When I was in fifth grade, all students in grades one through eight studied the US Civil War. Although I don’t recall many of the historical details that we learned in that unit, I do recall learning about some of the factors that led to the armed conflict that raged from 1861 to 1865.

As an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (which was far more diverse than anything that I had experienced before), I enrolled in courses in which we studied literature by and about people from underrepresented groups. Those courses, taught by lifelong NCTE member Nick Karolides set the stage for my master’s degree thesis, “Cultural Diversity in American Life,” which laid out a year-long course for high school students. When I taught English at New Richmond High School in Wisconsin from 1972 to 1977, I co-taught the course titled Cultural Diversity in American Life with Clark Anderson, a colleague from social science, and Mary Rivard, a colleague from art. It was an eye-opening experience for juniors and seniors who had previously had relatively few opportunities to read, write, and talk about human diversity. In the course students studied cultural backgrounds that were new to them.

I began this blog entry with some personal background because it helps to explain my current perspectives on human diversity and its role in CCCC and NCTE. During my career, both organizations have provided resources to help elementary, secondary, and college teachers develop curricula and pedagogical approaches that introduce students to diversity and its importance.

The organizations’ journals, books, position statements, and conferences offer opportunities to learn about diversity. For example, in the mid 1970s, I did a presentation at the annual NCTE conference to share my experiences in teaching the high school course Cultural Diversity in American Life. I also remember how useful it was to have the NCTE position statement titled “Resolution on the Students' Right to Their Own Language” ( when it became available after the NCTE annual business meeting in New Orleans in 1974. That statement has helped thousands of teachers make the case that linguistic diversity should be valued and celebrated.

In 2007, I had the honor to serve on the NCTE Task Force to Advance and Support Members of Color with distinguished colleagues from across the country—Beverly Chin, Amanda Espinosa-Aguilar, Sharon Floyd, Maria Franquiz, Patsy Hall, R. Joseph Rodriguez, Anna Roseboro, Sharon Washington (Facilitator), and Kent Williamson (NCTE Executive Director, who offered invaluable support to the task force). When the task force submitted its report to the NCTE Executive Committee, the response was enthusiastic, resulting in initiatives such as the NCTE Leadershift Awards (

Of course, the work of the task force is only one of many NCTE efforts to promote diversity, as evidenced by the organization’s twenty-nine resolutions, policy statements, and position statements on diversity ( Further, among professional organizations in the language arts, both NCTE and CCCC have relatively strong records of electing members of color for leadership roles—officers and executive committee members.

When I look at my own state, Arizona, I appreciate the importance of professional organizations that promote diversity. At times, Arizona’s political leaders struggle to come to terms with the rich human diversity in the state, passing laws that suggest a devaluing of diversity—e.g., Senate Bill 1070 (, which requires state and local law officers to enforce federal immigration laws, and House Bill 2281 ( and which bans some forms of ethnic studies in public schools

Such legislation reminds us that professional organizations have much work to do. Of course, as tax-exempt organizations, NCTE and CCCC cannot actively lobby for or against legislation, but our organizations can and should continue to provide resources that help people understand the importance of diversity in a healthy democracy.

Individual CCCC members can support diversity in the organization. For example, the editors of the NCTE collection Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition have donated all their royalties to the Scholars for the Dream Travel Award fund ( which helps up to ten new scholars from underrepresented groups attend the March convention each year. Other individuals support diversity in CCCC by serving on critical committees and task forces. In my many conversations with the CCCC officers in recent years, I have come to appreciate the officers’ individual and collective commitments to diversity in the organization.

In addition, individual CCCC members can also become involved in their local communities to promote diversity. For example, my service includes conducting workshops on writing about family history. Participants write about their families’ experiences, often celebrating the diversity of their loved ones. Because these workshops draw a wide range of individuals, participants have opportunities to hear about experiences that are both similar to and different from their own.

Our organizations can also continue to help students to develop the skills and knowledge that will serve them well in a diverse world—communication, leadership, ethics, global awareness, critical thinking, information literacy, problem solving. These skills and knowledge sets will serve not only individual learners but also the wider world in which they apply their personal learning. Diversity thrives in cultures that value such skills and knowledge. But, importantly, it founders when such learning is absent.

