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


Doug Hesse said...

Note: The link at the end of Joe's posting seems to be corrupted. I apologize. I've cut and pasted my thoughts below. --DH

Two Quick Thoughts in Dialogue with Joe Janangelo’s “To Be Real”

Doug Hesse University of Denver

In his characteristically arms-wide-open fashion, Joe has invited me to share a few thoughts on diversity as he’s framed things here. I’m intrigued by his imagining diversity as viral rather than categorical, especially because there are two ways that this notion can threaten many of us. First is the idea of quick and diffuse “spreadability,” the quality commonly invoked for digital circulation. It has two implications. Viral messages mutate for maximum spread. And they die. To think of viral diversity is to recognize multiple categories beyond race, gender, class, and sexuality: age, geography, religion; histories, desires, delights, and ever on. As more people embrace diversity because they see themselves within the meme, some may resent the diffusion of categories with which they most identify. For them, dispersion entails dilution and diminution.
Second, and uncomfortably, in this metaphor is the relation of viruses to hosts. Viruses give bodies colds (and more), so it’s not a stretch for many to fear that diversity threatens—what? CCCC? Classrooms? Programs? Common action? Part of this fear is undoubtedly reactionary, but there’s a complicated political dimension to it as well. Joe aptly suggests that each committee should ask “who might see or have a problem working and living with the idea or approach under discussion,” a stance I applaud. And yet this practice makes things messier, makes decisions harder to achieve. That’s little enough problem in relation to the potential payoff--except that the worlds of policy, budget, and curriculum keep moving beyond those admirably questioning committees. How to keep motility from ironically locking into paralysis?
In taking this analytic rather than narrative approach to Joe’s invitation, I know that some will see me as enacting the characteristic rhetoric of white hetero male privilege. I’m well aware of that privilege (which, given my working class roots as the son of a garbage truck driver, regularly surprises me), but that is not to say I experience privilege continually in my life as I live it—including within CCCC. There are, as Joe puts it, many opportunities for indignity and for its counter force, good will.

Doug Hesse said...

CCCC Annual Convention

2009 Convention logo

March 11-14, 2009
San Francisco, CA