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! :)

CCCC Annual Convention

2009 Convention logo

March 11-14, 2009
San Francisco, CA