As we think specifically about CCCC’s role in promoting diversity in the future, we can ask ourselves the following kinds of questions:

1. How can CCCC most effectively reach out to nonmembers with diverse backgrounds to encourage them to join the organization?

2. What more can CCCC do to encourage greater diversity in the membership?

3. What more can CCCC do to mentor new members from diverse backgrounds to encourage them to become future leaders of the organization?

4. What additional committees and task forces ( could CCCC establish to foster diversity?

5. What other kinds of sessions at the annual CCCC conference will foster further discussion of diversity?

6. What additional curricular materials can CCCC make available to support college writing teachers who wish to explore topics of diversity in their courses?

7. How can CCCC most effectively use the MemberWeb resources ( to share information about diversity?

8. What else can CCCC do with social media to promote diversity within and outside the organization?

9. How can CCCC most effectively use the National Gallery of Writing ( to promote diversity both within and outside the organization?

10. How can CCCC most effectively partner with other professional organizations to develop synergistic relationships that will foster diversity?

11. What additional Webinars could CCCC sponsor to promote diversity?

12. How can CCCC leaders work most effectively with the caucuses ( to promote diversity?

13. What additional awards could CCCC offer to promote diversity?

14. How can individual CCCC members most effectively support diversity in the organization?

15. How can individual CCCC members work with community groups to support diversity in their localities?

16. How can CCCC most effectively embrace the widest possible range of voices in conversations about diversity?

17. How can CCCC foster the most mutually respectful discussions about diversity?

These questions are not meant to imply that CCCC is falling short in any area. Rather, they are intended to encourage further thinking and discussion about possible initiatives that CCCC could pursue. I look forward to reading your comments and responses to this post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

“To Be Real”

Introductory Bio

Joseph Janangelo is immediate past President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators ( and associate professor of English at Loyola University Chicago where he teaches courses in composition, theory, and visual rhetoric. His publications include Resituating Writing: Constructing and Administering Writing Programs (with Kristine Hansen) and Theoretical and Critical Perspectives on Teacher Change. Joe's articles have appeared in such journals as College Composition and Communication, College English, Journal of Teaching Writing, Rhetoric Review, and WPA: Writing Program Administration. A longtime volunteer tutor for children living at Chicago House (a residence for families impacted by HIV/AIDS) and for adults incarcerated at Chicago's correctional facilities, Joe has often seen evincing support for some of the ideas and ideals that get called "diversity." In this blog, Joe and his friend Professor Doug Hesse debate that contested and mercurial concept.

Blog Entry

I begin with the saying: “difference is the difference that makes a difference.” Of those words, we might wonder: what makes a difference for whom and to what? In asking such questions, our work both flounders and flourishes.

To me, diversity is not a thing; it’s not a SIG, a journal’s special issue, or a specific initiative. I suggest configuring diversity as viral--everywhere at once--multiply situated (comprising ethnicity, gender, sexuality, faith, experience, age, and aspirations/inhibitions) and peripatetic--always traveling, visiting, planting, threatening and, for some, behaving parasitically.

As teachers, we might ask: if diversity is so complicated, then how can we be inclusive while getting things done? One way is to visit its interests on every committee–to ask as we work--who might see or have problems working and living with the ideas, approaches or artifacts under discussion? That could mean seeing the difficulties, complications, and resentments within the alleged “opportunities.”

Two texts inform this view. One is Karen H. Anthony’s Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession. Anthony discusses architecture—the spaces where we live and work—and notes that most structures are made for one kind of user, the able-bodied heterosexuals. She warns that “ironically, unless drastic changes are made, the profession will likely continue to alienate those diverse members that it needs most” (181).

Another text is Harry C. Denney’s Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring. Denny describes writing centers as sites of diversity in action and in partial hiding, because identities are developed across perceptions of race and ethnicity, class, sex and gender, and nationality. Admirably self-critical, Denny writes that he “tend[s] toward warm and fuzzy conversations about diversity that raise consciousness but rarely upset or threaten—especially myself” (33). Admitting privilege/vulnerability as a white gay man, he wants students and tutors to work together by “parlaying shared experiences to new contexts, rhetorical conversations, and academic genres.” He writes, “The trick to pulling off that sort of conversation is honoring experience without the student coming to feel objectified or patronized” (79).

Seeding Change

Anthony's and Denny’s work resonated when Joyce Middleton asked me, “What experiences with the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) have informed your concept of diversity?” At CWPA, our members, Executive Board, and leaders work to make our organization more open to the needs of the staff, faculty, and student constituencies we serve (in both a responsive and anticipatory sense). Our work includes:

Seeking and Valuing Intake
WPA continually experiments with ways of learning about, and acting on, members’ concerns. Our conference features a session called “WPA Listens,” where members discuss their mentoring needs and volunteer their expertise. In other sessions called “Meet the Executive Board,” members raise their concerns with 4-5 Board members in informal conversations. We also use idea cards (a practice started by past President Shirley Rose) so that members’ needs can immediately direct our organizational actions.

Focusing on the Work, Not the Title

Much WPA scholarship takes university models as tacit design concepts. Jeff Klausman
(Whatcom Community College) and I are currently conducting interviews to learn about WPA work at community-colleges which are often undervalued sites of creativity and instruction.

Mentoring Diversity

Since 2009, Tim Dougherty (a graduate student at Syracuse University), Michele Eodice (immediate past president of the International Writing Centers Association), Duane Roen (Arizona State University, Vice-President CWPA), Sheldon Walcher (Roosevelt University) and I have collaborated on “The WPA Mentoring Project.” As co-chairs, we approach mentoring from multiple perspectives. Recognizing that our members are multiply situated, we don’t assume that one definition or approach fits many, much less all, graduate students, adjunct and full-time teachers, Writing Center Directors, and WPAs.

To invite conversation, we circulate online surveys (designed by Sheldon) to get membership input about things WPA needs to change or improve. We then post our findings at This post helps us to find members' suggestions for organizational action. So far this has resulted in redesigning signature events (for example, the WPA Breakfast is becoming more interactive than ever), and there are more member-driven sessions at the WPA Conference. Another strategy we use is to thread inclusive comments into our pre-conference institutes. In 2008, WPA offered an institute to help teachers address the needs of English Language Learners. In 2009, we invited Doug Hesse, Susanmarie Harrington and Duane Roen to lead an institute to help experienced WPAs achieve mid-career renewal.

Lest this sound like unfettered good news, let’s remember Anthony’s idea that without major change, organizations “continue to alienate those diverse members that it needs most” (181). Those “warm and fuzzy conversations” (33) may leave people “feeling objectified or patronized” (Denny 79). My hope is that we can use any “progress” as provocations for more change.

The following ideas are on my "keep (re)doing” list:

--Be leery of inherited designs. Re-read your organization’s documents and practices with a critical eye and revise them as needed;

--Make changes, but don’t simply design or re-design changes for people, but with them. Use conversations and technology for intake; then circulate the “findings” (which are also narrations) for scrutiny and critique;

--Understand that people have good reasons to be unhappy with professional organizations. Listen when members say why they are discontent; ask former members why they left. Recognize that struggle and resentment are often fueled by histories of invisibility and mistreatment; recognize that anger can be an energizing source of purpose, creativity and change;

--Become critical readers and authors of your organization’s story. If your organization wants to diversify, ask yourselves, “what are we really trying to do?” If the answer is to grow your organization or to retain members, start again.

A case in point: In the ADE Bulletin (2008), “The Color of Leadership and the Shape of the Academy: Talent Search 101,” Dolan Hubbard notes that African American scholars are in high demand. But he also states that many universities can pay this “talent” more than the HBCUs can. Therefore, Hubbard writes (citing Doug Steward in the ADE Bulletin of 2006) “it is in our enlightened self-interest as a profession to improve ‘the pathways to faculty careers in English for African Americans and other minorities.” Here difference makes a difference, but for whom? What’s really changed when most universities can outbid most HBCUs?

I’ll close by suggesting that it is critical to keep finding and probing the provocations within any successful moment or success story. Teachers and students are optimists; we’re good at giving change and reconciliation many chances to work. But optimism should also embrace vigilance, even if that embrace is painful. If it makes sense that diversity is viral and peripatetic, then learning more about it may give us some unsuspected means for noticing, responding to, and anticipating the many opportunities for indignity--and for dignity and good will--which abound in our students’and our own lives. To be real and to move forward would involve the hard work of re-reading and revising our defining documents (e.g. mission statements, committee charges) and practices to learn more about the founding designs and (de)evolving deployments that helped get us “here” in the first place.

Note: A year ago, I invited Doug Hesse write a response to this blog, but after an extended editing process that required trimming this entry, Doug asked me to cut his section. He's posted it online, and you can read it at

Friday, July 09, 2010

Re-membering White Privilege: Rhetorical Memory and Film

Introductory Bio

Tammie Kennedy is an assistant professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. She teaches graduate courses in rhetoric and composition studies, as well as undergraduate courses in film, writing, and rhetoric. Her scholarly interests focus on the intersections among rhetoric and composition pedagogies and critical race and gender studies, particularly how those who are marginalized manage to speak, write, and perform in ways that challenge dominant culture. She has regularly presented at CCCC, and has published her work in Rhetoric Review, JAC, and the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Currently, she is working on several projects that demonstrate how the generative, critical, and embodied qualities of memory have not been sufficiently engaged in rhetoric and composition studies. In particular, she is writing about how rhetorical memory provides a critical tool for students to analyze, disrupt, and revise truth claims often represented in traditional bodies of knowledge.

Blog Entry

As someone committed to whiteness studies and anti-racist pedagogies, I am interested in understanding how memory might address some of the frustrations I’ve experienced when teaching diversity issues. Recently, I’ve been exploring how films might be used more productively in ways that disrupt the rhetoric of racism and white privilege and sustain ethical social action. Rhetorical memory—the products and processes of remembering and their effect, or “re-memory” to use Toni Morrison’s term—provides a critical tool to investigate how whiteness circulates (in)visibly in films and how those images resonate in our memories. Rhetorical memory provides a conceptual platform from which to stage a critique about how the ideology of racism/white privilege is rooted in memory—what is remembered, by whom, for what purposes, and with what effect—and how these memories are put into discourse in ways that that shape our notions of “reality,” as well as our perceptions of self(s) and others(s). I believe rhetorical memory can enrich and expand the productive use of film in whiteness pedagogies.

When talking about identity and difference in film, I ask students to examine the links between the politics of remembering and the ideology of representation. In this way, films function as a technology of rhetorical memory that empowers students to interpret and analyze how public and private memories are complicated by our differences. Analyzing films from this perspective moves students beyond a cognitive understanding of social inequities and injustices to create a more “memorable” experience that might last after the class ends. Films appeal to the emotions, revealing both the generative and destructive effects of their construction. Such constructions have profound results on both individual and public memory, which Robert Burgoyne explains this way: “Film, in effect, appears to invoke the emotional certitude we associate with memory. Like memory, film is associated with the body; it engages the viewer at the somatic level, immersing the spectator in experiences and impressions that, like memories, seem to be [what Nietzsche calls] ‘burned in.’” Understanding how these images get “burned in” our individual and collective memory is important because it helps viewers understand how white privilege and racism is sustained as a cultural norm that conceals power and resists exposure.

In order to study rhetorical memory as well as explore the intersections among diversity, memory, and movies, I created a 300-level course called Rhetoric, Memory, and Popular Film. Here is an excerpt from the course description:

The blurring of memory and media representations bring up new questions for us to consider: How do movies shape human memory? How are memories represented in film? In addition, how does film function as memory? How does memory affect the way we see the world and ourselves? How do movies make memory vulnerable to ideological forces at the same time that they invite contestation and revision? Throughout the course, we will ask how movie memories shape our identities as individuals, community members, and national and global citizens.

To demonstrate the pedagogical power found at the intersection among whiteness studies, rhetorical memory, and film, I’ll share a class example based on Forrest Gump (FG). This 1994 film earned significant commercial and critical success but was also adopted by political conservatives such as Newt Gingrich to articulate a traditional version of postwar American history. Because most students have seen the movie and consider it a harmless comedy, FG provides an ideal text to use to locate and interpret how white privilege is “re-membered.” For example, the class discussed the following issues after watching the movie:

• Is Forrest Gump, as Robyn Wiegman argues in “Whiteness Studies and the Paradox of Particularity,” rendered “discursively black” through the analogy between disability and black social disenfranchisement? If so, do viewers remember him as anti-racist figure because he innocently participates in desegregation and has an interracial male friendship with Bubba?

• Does the film, as Thomas Byers asserts in “History Re-Membered: Forrest Gump, Postmodern Masculinity, and the Burial of Counterculture,” construct a concensus view of American history based upon the authority of the white father and the marginalization of the black, female, gay, and radical “other”?

• What does it mean that Forrest was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the KKK? Even though Forrest views these men as part of a “club” that ran around in bed sheets, pretending to be “ghosts or spooks or something,” does the film provide a critique of white privilege, or does it take the easy way out by portraying the Klan as “silly,” not vicious?

Examining Forrest Gump as a figure of what John Fiske calls “circulation and contestation” inspires engaged classroom discussions, and students were willing to explore these various interpretations. However, the discussion also revealed the hegemonic power of whiteness in many student reactions. Ultimately, after 20-30 minutes of enthusiastic dialogue, much of the conversation stalled in some of the typical ways: First, a few students insisted that the movie was a just a comedy and academics were “reading too much into it.” While these same students granted that the movie was essentially “whitewashing” the roles of African Americans and women in our collective memory, they also maintained that was the nature of movies—a movie can’t cover everything. Second, since the movie is a fictional comedy, it doesn’t have to be true, so not all of these issues matter. Finally, some students introduced notions of intentionality. They maintained that the director “didn’t mean to be racist” even if, paradoxically, his choices created such representations.
Here we were again.

After such a productive discussion where students were able to locate whiteness, I was disappointed that we had ended up—once again—adrift within the various intonations of denial. While it wasn’t necessarily important to make a case that the director was “racist” in his intentions, it was essential to examine why many of the students felt compelled to defend the film with the argument “the filmmaker didn’t mean to be racist.” After all, whiteness sustains its power through one’s blind spots to racism and white privilege that reflect deeply held and often unconscious biases. Furthermore, the “s/he-didn’t-mean-to-be-racist” defense is less persuasive when we consider that “intentions” don’t necessarily matter when we consider how ideologies are written in discourses. In fact, this type of defense only makes sense in a world where white privilege is normal.

But then something different happened. Because we had been looking at films through the lens of rhetorical memory and noting how powerfully a film’s construction shaped our individual and collective memories, I was able to stage a different kind of critique that moved us beyond the usual impasse. I asked, “but what about memory?” How is this film shaping the way people remember important historical events and their relationship to the present? How are white ideologies more powerful in FG given the fact that mediated memory functions like what some psychologists calls “flashbulb memories”—intensely vivid and emotionally charged responses that enhance their resonance and read as “real” like a documentary?

The spirited conversation resumed. We started discussing our previous readings about how movies construct both individual and collective memory. Through rhetorical memory, we see how films like FG transform the past by eliminating contradictory or unwanted memories and prioritizing those more favorable or useful. Such a process describes the rhetoric of white privilege/racism. In addition, we discussed how “memories” are often the memory of a mediated experience in the first place, which makes it more difficult to determine “fact” from “fiction.” For example, we discussed how many of our memories of 9/11 are based on the media images and how those intersected with our personal memories, such as where we were when we first experienced the collapse of the Towers or if we knew people in NYC who were affected.

Then I offered the students this statistic from a TV Nation study quoted in Wang: "34% of Americans who voted Republican in the 1994 congressional elections thought that Gump was not a fictional version of ‘60s history, but a documentary.” The students went silent for a minute while they pondered that percentage. Many of them recognized that they had a similar experience the week before when we studied JFK and admitted that they had remembered it as a documentary film, not fiction-based. By the end of class, the students had resumed their critical conversation about how a film like FG maintains white privilege. In fact, they agreed that films like FG make white privilege even more invisible (and scary) for two reasons. First, because the film uses digital and mediated images that read like “real” memory, people forget it’s fictional. Second, because the film seems like a harmless comedy, viewers tend to overlook biases and ideological assumptions and implications

Most of the students agreed that while we can read and interpret the meaning of various choices made to construct white ideologies, questions of interpretation are more profound when we also consider how digital and mediated memory in films construct the ways we re-member a certain decade, event, or person. I am optimistic about the ways rhetorical memory can inform how we theorize and teach diversity issues. The focus on the rhetorical nature of memory has helped to augment classroom critiques and productively redirect discussions about white privilege and the power of ideology, even in the most seemingly innocent films. I would love to hear how other scholar-teachers use film and memory in their work on diversity issues.

Friday, July 02, 2010

What Are Some Suggestions from Your Summer Reading List on Diversity?

Editor’s Note from Joyce:

Please reply as often as you'd like over these weeks in the summer, to tell us about books or articles; prose or poetry; visual work, or simple hyperlinks that have informed your thinking about diversity, difference, “polyculturalism,” and writing by simply "replying" to this blog post at any time.

Your replies will be for "mostly" new and current work, this one is (see it below). Oldies but goodies are also welcome. Thanks, so much, to our many readers, especially those who share their comments with us. After the holiday weekend, readers can expect regular bi-weekly posts for the summer schedule.

This interim summer post actually started out as an email to Catherine Prendergast about her current post. But when I realized that my own rhetorical questions and comment about her post might become a short post for the weekend holiday break, her response to me was that, “the epistolary style is both direct and yet indirect,” and to go for it.

Our email conversation made me think about “who my audience is, and isn't” (Catherine's words), and then I remembered how Alice Walker’s book, The Color Purple. It also used the epistolary style as a way to write for a more inclusive rhetorical audience, especially on issues of visibility and invisibility.

What were Walker's own questions and enthymemic thinking at the time? Here, I offer an excerpt from my email to Catherine as a way to continue the train of comments about her guest writing for this blogging series.


My Comments:

Your post, "Scaling the North Face," as I hear it, is about the corporate branding structure in the visual and verbal rhetoric of the American public sphere—see Naomi Klein’s No Logo, a book that really helped me to see the visual rhetorical analysis underlying your writing in ways that I could not before. Also see Sven Birkets' new article on the future of reading in Reading in the Digital Age.

I then, later, found this interview with Tavis Smiley and Tim Wise on color blind rhetoric (Wise's new book) after I read your piece ( (about 28 min).

I love the fact that Wise speaks so well to folks who work in rhetoric (including visual rhetoric) and composition. The interview also shows how well (or not so well) journalism dominates the subject of diversity, race, whiteness, and the discourses of difference (you know about “intersectionality,” right?). Maybe journalism has always dominated the public sphere in the U.S.

So, for example, we’re all "post-racial" now. That’s according to what most of our corporate-owned journalism tells us to believe. That’s certainly what most of our students think--no matter what "color" they are (and it's what too many academics in higher education think these days—did you see the blog on the new hiring new faculty about encouraging administrators to include criminal and, possibly, credit background checks about their new hires?). Wow!

Wise talks about our country’s racial progress—as we all do. But have you also seen any of the reports that he cites on the growing wealth gap between Blacks and Whites in this country (or really, whites and non-whites, as I talked about this in Cheryl Glenn book on the rhetoric of silence and according to the census that decides who is considered to be white). The most recent report about this topic actually appeared from a study done at Brandeis University. A powerful, but somewhat questionable commentary. In fact, I wonder if Noah Feldman knew about this one or any of these kinds of resports when he wrote in his NYTimes Magazine article on 6/27.

It's interesting that Wise appeared on "The Tavis Smiley" show on 6/28, the very next day after Feldman's article. I'd like to know more about how some of these studies on the racial wealth gap are done. But I know that the basis for these studies (since the 1970s) are real. They point to your finessed comments about race, whiteness, your students, and issues of economic class in the post.

In fact, the discourses of difference that our other guest writers contribute to this blogging series on diversity have helped me, CCCC members, and others to think about these symbolic discourses of difference and of visibility versus invisibility. About these differences, I hope that our generation (and who read these blog posts) can do the hard work on practicing Toni Morrison’s concept about “shifting the gaze.” I really try. It's very tough. . . . I mean, whatever happened to integration. Oh, I forgot, that has become virtual and effervescent now.

Robert Redford's last film Lions for Lambs, which I teach and like a lot, reminded me of Morrison's concept in several ways, especially about choosing to be domestic or being global in our thinking about political engagement and "shifting the gaze." He's really good about this in his own film commentary.

I noticed that none of the posted replies, except your own, mentioned your African American male student. Importantly, the subject of diversity is not always a racial one. It's the discourses of difference that we want from diversity studies, right?

But if diversity does not include the racial (not racist) topic, then how do we talk about the subject to avoid the inevitable dominance of “default whiteness” (Kathleen Welch is so good for talking about that concept in her rhetoric). I honestly don’t know, but, with hope, I'm learning.

That lack of racial inclusion in the replies to your post made me wonder about the lack of it in too many of our public high schools today. Thanks so much, by the way, for introducing me to Danielle Allen's work, especially in the way that she thinks about "interracial distrust," classical rhetoric, and the rhetoric of our country's democratic republic.

I discovered the website “stuff white people like,” while I was searching the internet in response to your work. It's a wildly humorous and arguable take on racial and ethnic stereotypes, and I’m glad that you liked it enough to post it on your facebook page, while also discovering the “stuff black people like” website. Ha!

Of course, I deleted all of the really political, more broadly ethnic and diverse stuff from the email for this blog post (at least, I think I did for my epistolary audiences)! Ha!

What academic work helps us to talk about our practices informed rhetorical listening for diversity and for the polycultural logics of our country's rhetoric (see, especially, Kris Ratcliffe, Jackie Royster, Shirley Logan, Jeff Chang, Bonnie Tsui, Junot Diaz, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. These are a few of the many and varied and great writers who inform my work on rhetoric, composition, writing, and the future of diversity studies.

So, how did I do with the idea of working within a tradition of epistolary rhetoric, Catherine? Like you, I hope that readers will reply to my ideas and post their own helpful sources about human diversity.

Love ya! :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scaling the North Face

Introductory Bio

Catherine Prendergast is a Professor of English, University Scholar, and Director of First Year Rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Buying into English: Language and Investment in the New Capitalist World (Pittsburgh, 2008). She has previously written on race in the writing classroom in Literacy and Racial Justice: The Politics of Learning after Brown v. Board of Education (Southern Illinois, 2003).

Blog Entry

There are moments when you can almost hear your student evaluations whistling as they careen and then plummet. I have many such moments, the most recent of which was when I pointed out that 25% of the women in the class—four out of sixteen—were wearing the identical North Face black fleece jacket. Mine was not a (completely) gratuitous observation; we had been engrossed in a lesson on making sense of primary sources, using as an example dressing charts published in the 1950s by the University of Illinois’ Dean of Women’s office. These charts detail in excruciatingly hetero-normative terms how co-eds should dress for every possible school occasion (e.g., “heels if ‘he’s’ tall, flats if ‘he’s’ short”). Although my university no longer has a Dean of Women and no longer circulates explicit instructions for student dress, we agreed as a class that—yes—there were still norms for dress on campus. But how did these norms get conveyed? Referencing the North Face jacket, I asked one of its wearers: Why did you buy it? (I asked it as a naïve question—but really, it is a genuine question, because in my soul of souls I don’t exactly know the answer.) The student looked at me with something close to loathing and replied, “Because it’s warm.”

Lest you think that this student resisted critical thinking entirely, please know that she was bravely enacting a critique of me, her professor, in terms I would clearly understand as the equivalent of “Drop it.” Brilliantly intertextual, her comment recalled a moment earlier in the semester when I had made a more oblique challenge to undergraduate conformity in outerwear by demonstrating what counts as a warm jacket. This moment was of the kind described in Dennis Lynch, Diana George, and Marilyn Cooper’s “Moments of Argument,” (CCC, 48.1, 1997) in which the greatest fear is not that one might lose an academic argument—and by “academic” I mean in this case “pointless”—but that one might have to change. As I describe below, I’ve come to consider this fear as a main contributing factor to student failure to subject significant data points to rigorous scrutiny.

Some background to the moment: My first non-graded assignment asked students to write about what bothered them about their university. What, I asked them, has gotten under your skin since you came here? What would you like to change? I got one essay on the budget (collapsing), one on the lack of professors in their classes, another on the admissions scandal that made national news the year my students had applied, five essays on the horrible dorm food, and five more on the bus system and its failure to adhere to its announced schedule. I might be exaggerating and there were only three essays on the busses, but by the time I read the third, it felt like five.

The bus essays in particular demonstrated the legacy of schooling in that they all shared the same problem: no problem. The students were playing the assignment safe by inflating a problem they really didn’t care about, but found vaguely annoying. The bus was not just late, it was really late, leaving them not merely cold but freezing to death. I realized after bus essay two that the majority of my students were relying on public transportation for the first time in their lives; never in these essays did my students compare the university public transportation system to the one in Chicago (rarely on time) or anywhere else in the country (rarely on time), nor did the conclusions of these essays lead their authors or readers to step into the shoes of people who have to rely on public transportation to traverse distances greater than the square mile of campus my students were tasked with navigating. Meanwhile, the dorm food essays decried the Freshman 15.

This was clearly my fault, walking into the non-problem, problem-posing essay. And I was determined to walk out of it. Indulging in a little performance art, on a sixteen-degree day I walked the twenty minutes from my house to class wearing about five layers and my incredibly unfashionable yet super-warm parka. Velcro-ed to my eyeballs, sweating profusely, I asked my students if any of them would even leave their dorm room dressed like me. They looked at me with pity—some with alarm—and shook their heads. We agreed that although hideous, the attire would keep anyone alive while waiting for the bus. We then worked on some real problems, problems they cared about, problems they made me care about, and the class hummed along from there—until we hit the 1950s dressing charts.

We’re accustomed to looking back to the 1950s as the heyday of conformity, when the sheer hint of difference was threatening. Think Mitzi Gaynor’s “corny as Kansas in August,” Nellie Forbush taking a crash course in racial difference in South Pacific. Nellie’s investments are made clear in a few songs; she is from Little Rock, Arkansas, the crucible of white identity maintenance, soon to be the location of the first troop-enforced integration of formerly all-white public schools. She’s exactly the kind of figure the audience of South Pacific is meant to find immediately identifiable—until, that is, the price of that identification is revealed as including acceptance of her narrow, prejudicial views. Each age has its Nellies, though the price of conformity is not so clearly spelled out as it might be in a cautionary tale for the stage. To the contrary, Jennifer Seibel Trainor’s insightful study of racial identifications in an all-white suburban high school demonstrates that the work of policing the boundaries of white identity cannot be easily disentangled from the school’s own rigorous warnings regarding the “fates of students who don’t perform or conform” (Rethinking Racism 55).

When diversity has been discussed thus far on this blog, it has been rightly suggested that the term, in its capacity to encompass all difference, dilutes the work of flagging inequalities along persistently familiar lines. However, I want to go back to diversity’s most common definition—difference, of any kind—and the real threat that that kind of amorphous difference poses to students who, on balance, face even more precise measures of conformity than their grandmothers did. Consider that our university dressing charts of the 1950s told co-eds to wear flats, but they didn’t specify a brand. Students’ margin for error in fashion seems to have become more unforgiving since then, while the cost of staying on the straight and narrow path has become even more expensive: The ability to buy a $165.00 fleece jacket with a North Face logo on the back right shoulder and $180.00 Ugg boots is now the going price for visible conformity—quite a hit on top of double-digit tuition hikes. North Face jackets and Uggs not only adorn a good percentage of my class, their cost (with tax) also represents nearly twenty percent of the university’s $2000.00 estimate for “personal, clothing, and Sunday evening meal” expenses for first-year students.

My one African-American student in this class was nowhere near conforming, literally or otherwise. He was 24 years of age, a vet of the war in Iraq, married, perplexed by why students ride the bus one block, but afraid to say so in class (he stayed around after my parka demo to chat and told me so). He floundered on the problem-posing essay for utterly different reasons than his white and younger classmates; he wrote that compared to his time in the Army, nothing seemed like a problem to him anymore. He certainly didn’t wear North Face clothing. Even if he had wanted to conform, he would have known that buying a jacket wasn’t going to make much of a difference on a campus where he represents a rapidly dwindling single-digit percentage of the undergraduate population. I worry about this student, and also other African-American students, who have to take the extended “non-traditional” and life-threatening route to affirm his own diversity. But I also worry about all my students and their capacity to step out of an atmosphere of conformity into a university classroom where questioning the taken-for-granted is required. Don’t get me wrong: I don't think it's my job to get students to think—or dress—as I do. That would be trading one kind of conformity for another, right? I do, however, think my job is to tell them when their audience is hopelessly narrow (as in other people who will sympathize with brief public transportation dilemmas), to encourage them to write about something that they really care about (and it is not the busses), and to write about a problem that they can convince an academic audience has real consequences (definitely not the busses). If it is too risky for these students to buy a different jacket, how are they going to risk writing about a real problem, never mind those thorny problems that implicate their desire and ability to buy that jacket in the first place?

This is a blog. Discuss.

CCCC Annual Convention

2009 Convention logo

March 11-14, 2009
San Francisco, CA